SCOTT SIMON, host:

We're going to talk now to Ben Drew, also known as Plan B. He's been called the Eminem of East London.

(Soundbite of song, "Kidz")

PLAN B (Rapper, Singer): (Singing) I'm looking for fresh meat. I need to eat, keep feeding my ego. I'm a control freak and I'm only 14 years old. (unintelligible)...

SIMON: The Guardian newspaper described his 2006 debut as a bleak visceral obscenity-strewn British urban album. Well, despite that description - maybe because of it - his music gained great reviews from music critics. He didn't do quite so well with the public. It's been a few years since that release and now it seems Plan B has come up with plan B. He's back with a new album called "The Defamation of Strickland Banks."

This time, he's swapped his hoodie for a suit and added a whole lot of soul to his sound.

(Soundbite of song)

PLAN B: (Singing) She fell in love, she probably loved his soul. She said I love you, baby, oh, oh, oh, oh...

SIMON: Plan B joins us now from the studios of NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

PLAN B: Hey, thank you for having me.

SIMON: And do I call you Mr. B?

PLAN B: You can just call me B.

SIMON: And who is Strickland Banks?

PLAN B: Strickland Banks is a fictional character that I created in order to make a hip-hop album that included soul music. And what happened is through you making more of the soul music you kind of just grew and grew and ended up becoming a soul album which had a small element of hip-hop. I felt with the more classic Motown sound I could write about things that wasn't just about love. You know, it could be about struggle.

(Soundbite of song)

PLAN B: (Singing) So, now I'm up in the courts, pleading my case to a witness box. Telling the judge and the juror (unintelligible). From the day that I got arrested, I'm innocent, I contested. She just feels rejected. Had her heart broke (unintelligible) she's obsessed with...

For me, this story has so much struggle in it, so much pain, that it was easy for me to imagine what it was like to be this character and write the songs. I kind of approached it like a film director would approach a film. And that's why, you know, I like to call what I do a film for the blind. You know, it's a film from start to finish and every song is a scene in that film.

SIMON: Let's listen to "Stay Too Long."

(Soundbite of song, "Stay Too Long")

PLAN B: (Singing) I know what's to come, the way I'm feeling happy now. The knowing I'm drunk. Of ways of knowing it never lets me down, 'cause I always stay too long. Long enough for something to go wrong...

SIMON: Refrain of this song, of course, is I always stay too long, long enough for something to go wrong. Now, we're recognizing this as kind of a prolonged musical novel or series of short stories and Strickland Banks is a fictional character. Any of this based on your own experience?

PLAN B: Yeah. This was one of the ones that was kind of based on me that I felt a lot of people could relate to. I was known in the U.K. after my first album out. So, when I went out with friends and we were at a bar drinking, you know, people would approach me and ask for an autograph or offer to buy me a drink. And then after a certain amount of time they would end up crossing the line, these people.

SIMON: Saying the wrong thing...

PLAN B: Yeah, you know, just insulting me in some way and then I'd flip out and end up getting in a fight or getting arrested. Back then as well, when I was drinking, a lot of my insecurities were coming out and I was getting myself into trouble. So, I just realized that you could go out and you can drink and you can have a good time but there's a point in the night when you really should know when to stop and leave, you know. And that song was just about that not knowing when to stop, not knowing when to leave.

SIMON: B, can I ask, what kind of kid were you?

PLAN B: I was a kid with a good heart, man. I had a good heart but I was angry, you know, 'cause I felt kind of dismissed and ignored by society and by my teachers and my peers. And I knew that I had something to say. I knew that, yeah, I knew that I was seeing a lot of kind of negative people in my life, seeming to kind of get away with things that I didn't think were right. And I wanted to do something about it, but I knew that the only power I had was within my music, you know?

SIMON: Yeah. I've read that your mother took up with a guy who, let me put it this way, doesn't sound like he was either husband or father of the year.

PLAN B: No. I mean, look, she had a relationship with a guy who had a crack addiction and he was coming in the house and he was stealing her money, stealing her car. And every time he'd do this she would be crying. And I'd just be trying to write a song in my room and she'd just burst in and just cause all this stress. And that hurt my pride a lot. Hurt my pride because this guy would just walk back in and I just felt that he was obviously looking at me like I couldn't do nothing to him, you know, that I didn't matter; that he could just sit there and disrespect my mom and what am I going to do about it? And that's really hard for a kind of 17-year-old kid.

SIMON: What turned you to music?

PLAN B: Michael Jackson was, like, my first hero that I looked up to. My dad was a musician. That's where my mom says I've got the (unintelligible)...

SIMON: Father was in a punk band, right?

PLAN B: He was in a punk band called "The Pope" and another band called "The Warm Jets." The dad I knew was, like, a religious fanatic. You know, he was a Christian but he was a converted Christian and he was the kind of Christian that would stand in the middle of a shopping precinct with a bible in his hand and tell everybody they was going to hell. And he would do all this while I was sitting there on a milk crate out in the cold.

So, when my mom told me - well, after he disappeared, my mom used to tell me about, I guess, the side of him that she wanted to remember, which was the musician. You know, apparently, he was a very talented man. And that's how she used to make me remember my dad. She used to make me remember the dad that I never met. And that actually kind of drove me on, I think, to be a musician, because I felt like it was in my blood. And that's kind of how it started, man.

If I like a type of music I'll embrace it. I've been very open to, you know, to reggae, to blues, to soul, to hip-hop. And so this right now, this is just me, you know, having a flirtation with soul music, I guess. Soul music is my future ex-wife.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PLAN B: Right now, we're, like, having the time of lives but, you know, I'll get bored and I'll go somewhere else.

(Soundbite of song, "What You Gonna Do")

PLAN B: (Singing) You can set me free or build me up, just stop torturing, just tell me what you're gonna do, what you're gonna do...

SIMON: You stay in touch with your old friends back in the Forest Gate section of London?

PLAN B: I do, yeah. I try to keep a kind of family network around me because what I'm experiencing now is unreal. It's not real life. You know, it's like a dream. And the only way you can keep your feet on the ground is by having those kind of people around you. And we'll try to see each other as much as well can.

SIMON: Forest Gate is a tough place.

PLAN B: You know what, no, it's not. I mean, it is growing up. There's drugs, there's prostitution and there's violent people who walk around. It's just a city. You know, you got that here; you got that anywhere.

SIMON: I mean, here's the thing - and I wonder about this and, you know, this great song you have, "What You Gonna Do" - here you are, I'm assuming, you can probably move into Belgravia tomorrow if you want and yet your art comes from Forest Gate. Belgravia, we'll explain, is a very fancy neighborhood in London.

PLAN B: Yeah, sounds like it. No. You know what, not yet. I can't actually, I'm not actually that rich yet. You know, I'm on an old school record deal. I don't make any money out of my record sales. Yeah, my music comes from Forest Gate, it comes from that deprived place and that's because the best art, for me, comes from pain and struggle. That's the best art, comes from pain definitely.

(Soundbite of song, "What You Gonna Do")

PLAN B: (Singing) Yeah, I've been in the wars, up in that jail, what you got to do just look at the scars on my face and know that I've been through hell. But I'm still breathing, yeah, that's right, I'm still here. I survived through the darkest days in the darkest place from my darkest fears...

So, that kind of worries me 'cause the one thing that makes me the most happy above anything else is creating. I love writing a new song or being in the studio with the band. And that feeling is better than any job in the world, you know.

SIMON: B, you're talented enough where you can be a very happy man and still write great things.

PLAN B: I hope so. I mean, I'm pretty happy now, so, you know, there might be some truth in that.

SIMON: Ben Drew, Plan B. His new album, "The Defamation of Strickland Banks." You can watch a music video from Plan B at NPRMusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "What You Gonna Do")

PLAN B: (Singing) What you gonna do, you can set me free or bang me up. Just stop torturing me. Tell me what you gonna do. (unintelligible), you're gonna do. What you gonna do. You can set me free or bang me up (Bang me up). Just stop torturing me, tell me what you gonna do...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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