Back to the old school - Metro meets Plan B (2006)

Apologies for the lack of posting recently. I've been away on holiday for my good friends Ravi and Sapna's wedding in Goa. Very beautiful and super-chillaxing it was too. It's back to the grindstone now though and as you may or may not know, today Plan B won three Ivor Novello Awards - the Ivor Novello Awards are the creme de la creme of music industry award ceremonies, for people who write and craft proper songs.

And in honour of Ben Drew, here's an interview I did with him five years ago around the release of his debut LP, Who Needs Action When You Got Words, which for me is one of the most powerful records I've heard, eliciting a response both physically and emotionally. From the moment I first heard him, you knew he deserved greatness, so it's heartening that he's achieving that as the music industry - depressingly - is littered with supremely talented individuals who don't make it for one reason or another.

Thankfully by softening his sound, but in no way tempering his emotive storytelling, he's getting the recognition he deserves.



Hip hop musician Ben Drew tells Rahul Verma why his lyrics are so blunt and how Eminem inspired him to rap

Ben Drew is restless, constantly tapping his box of Marlboro Lights on the table of a café in a smart West London recording studio.

The tapping becomes faster when the 21- year-old is discussing topics he cares about, such as David Cameron's comments about Radio 1 playing music that glorifies knife culture ('All he cares about is middle England') and how 50 Cent romanticises violence ('His message is: “I got shot nine times and I survived it. I'm a hero.” But the reality is if you get shot you're gonna die. He's a lucky motherf****r').

In person, Ben 'Plan B' Drew says what he thinks without hesitation or fear of offending. He's the same on record: debut LP, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, sees the slight East Londoner address Damilola Taylor's murder, drug-riddled estates and their associated violent crime, as well as his own personal demons.

It's a brutal and engaging album, with Plan B literally spitting stories, told through an ensemble cast of familiar characters, over an acoustic guitar and beats that veer into R&B and pop soul territory.

On it, he provides an unflinching insight into a world that most of us only encounter when it hits the front pages of newspapers. But he makes it accessible by referencing popular culture (David Blaine, Basement Jaxx, City Of God) and current affairs (Ken Bigley, Jill Dando, Gary Glitter).

It's no surprise to find Plan B has been shaped as much by indie as hip hop. 'I grew up listening to Nirvana, Radiohead, The Prodigy and Rage Against The Machine, music that was really varied, rather than being part of one scene, I was never really into that,' he says. 'I've always stayed true to the artists that I loved – I have all my old jungle mix tapes and I love to hear old school garage on the radio. Or I might be influenced by one song, like Tracy Chapman's Fast Car; I love that song and will always say she's an influence.'

Despite myopic comparisons with Eminem, Plan B doesn't shy from citing Marshall Mathers as a major inspiration: 'When I was younger I always felt that I wasn't allowed to rap because I was white,' he states. 'Then Eminem came out and completely crushed that attitude for me because everyone had to accept he was a brilliant rapper. And I thought, “Why can't I do this?”'

Whether it's the schlock horror of feral youth running wild in an orgy of sex, drugs and violence (the song Kidz), directly challenging his detractors (No Good) or depression (Everyday), the frequently startling Who Needs Actions… puts the uncomfortable and awkward in your face.


'There are US rappers only saying, “I've got this car and these rims and I got this ring with a big diamond and you won't be able to afford it, ever,”' he explains. 'F**k off, man. I don't want to hear that – tell me something that's gonna help me grow as a person. They don't tell me nothing about themselves, like their relationships with their mum or dad. Write a lyric that's going to make me think or touch me in my heart.'

Plan B does just that, laying open his soul as if on a therapist's couch. He likens his absent father's religious zeal to being raised by Ned Flanders and pleads with his mother to escape a relationship with a crack addict. Bullying also rears its head. Is that something Plan B has experienced? 'Not in the typical sense but I went through phases of getting s**t off people at different times,' he says, tapping his Marlboros furiously. 'And that was down to being a little white kid in a multicultural school. I was on my own so I had to fight to earn my respect so that people wouldn't f**k with me. I went through that and it's daunting, it's one of the worst feelings in the world when someone's after you and your blood for no reason at all.

'What it makes you do is go and pick up a knife and say: “If that person comes anywhere near me, I'm gonna stab him.” That's knife crime for you. And it ain't no rap song.'

Who Needs Actions When You Got Words is released on June 26 on 679 Recordings.