3:26pm

Fri April 22, 2011
Music Interviews

Plan B: A Singing Rapper Catches His Second Wind

Ben Drew, also known as Plan B, has been called the Eminem of East London. The Guardian described his 2006 debut release as "a bleak, visceral, obscenity-strewn British urban album."

His music received great reviews from music critics, but didn't do so well with the public. After a few years, Plan B is back with a new album called The Defamation of Strickland Banks — and this time, he's swapped his hooded sweatshirt for a suit and added a whole lot of soul to his sound. But who is Strickland Banks?

"A fictional character that I created in order to make a hip-hop album that included soul music," Drew tells Weekend Edition host Scott Simon. "It kind of just grew and grew, and ended up becoming a soul album that had a small element of hip-hop.

"I kind of approached it like a film director would approach a film," Drew adds. "I like to call what I do 'film for the blind.' It's a film from start to finish, and every song is a scene in that film."

"Stay Too Long," however, is a bit more autobiographical than that description would indicate. Drew says it's about being recognized and chatted up in U.K. bars after his first album came out, which would sometimes lead to a scuffle if he felt he was being insulted.

"You can 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," Drew says. "That song was just about that — not knowing when to stop, not knowing when to leave."

Drew says his introduction to music came from a curious place. He remembers his father, who abandoned the family when Drew was young, as a self-styled missionary: "the kind of Christian that would stand in the middle of a shopping precinct with a Bible in his hand and tell everybody they were going to hell." But he was also a musician who had played in the 1970s punk band The Warm Jets.

"After he disappeared, my mom always used to tell me about the side of him that she wanted to remember, which was the musician," Drew says. "She used to make me remember the dad that I'd never met. That actually kind of drove me on to be a musician; I felt like it was in my blood."

On his transition from mostly rapping to mostly soul singing, Drew says he'll embrace whatever kind of music catches his interest at the time.

"This right now is just me having a flirtation with soul music, I guess," he says. "Soul music is my future ex-wife. Right now, we're having the time of our lives — but, you know, I'll get bored, and I'll go somewhere else." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.