In Hollywood terms, Plan B is "high concept," a product whose unorthodox construction is neatly summed up in a sentence or two. That means on paper, the man born Ben Drew--a white rapper with a social conscience from a rough East London neighborhood who rhymes over his own acoustic-guitar tracks--is intriguing enough. It's the kind of stuff that leads magazines like Uncut to toss off utterly ridiculous quotables like "London's answer to Eminem and Cobain," which is in turn the kind of stuff that makes press-release writers salivate. It's no accident your kid sister is rocking Lady Sovereign's
sideways ponytail while Kano and Wiley can't get stateside radio spins.
You may recall Plan B, now twenty-two, from the seminal grime showcase compilation Run the Road; on the record, the youngun' blended in painlessly alongside the scene's superstars, showcasing his mastery of a rough and heavy cockney brogue that can flip the most pedestrian phrases into little chunks of lyrical workouts. It's as if he's rapping around the fact that someone stuffed his mouth full of mashed potatoes or something. On his debut full-length, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, B continues to acquit himself admirably on purely technical terms, wrapping a slow, slithering tongue around the quick stabs of his guitar: "My metaphors are twisted/ like that game where you gotta put your hob-knob on the gob if you're the last one to come on the biscuit."
But Plan B is an earnest kid, and it's a problem. He's young, so you can't really blame him, but there's not a drop of the youthful recklessness that most rappers over-employ; instead, it's all blighted cityscapes, rambling junkies, absentee fathers. At the age where most kids still think drugs are pretty cool, B gives us drab true-life tales like "Mama (Loves a Crackhead)." No doubt
little Ben slogged through all this bullshit, but the way he regurgitates it-a narrow focus, no flair, no compassion for his defeated, pathetic figures--feels like he watched this stuff on the seven o'clock news.
Supposedly Plan B's next record is a concept album about the trials and tribulations of a junkie named David Frost, which really sounds ideal. The kid's got an impressive tool box, and he's dead set on some real talk; ideally, with a healthy dash of Mike Skinner's minutiae-rap--some "peeling the label off, spinning the ashtray"-type shit--Drew ditches the generalities and props his characters up on 3-D solid ground. Here's hoping.
"No Good Music" video: http://www.independ.net/planb
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