Plan BDate of Interview: 02/03/2011

As a rapper, singer and actor, Plan B has quickly evolved into one of Britain’s best-selling entertainers. At the 2011 BRIT Awards, he received recognition as the “Best British Male Solo Artist.” And this accolade, along with many others, came in the wake of his triple-platinum sophomore release: The Defamation of Strickland Banks.

One year removed from the British release, Plan B’s breakthrough album will be released in the United States on April 19, 2011. During a promotional campaign for The Defamation of Strickland Banks, Plan B managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on his view of hip-hop as an artistic medium, the significance of “Stay Too Long,” and the personal bond forged with fictional character Strickland Banks.

Clayton Perry:  You have been cited by [head and founder of Acid Jazz Records] Eddie Piller as one of the figureheads of New Mod – deftly mixing hip-hop and soul music. Why do you think this combination – going against conventional thought and wisdom – worked for you?

Plan B:  Hip-hop is a music that I see more as a medium, like a genre. So if you have films as a medium or music as a medium or books, I feel that hip-hop is its own. You can steal from pretty much any music to make hip-hop. I feel even that the crunk style hip-hop from the South, they seem to sample a lot from techno music or dance music nowadays. Before, in the nineties, New York hip-hop used to heavily sample classical music. If you look at the history of hip-hop before they sampled different styles of music, for me, it’s more like a medium. I can actually be influenced by any other style of music in the world, put a hip-hop beat to it and rap over the top and it’s hip-hop for me. So, soul music wasn’t a hard thing to try and blend with hip-hop for me. It was a logical progression. I think most modern music stems from that musical era. If you listen to Motown song music, you can see how it’s influenced all other styles of music that we listen to now. It was more about the tempo of the songs I was writing. They were at the right tempo to split lyrics over. I felt like I had to incorporate  hip-hop in them, because that’s how I came out as Plan B. I came out as a hip-hop artist, and it was very important that I still kept one foot in hip-hop, even though I was doing a soul record.

Clayton Perry:  Although you were introduced to the world – and primarily known in the UK – as a rapper, have you warmed up to being equally regarded as a singer?

Plan B:  I think I’m both of those things. I think I had to do this to show people that I could do it, because I think I wasn’t getting the respect I deserved before. Suddenly, I start singing, and people give me that respect. So yeah, I’m a singer; but that’s not what I am. I’m a rapper, but that’s not what I am. I act and I direct, and all the other things I do. So it’s about showing the world every side of what you do. Keep on surprising them until they know that you’re someone who’s just going to keep on surprising them and that’s how they’ll feel. That’s the box they’ll put you in. I think human beings have to put everything in a box. And I want to be put in that box where people are like, “You know what? We don’t even know what the f**k this guy is going to do next, but that’s the box he’s in. He’s in the ‘unexpected’ box where he’s just going to keep on surprising motherf**kers all the time.” That’s how I’d like people to see me rather than saying: “he’s a singer” or “he’s a rapper” or “he’s this.”

Clayton Perry:  As you put together this concept album, what did you consider to be the major challenges you faced as a songwriter and producer?

Plan B:  Well, I had two styles of music that I was recording. I was recording the straight hip-hop songs, which were Plan B narrating what was happening to the character Strickland Banks. Then there were the soul songs which were Strickland Banks’ story told in the first person; so told through his eyes. The problem was I had both these stars on one album; and where I’m the narrator and the lead character, this got very confusing. The styles of music were quite grating, as well, because the way I make hip-hop is quite traditional, like I spoke about that early nineties kind of hip-hop, that New York, East coast hip-hop; and classical samples. That’s the kind of way I like to make my hip-hop beat. The problem was you’d have that style right next to the kind of old Motown sh*t that is on The Defamation of Strickland Banks. It was really hard to distinguish apart from what was to be the style of music when I was being the narrator and when I was being Strickland Banks. That was really confusing – and the album didn’t start to really work until I split the album into two separate albums.

Clayton Perry:  As a result of this change, what additional challenges came along?

Plan B:  I wanted to release the record like Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, but I kept hearing: “You ain’t Outkast. There’s only one of you. There’s not two of you, so how the f**k are you going to promote two records at the same time?” The label was quite blunt with me. They were quite clear about what they thought. And I’m talking about 679 in the U.K., who was the first record label I was signed to. We were part of Warner’s originally in the U.K., and then Atlantic took them over. They told me that they weren’t really feeling my hip-hop, as in they didn’t feel like radio would play it; that it was not marketable in any way because it was too dark and explicit, and that they were only excited about pushing the soul record.

Clayton Perry:  And what was your response?

Plan B:  I was very offended when they said this  sh*t, but I kind of looked at my position and I just thought: “Well, it’s not like I can bring this album anywhere else. I’m contractually signed to these guys.” So I came back to them and I said: “If you’re not going to put out my f**kin’ record, then who is?” And they said: “You can do it. You can own the rights. We’ll give it you.” And I thought: “You know what? That’s a good deal!” – because off the back of this soul record I’ll be able to promote my hip-hop record, and if I own it, I’m going to make more money than I make off this soul record. And so I said: “Cool. Let’s do this.” So I focused on just getting the soul record finished, getting the artwork, the videos, the way I look in the videos, all that sh*t. It came out perfect. And I tell you what. That alone means so much hard work. In hindsight, I’m glad that, that was the decision that was made because the hip-hop record would have made someone suffer or it would have suffered itself. So now this year is the year for the hip-hop record to come out. And I’m just basing the fact that people will buy it because they want to find out what happens to Strickland Banks. That was my plan. My plan was that people that normally wouldn’t listen to hip-hop would be forced to listen, since they’ve invested so much time into the character already.

Clayton Perry:  And who knows, you might even convert some listeners into lovers of hip-hop music!

Plan B:  I’m hoping that I’m going to convert some people to hip-hop through doing that. Also, I think that’s going to help in America because I am aware that my British accent is going to jar on some people when I’m rapping. The only way to change that is that people will like the soul music so much that they’ll tolerate the small 16-bar kind of U.K. hip-hop verse within the song. And once you’re able tolerate things, then you slowly start to learn how to love them. I’m hoping that people will just start listening to my lyrics and my word play and forgetting I have a British accent. But that is the kind of prejudice I have against me.

Clayton Perry:  Although Strickland Banks is a fictional character, in what ways did the creation of this man – and sharing of his life story –influence your own? Are there any particular obstacles or thematic issues that you feel resonate with your own?

Plan B:  Yes, I think “Stay Too Long” was something that came from my life that I figured I could put into the Strickland Banks role, because I could see how easily what I was experiencing, other people could experience. It wasn’t a complicated subject to write about. “Stay Too Long” is about me being in bars; people recognizing me, and wanting to talk to me, and wanting to buy me drinks, and wanting to have a picture of me. Of me being down to earth and saying, “Yeah, let’s do this,” and then being in the company of people I didn’t know whilst under the influence of alcohol, people suddenly realize you’re not so untouchable, unapproachable. They realize you’re a normal person, and they start trying to make fun of you in front of their mates. It’s like trying to take a piss at you; start trying to talk about your music and your career and get personal and shit. To make them feel big, by thinking: “Oh, look at me. I’m taking the piss at Plan B and he can’t do shit about it,” after initially approaching me because they were a fan of my sh*t. And where I would have been under the influence of basically Jack Daniels, motherf**kers tried to insult me in that way. Then I would pretty much slip out and offer the motherf**ker out or go for him and then I’d have a bunch of people in the way trying to hold me back. And I kept on having to leave places because the police were called, and having to run before the police got there. One time, I got arrested, and I had to go to court – looking at a criminal record – for some bulls**t!

Clayton Perry:  What did those experiences teach you about yourself and living your life in the public spotlight?

Plan B:  I had to learn how to not let other people get the best of me. The truth was I was bitter about what happened with my first record. I was unhappy with the label, that they didn’t push it as hard as they could have done. I felt dismissed and overlooked and underrated by the music industry. Then I had these f**kin’ idiots who first were wanting a picture with me, sitting there at a bar just trying to insult me so I would slip up. Then I would find myself in court and they was trying to charge me and give me a criminal record. I ended getting off with a suspended sentence, which meant that if I got arrested within the time frame of a year, then I would have had a criminal record, and I would have had to have paid a fine of a couple of grand in money. I would have had to have served my punishment for the crime I had done first and the new crime I’m being arrested for. And so basically, I had to really shut myself up. Stop drinking. I went to therapy. I went to anger management therapy. I finished my record. Seeing that the record’s come out and it’s successful now; I’m at peace. I’m quite happy, and I don’t lose my temper no more. I finally got it under control, and everything’s all good. There’s no guidebook when you get famous. There’s no help line you can call. You’re on your own. You’ve got to work s**t out yourself. And “Stay Too Long” is just about being in that position; trying to have to deal with it and just f**kin’ getting drunk and getting into fights and stupid s**t. I just incorporated that into the Strickland Banks story.

Clayton Perry:  So in a roundabout way, Strickland Banks represents the old you?

Plan B:  Strickland Banks is someone who is supposed to represent the type of celebrity I don’t want to be, which I’m on the edge of being. It’s so easy for me to suddenly become a diva and start treating everyone around me like s**t. It’s so easy to do that, to believe the hype and start thinking that you’re special. And it’s the hardest thing to keep your feet on the ground. I’ve got good friends around me, and I’ve got Strickland Banks as an example of what I don’t want to be. I’m pretty much the same person I was, having to try and deal with being treated differently by the rest of the world. It’s hard, but I think it’s the only way I can really be the artist I was before. I need to stay in the real world in order to make the music the way I do.

For more information on Plan B, visit his official website: http://www.time4planb.co.uk/us/

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