At the end of February, Ben Drew, widely known as Plan B, made a return to hip-hop. His new release, ‘ill MANORS‘, sees Ben back in the style he started up in. To many people, it may just sound ‘shouty’, ‘chavy’ or even ‘inflammatory’, but this only highlights much of what Ben tries to convey through his music. Problems in society. The uneducated mess in the UK – either academically or socially.
Obviously, we all know about last summer’s riots in the UK. Like many people, we probably all watched the ‘highlights’ on BBC News 24, somewhere abroad, far away from the smashed windows and excessive looting. Parents probably spoke about their ‘outrage’, then wandered off to get another glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and sit back in the sun. That may be a sweeping generalisation. So, if you read that, and get annoyed by it, then good. Because now you know how it feels. Despite the class divide Ben spoke about in an interview recently, the youth of the UK also got an absolute hammering. It was hard to be young whilst the riots were kicking off – even over here in Middle England. We were looked down on, and slated practically everywhere we went. I work in a near-by shop, and someone actually said to me, “Bet you wouldn’t mind going down there, would you? All you lot want is free shit!” The worst thing about that is that I had to laugh it off, I couldn’t stand up to him, and question why he said it, otherwise I’d have got the sack. Then I’d be playing even further into their hands. Another unemployed youth, eventually leading to being alienated by society. Catch 22.
In the make-believe Waterloo Road recently, you can see this. Yes, it’s Waterloo Road, famous for having a random lottery generator between: Abortion, Pregnancy, Hit & Run or Teacher/Student Relationship, each and every week. But this new series is about ‘tackling gang culture’. Watching Waterloo Road writers deal with a gang culture is exactly the way I’d expect my Hertfordshire school teachers to do so. Pretty badly. Obviously, they will never need to though, will they? But that’s half the problem, we’re so unaffected by the problems the riots exacerbated, that we end up fuelling the fire.
This is one of the many points Ben Drew made in a recent interview with BBC Radio 1xtra’s Mistajam. Speaking for over 40 minutes, it was such an inspirational, honest and raw experience to listen to, and it’s sparked that bit inside of me, that bit which made me decide to write this.
“It’s a very delicate process because we are tackling a very delicate subject and we have to get the tone absolutely right. Because I’m not trying to condone what happened during in the riots. It disgusted me, it made me sick, but it saddened me more than anything because those kids that were rioting and looting, they’ve just made life ten times harder for themselves. They’ve just played into the hands of what certain sectors of Middle-England think about them, and we have a big issue and prejudice in this country from certain ignorant sectors of middle class people towards the underclass, and an example of this is the word ‘chav’, which in the video I state stands for ‘Council Housed And Violent’… Just because you were lucky enough to be born into a family that can afford to give you a good education, doesn’t make you better than anyone, it just makes you lucky, and, again, certain sectors of Middle-England need to wake up and realise that, and stop ridiculing the poor and less fortunate.”
This whole section of the interview was such an eye-opener. I’d imagine a lot of you won’t see anything wrong with using the word ‘chav’ – as it’s so widely using in every form of the media, especially red-top newspapers. So why would you see anything wrong with it? What we need to realise is that, by using words like this, by pushing someone less fortunate than you away, you’re further fuelling the fire. Some of the paper’s coverage of the riots widened that gap between the people taking part, and the rest of society.
Ben finished that point, by saying this, “We are all just, in the simplest form, animals, and when we’re backed into a corner, we lash out – it’s a primal instinct, and it’s got nothing to do with class, that’s us as human beings. And I guess there’s a lot of kids out there in this country that feel like they’ve got egg on their face.” And I think that speaks volumes. Remember John Prescott lashing out and punching a member of the general public? “It’s nothing to do with class.”
Why I’m speaking about, and quoting Plan B’s words, then discussing problems many of us will never really understand or come across, and classing it a music article, may be unclear. But I think people need to see the more inspirational side of rap music’s words. As the riots’ wick was still burning, a Daily Mirror ‘journalist’ caused uproar with many artists in Plan B’s genre, which he wrote about. If you missed the article, Paul Routledge blamed the “pernicious culture of hatred around rap music”, and how it “glorifies violence”, and “raves about drugs.” I wouldn’t want to quote anymore of it, because my IQ level may start to drop. Blaming rap music for the riots is such a ridiculous statement to make. Many people saw Paul’s words, and then wondered how he had a job in modern day journalism.
Fellow artist Professor Green spoke out on Twitter about this back then, “Yeah ban rap music, silence our voices even more.” Then following it with, “Surely this isn’t about shifting the blame, but accepting responsibility? Neither my music or that of my peers is to blame for society and its faults. We didn’t create the tiers. If you’re all so smart how is it you’re confusing understanding with justification? I’ve said from the start there’s no justifying it.”
This is then backed up with Ben Drew’s recent words about the understanding of hip-hop, “If you don’t understand it, especially after hearing me speak about it now, and you’ve still got issues with the song, maybe you’re not as educated as you think. Maybe you’re educated academically, but you need to go out there and get some life experience under your belt. ‘Cause I tell you one thing, if these kids on the streets, on the estates, are so stupid, how come they can understand the outform of hip hop, and the rest of the world cant?”
Ben didn’t just go on about what was wrong with people’s views on society, he also spoke about how to begin to fixing them, notably about how there’s always someone you, as a family member, knows, that is less fortunate, “These people probably come in your house, spend time with your kids and eat at your dinner table, that’s that one person that you can take under your wing, and treat as one of your own and kind of help.” I’m not sure how much we can relate to this in my area, at least, but you’ve got to admit, it does sound like a productive method given to us by a clear-minded person who’s experienced this kind of method in his own house, and with his band members.
The setting up of an ‘umbrella charity’ also stood out as a great idea from Ben. This would allow minor charities, which have been set up by individuals within so-called ‘broken communities’, who have finally had enough of their communities way of life, and possibly through lack of support from the government, have taken it upon themselves to sort out the problems. Ben stated, “A lot of people feel they’re allowed to have an opinion, on the problems and issues we have within society, just because they pay taxes. But we all know the government don’t change quite a lot of the things they promise they’re gonna change, but we still expect them to, because they take our money. If we know that, then maybe, we need to start taking responsibility ourselves. Money isn’t going to change this issue. Especially when the people in control of our money and where they spend it, are politicians, because they don’t understand the world they’re trying to change.”
I don’t think I’ve read or heard a more reasonable view on this subject. Now the riots have passed us, and been swept under the carpet again in the papers, journalists have now got off that high-horse – albeit moving onto another similar one with the next ugly-headed problem, possibly revolving around X-Factor judges. “This is an issue we’ve had in society for probably longer than 30 years, and it’s never been front of the queue – ’till the riots happened. That’s what this song, and music video, and the film, ‘ill MANORS’ needs to do, and I, as an artist need to do, because I genuinely want to change things – and this is just the first step. Let me raise my point first, let me raise the issue, then if anybody wants to talk to me about how I think we can change these things, I’m ready.”
Music can help these problems in society. People like Ben Drew have the ears, have the respect of the ‘hooded youths’ the media banged on about; he can create a positive wave of influence within them. Encourage them to use that spark of talent in the right way.
“Sometimes I think people may find my methods unorthodox, but they have to be unorthodox, because that’s the world I’m trying to challenge.”
There’s so much more I could say, so much more could’ve been quoted from Ben’s interview. He spoke pure and utter honesty, about topics which so many other artists run away from. For that, we need to congratualte him. The success of Strickland Banks pulled in people, and Ben could’ve run off and taken them with him, created pop songs with no substance. But that wouldn’t be Plan B, would it?
“That’s when I come into my own, when I see injustices happening, and I talk about the unfairness of them”
‘ill MANORS’ is set to be released March 25th, then the album on May 7th, with the film dropping on May 4th.