Plan B: “I never wanted to be a celebrity, I wanted to be an artist.”
The lead single from Plan B’s new record tackles the London riots, class disparity, Chavs and the leadership of David Cameron. So it comes as no surprise that upon its release in March ill Manners sparked a huge reaction from the rapper’s home country, with The Guardian labelling it “the first great mainstream protest song in years” and one British parliamentarian likened the song to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?
The record itself is just one part of a larger scheme he is unleashing on the world in 2012. The ill Manors project has also produced a feature film which he both wrote and directed – the new record is, to a degree, the film’s soundtrack – and has spawned charities to “raise money and give it to individuals who are doing good work in their communities”.
Your music is very much centred on English culture, how have found the songs have travelled overseas? Have they been embraced in the same way?
Nah it’s a bit different because, obviously, if you live here [in England] you understand the politics a lot more. I guess the music sometimes means a bit more to people here because they speak the slang as well. The language and stuff, sometimes it can get lost in translation.
In English speaking countries we go to – America and Australia – I don’t really notice much difference in terms of the energy of the crowd. I don’t think I ever go to other English speaking countries and think ‘Ya know what? That crowd wasn’t really doing it for me like the London crowd was.’
In England you can go from one city to the next and it will all be different. Manchester, over here, is always quite a difficult gig. It’s just a difficult crowd and they’re hard to please, and you find there are different cities in London just like that. When we’ve been abroad I feel we’ve always had a great time and the people are really up for it. I haven’t really had a bad experience in Australia yet.
Is that something you take into consideration when you’re writing: how well the themes will carry overseas? Or do you write what you want to write and just hope other territories will embrace it?
There needs to be an expression of how you feel. If you start trying to write music for, I don’t know, other reasons I feel you’re writing music for the wrong reason. I know people make whole careers out of pop music and I guess that’s what pop music is. They make it to make money. But I don’t think you can get longevity. I see myself as an artist, therefore there is no age limit on what I’m doing. I’m going to be writing songs when I’m an old man. Obviously my style may mature by then, I might be doing blues, punk music or some shit like that but I’m still going to be writing songs, creating and expressing myself. Therefore, the motivation for writing a song shouldn’t be anything other than ‘I’m wanting to express myself’.
“I never wanted to be a celebrity; I wanted to be an artist.”
You’ve referred to yourself as being an outcast, feeling like an outsider. With commercial mainstream success does that mentality stay active or does it fade over time?
I think you get accepted and people expect you to do certain things, expect you [long pause] to be a role model, and stuff like that. I guess, in a way, you are [but] I feel like I’m only a role model to the kids who are living the life that I’ve lived. I’m not a role model to someone who was brought up in a different way than I was brought up, do you understand?
If someone says, ‘Plan B’s been caught doing drugs’ and they say I’m a bad role model, well, I’m a bad role model to your kids maybe, but I’m not a bad role model to the kids that are growing up around drugs and watching their parents do it. I’m not a bad role model to them. As adults we experiment with things and we – they all – do illegal things. In the eyes of society that means you are a bad role model. In my eyes, which is the truth, when I was growing up people were doing drugs recreationally and some people were selling hard-core drugs that fucked up people’s lives.
If I find out one of my heroes is smoking weed or some shit like that it’s not going to change my view of them. There’s this whole middle class perception of what a role model is and what a celebrity should be and what a famous person should be, what they are and aren’t allowed to do, and I just don’t bother worrying about all that. I never wanted to be a celebrity, I wanted to be an artist. Therefore, I’ll do what the fuck I want.