[8 April 2007]
A digital sampler EP for last years Who Needs Actions When You Got Words album, Time 4 Plan B is a fittingly grimy introduction to the world of 23-year-old London rapper Ben Drew. The album attracted attention over in the UK, mainly for Drew’s spitting, obscenely angry rapping, and the uncompromising themes his lyrics dealt with. Indeed, his vision of England was one of forgotten, decaying sink estates overrun with crack and smack, teenage violence, underage sex and broken families. Here, the tracks are largely stripped of their somewhat unremarkable hip-hop beats and are presented starkly—just Drew, the words, and his acoustic guitar.
The albums opening track, and the first download here, “Kidz” remains a terrifying, uncompromising picture of a teenager tearing through an anarchic spree of murder, rape and muggings. Drew raps, “What do I care its not like I’m going to get caught/ Anyways, killing aint a crime it’s a fuckin’ blood sport”, and shows the songs fourteen year old protagonist to be both pitiable and deeply unsettling—especially when you consider that the story is based around the real life fatal stabbing in 2000 of London schoolboy Damilola Taylor. Elsewhere, “Dead and Buried” is a stark and strangely touching rap about the freewheeling consequences that befall young adults who variously, indulge in unprotected sex, heroin use and violence as retribution—and inevitably all end up “...dead and buried/ As good as already half dead”. A reworked version of album track “Sick 2 Def” is just as powerful, and features a dizzying final few verses where the song’s murder is rewound with cinematic panache until the would-be killer is sat at home, hours before the incident, nodding his head to Plan B’s CD. It’s the sort of track that recalls Eminem at his most unflinching, before he hooked up with Akon and lost the plot. Only the rather rudimentary “More Is Enough” lacks the startling impact of the other songs that make up the EP.
So far, he’s been a shade too dark for mainstream recognition in the UK, but Plan B is a terrifically talented wordsmith - and at times, through the bravado and shock tactics, a harsh, unerring voice of reason. The albums beats may lack the scattergun excitement of Dizzie Rascal or the effortless dub cool of Roots Manuva, the UK’s other premier hip-hop exponents, but pared down to just voice and guitar, there’s few to match Plan B’s raw power. This EP, and indeed the album, showcases a voice that is never comfortable and will no doubt appall many, but it’s unquestionably a voice that needs to be heard.