As an Australian, my only understanding of Britain’s urban lower classes really only comes from episodes of crime dramas and Noel Clarke’s Kidulthood/Adulthood films. There’s a lot of unrest amongst the youth living on estates, drug issues and violence…you know, the sorts of themes that make for great TV. Plan B’s Ill Manors record goes to lengths in graphically narrating stories which relate to the above, and to an outsider, this section of British society is only made to be more fascinating and shocking to study.
Of course, Ill Manors serves as an accompaniment to the film of the same name, which Plan B (Ben Drew) wrote and directed. If you’re thinking the tunes on this album are going to follow the same path as the material on The Defamation of Strickland Banks, you’re in for a rude surprise; gone are the soulful, R&B soaked lyrics, as they’re replaced with some sharp and cutting rap beats and rhymes. “Ill Manors” is a track which could easily incite a riotous energy amongst the masses, which is perfect when you think about the recent London riots and the glossy coverage of the recent Olympic Games which posited Britain as THE shining gem in the royal crown. “We got an eco-friendly government, they preserve our natural habitat/Built an entire Olympic village around where we live without pulling down any flats/Give us free money and we don’t pay any tax…” may directly refer to recent events, but it also excellently provides a social commentary from Mr. Drew.
What Plan B has done with Ill Manors is strike the great balance between making an album full of modern-day protest music and producing material which adequately describes the realities of a society a lot of people probably would rather not acknowledge. Engaging artists including Kano and Labrinth on the record gives Ill Manors an extra bit of pizzazz and adds a great level of swag to the awesome grime set up already stamping its presence on the album. Songs like “Deepest Shame” and “Falling Down” come as two surprising highlights on Ill Manors; in amongst all the brutal lashings of rap and hip-hop, a subtler observational perspective is enacted for these two songs and I think they have way more emotional impact because of it.
Plan B has already received considerable acclaim for Ill Manors and it isn’t hard to see why. Take all of the themes and stories out of it and the record shows that he is most definitely talented at what he does; to set up such musical arcs and characters and drive his material with such passion the entire way through a record is an impressive feat in any genre. Ill Manors isn’t set up to produce a damning insight into this section of British society, rather, Plan B fuels each song with enough empathy that you, as a listener, take notice of the each storyline from his embattled, yet strengthened, perspective.
Reviewer Score: 8.5 out of 10