Ben Drew, or Plan B, had disappeared after the huge success of his 2012 album, ill Manors. He dabbled in acting, directing and producing for a little while, but now, a whole six years later, the genius behind the catchy ‘She Said’ has returned.
Between ill Manors and Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose, one major occurrence in his life may have changed the songwriter from who he was before: becoming a father. The huge impact having a daughter has had on Drew couldn’t be clearer. The controversial lyrics from his 2006 song ‘Sick 2 Def’ (“I’m so sadistic so I fantasise about finding my Mum’s ex / floating in a bathtub with his wrists slit”), in comparison with those of ‘It’s A War’ from Heaven Before… show a huge contrast. (“When you speak up for the oppressed / Or anyone that you can see suffering prejudice / Stand your ground no matter who you upset”).
Another difference between Heaven Before… and Drew’s earlier work is the exploration of different styles. Yes, he still raps, but there’s also singing (and not too shabby, either). ‘Heartbeat’ is much more fun and melodic than you might expect and ‘Stranger’ is just the same, with a clear Michael Jackson influence. The subtle drums in the background of ‘Queue Jumping’ bring an unexpected, but brilliant reggae vibe. There’s also much more depth to the music and sound, rather than just the lyrics.
Drew stays true to his roots, however. ‘Guess Again’ is a gritty, electronic track which explores his previous London-life more so than the others, reminiscent of tracks like ‘Lost My Way’. “They can’t control us, threaten us with violence / Man dem will roll up, hear the sound of sirens.” Neverteless, it’s powerful. In an age of fear and terror, this song acts as a rebellion; Drew’s equivalent of Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’, but without acceptance, only defiance.
‘Flesh and Bone’ is a song written for the father that abandoned him, and it really tests Drew’s ability as a singer, but the song is also the beginning of four much calmer, soul tracks, including ‘Pursuit of Happiness’, ‘Mercy’, ‘Deeper’, and ‘Sepia’. It’s no surprise that they show clear lyrical contrasts to his previous work. “Every inner gold bar is another nail in your coffin / You believe your own lies and really have no intention of stopping.”
The six-year hiatus is justified. Full of catchier styles and nineties influences, Plan B has transformed himself. The lyrics are far more thoughtful and inspiring, whilst he challenges himself artistically. What’s probably the best thing, however, is that he seems much happier.
Words by Libby Briggs