Friday night saw Forrest Gate’s finest Plan B perform the first of his sell out London dates at Brixton Academy. With a number one album to his name and one of the most popular songs of the year, 2010 has seen the angst-ridden MC transform into a household name.
Long gone are the days when he sat casually dressed in jeans and a T-Shirt, spitting watertight lyrics while strumming a guitar on stage. The newly reinvented Plan B emerged in a suit and tie, and against the dark, atmospheric background and supported by his amazing band, proceeded to perform tracks from his Motownesque album The Defamation of Strickland Banks.
The extent to which he connects with the audience was clear; from the very first track everyone sang along, demonstrating how much this album has cut through. The performances of the singles were particular highlights, especially the catchy She Said, and he performed just one track from his previous album, the controversial Charmaine. Showing that he has retained his Hip Hop roots, Plan B started the show by beatboxing, and ended it by singing classic songs such as Ain’t No Sunshine and Kiss From A Rose over Dubstep beats.
In an interview with him some three or four years ago, he told me that what many people don’t realise about him is his ability to write pop music. I remember going to a few of his shows back then, and while his sound has completely changed, his ability to put on a captivating show has not.
Plan B has successfully managed to gain enormous mainstream appeal whilst remaining a core act within urban music, and the clever and unexpected way that he has switched his style just goes to further show his versatility as an artist.
Review (Subba-Cultcha.com) (February 2007)
Plan B has established himself as one of the leading lights on the UK rap scene, and with the release of his debut album over the Summer of last year, things have just gone from strength to strength for the 23 year old Forrest Gate MC.
This London leg of Plan B’s recent UK tour cemented his reputation as a captivating live act, and certainly demonstrated why all the recent hype is so justified. The Shepherd’s Bush Empire was packed to the brim as thousands of B fans waited to see the one-man-band in action. They were kept entertained by characteristically brilliant performances from the likes of Hadouken, Example, Professor Green and Killa Kella, with the latter returning for the enigmatic encore.
When Ben took centre stage, he fulfilled his claim on the title track of his album, and did exactly what he set out to do; set the crowd alight. The atmosphere was particularly crazy on tunes such as ‘Kidz’ and ‘No More Eatin’’, with fans knowing every single lyric and not being afraid to really throw themselves into the experience that is a Plan B concert. On acoustic versions of ‘Dead and Buried’ and ‘Charmaine’, the audience hung onto his every word, blown away by his clever rhyme constructions and sharp spitting skills, which varied accordingly from aggressive to calm, but in every instance remaining on point.
As B himself asserts, you can’t deny he’s got talent, something that can be seen not only in his lyrics and delivery, but also in his faultless guitar playing, something that marks him out from the hip hop norm. This was complimented by his phenomenal band, which includes awesome drummer Cassell the Beatmaker, and the newest addition, 19-year old guitarist Tom ‘Rainman’ Goss, whose London debut with the B Team demonstrated enormous promise.
As well as providing pure entertainment, the set came with a deeper message, such as the anti-drug sentiments displayed in songs such as ‘Missing Links’ and ‘Mamma Loves a Crackhead’. As the crowd went mental, with fans desperate to shake the MC’s hand and girls pushing their way forward to get a better look, it was clear that Plan B and the images he so skilfully paints have struck a definite cord with a lot of young people. It was no wonder the several famous faces, such as The Streets’ front man Mike Skinner, were spotted in the crowd, also captivated by the talent that is Ben Drew.
Highlights of the show included the title track of the album, which he performed acoustically, as well as newer tune ‘Suzanne’, which is taken from his current mix tape ‘Paint it Blacker’, and tells the harrowing tale of a prostitute’s death in Camden.
Ben then returned to the stage for brilliantly received performances of ‘Someone Switched in Harvey Nicks’, a cover of ‘Song 2’ and others, and it was obvious that B’s mission to put on a banging and charismatic show had been accomplished, leaving everyone eagerly anticipating their next fix of Plan B excellence.
Interview (2006) (D101 Magazine)
Anna Nathanson catches up with Plan B just before he goes on stage in Brighton…
“When I first came out they said I was a grime MC”, the Forrest Gate rapper laughs. He takes a long drag on his cigarette and a sip of Whiskey, and continues. “I’ve never been a grime MC! But at the end of the day that meant I was getting coverage in grime magazines and respect from the grime scene. They gave me more love than the hip hop heads ever did. Certain people in the UK hip hop scene are so fucking narrow minded. If you’re a garage MC who does hip hop, they won’t listen to you purely ‘cos you used to be a garage MC. And then there’s this big deal about keeping the music pure, which I don’t understand as hip hop comes from America and therefore it was never ours to call pure anyway. So now you’ve got certain cats saying, ‘This is pure UK hip hop, we don’t want it to change’, but at the same time they moan about how they’re independent and they’re struggling and no one’s buying their fucking record. I don’t watch what people say, I’d rather just do my own thing, have my own fans who are feeling me, and that way UK hip hop heads can’t say shit to me”.
With that off his chest, I ask him how he feels about the Eminem comparisons he’s been getting. “If you mean it in a positive way, then that’s cool. But people who are saying I’m bringing nothing to the table and I’m wripping him off, they’re dickheads, they’re lazy, they haven’t listened to my music, they just hate. When Eminem first came out I fucking hated him. I thought, ‘What’s this prick doing? White people aren’t supposed to rap!’ I honestly felt that no other white rapper had done it and been respected, so I just thought he’d be taken for a joke, and that’s even before I heard his music! Then someone played me ‘Mushrooms’ and from then on I was proper hooked on Eminem; we all was. I think Eminem paved the way for all white rappers. No-one’s ever judged me for being white, so Eminem definitely paved the way for me”.
With the success of his album earlier this year, the future looks bright for the MC otherwise known as Ben Drew. “The only thing I’m worried about is doing all this media fucking stuff, and then when I actually sit down and write a song, I can’t think of anything, that’s what fucking scares me, that I can’t keep it fresh. I don’t wanna be rushed with my second album. The first one took me two and a half years, so even if the second one takes me four years, it’s cool. I strongly believe it’s better to be artistic than make money, so I’m always gonna be putting underground shit out, whatever happens”.
By Anna Nathanson