That’s the music video for “Mama (Loves a Crackhead)” by Plan B, featuring himself on guitar and vocals. Plan B (real name, Ben Drew) is a white, British rapper, who grew up in the ghettos (seriously) of London. He started out as an acoustic singer-songwriter type of artist, but after being pigeon-holed as a “British Justin Timberlake,” he abandoned everything and went with his “plan b” and focused on hip-hop (hence the name). But he kept the acoustic guitar and the dude can actually sing, so he does the vocals for his songs as well. He raps in a distinct cockney accent and his songs offer detailed, gritty tales told by a varied group of characters he creates. His lyrics can be very explicit, many have dark, twisted undertones, and some may even be repulsive to many. But there is a purpose behind all that graphic darkness — that’s why I’m still listening.
An easy but inadequate comparison would be Eminem. I’ll say that it is a valid comparison because their music has a similar dark, angry tone to it, they have similar rhyme schemes (heavy use of internal rhyming as well as typical rhymes at the end of lines), and disturbing, explicit nature of the lyrics. But Plan B is doing what Eminem could’ve done with his music. He is Eminem…except he is not self-absorbed; he’s socially conscious and aware, but not just in relation to himself; his deep anger seems to be rooted in his frustrations with society but, unlike Eminem, the goal of his music is not to lash out at society and stop at that. It’s to lash out — in the hope of changing it.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Eminem. I believe he is one of the most talented rappers in history and surpasses Plan B — maybe by far — in his ability to construct his verses and has such an effortless yet intricate flow that is probably unparalleled. I think his Marshall Mathers LP is one of the best records in music (not just in the Hip-Hop genre). Through that record, Eminem exposed some of the hypocrisy/corruption of American government, media, and people, as he did to varying degrees on most of his records. But most of it, sooner or later can all be tied back to him. It’s all centered on Eminem, the self (or Marshall Mathers or Slim Shady, his alter-egos/characters), and any social insight that is offered, however brilliant it may be at times, is ultimately merely a byproduct of a self-centered goal of self-justification. I’m not arguing his talent. He’s more talented as far as the rap aspect goes. I’m just talking about what he and Plan B are each doing with that talent. Plan B on the other hand…well I’ll just quote from the man himself:
I’m not typical hip-hop,” he says. “I’m not a gangster. I don’t wear bling. And in my videos, you don’t see ho’s and 20-inch rims because that bores me, since it’s not going to educate anyone about the reality of life.
See his goal? Educating people “about the reality of life.” Now I guess you could judge how well he accomplishes that lofty goal but hey, at least he’s going for the right goals. Another quote from an old interview in the Guardian:
If every time I rapped, I was going, like, I’m Plan B, I’m the fucking bollocks, I fucking sell crack and shoot people, then people are just going to call me a fake cunt, and I’m going to be like the rest of the fucking wankers who think that’s what people want to hear, and it ain’t,” he frowns, between mouthfuls of chips. “I can only be real, I can only be honest.
Plan B offers a very engaging listen because he speaks through his characters and there isn’t much of the bravado and self-promotion in his songs as there are in such respected acts like The Roots, a Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Jurassic 5, Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, and others. Although the bravado (Kanye West is also famous, or infamous, for this) is expressed by those artists in creative or humorous ways, it gets tiresome. Plan B does away with most of that stuff and concentrates on his subject matter (for the most part).
On “Paint it Blacker,” over a sample of the Rolling Stones, he tells a story of a guy whose torment from the world drives him to a strange obsession of painting everything black. (Plan B references The Verve in the lyrics as well–“the drugs don’t work, they just make it worse.”) “Missing Links” loops the haunting piano from Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” to offer a blistering caution and rebuke to the lost youth he sees in society, while lamenting all the wasted talent and dreams:
It’s ironic don’t you think, that five years back
the same cats who are now on crack
Didn’t even used to drink, now they’re the missing links,
In a world of wasted talent.
They could have been great, now they’re just making up the balance.”
On “Kidz,” he continues the rebuke of the youth of today as he takes on the persona of a vulgar, violent, angry 14 year old adolescent gangster and reveals that the boy’s true identity is in none of the above, but is lost in a huge ingrained fear of inadequacy, insecurity, and desperate need for an identity.
The lyrics are very explicit but if you just quit getting offended long enough to listen, you will see that the explicitness is so absurd that it drives home the ridiculous, gaping insecurity of this scared little boy. A lot of it is also just Plan B giving a searing satirizing of all the posturing some youth do these days.
“Wild Horses” again samples the Rolling Stones to create a personal, (somewhat) tender letter to a former mentor who has fallen into a self-created pit of alcoholism and pitiful indifference. “Sick 2 Def” is reminiscent of Eminem’s “Stan” (however annoying that cheap comparison may be…) in the questions it raises. The first two verses shows Plan B at some of his most graphic, offensive, and self-centered — to the point where you could see there’s a purpose behind it. He is either: a) talking from the perspective of a violent fan, or b) he’s reciting the violent song his fan in verse 3 hears (this is more likely). Leading to that third verse, where Plan B (as the rapper Plan B) recounts the news of a fan murdering an innocent man in cold blood after listening to one of his CD’s. Doesn’t seem too great huh? Well, Plan B does offer a rewarding twist: in the third verse, he goes Memento-style (mentioning it’s what “what Nas did”), and “tells that shit in reverse,” recounting the murder backwards from the scene of the crime to before the killer got out of bed that morning. It raises the same questions Eminem raised about how much blame can really be put on the artist if people take them too seriously. (I still like “Stan” more.)
Plan B is a very promising and already rewarding artist and we can only hope he keeps it going. If you’re interested, take a listen to the samples and then go buy his album.
(Note: 3 of the 5 songs I put on here are from the Paint It Blacker Bootleg Album, which wasn’t officially released because he couldn’t get the copyright rights from the artists he sampled from in time, who range from Coldplay and Radiohead to Leonard Cohen and the Rolling Stones. But his officially released album, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words features a handful of different songs and his acoustic guitar and singing on it. So, Paint It Blacker features his great musical taste and talent for sampling while Who Needs Words is all him and his skill. Get/find them both).
Songs of the Day: (follow links)
Mute Math – “Plan B” (just for the hell of it)
Wow I wrote a lot…so please check him out =)