4. Plan B "Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose"
In brief: Plan B is Ben Drew. He’s a rapper, but also a R&B/soul singer. He’s also an actor, and a director, and a screenwriter. His first album, “Who Needs Actions When You Got Words” (2006) is an insanely lyrically violent rap album with a lot of acoustic guitar. His second album, “The Defamation of Strickland Banks” (2010), is primarily a neo-soul album with a couple bangers and a series of cinematic music videos starring Kaya Scodelario (so obviously, they rule) and was supposed to be the thematic soundtrack for a movie that has never come to fruition. His third LP, “Ill Manors” (2012), found Drew returning to the streets and his grimier hip-hop roots, and was the soundtrack to a film that actually was created (written and directed by Drew himself). And then -- six years of silence.
“Heaven” feels like an amalgamation of so many distinctive UK musical stylings, but Drew has the chops to pull them off, creating something of a dancehall compilation that shrewdly contains a protest album in its midst. Within that sonic template, we’re introduced lyrically to someone approaching the second half of their 30s with trepidation, terrified of the implications of Brexit, struggling to keep relationships together, learning what being a father means. I don’t think it’s an easy album for those reasons, even if musically it sounds like a good time. Most of the UK music press didn’t really seem to know what to do with it, but I hope they continue to champion Drew as he continues his artistic career--he might be distracted, but he’s still a vital mouthpiece, and continues to be a “chronicler of modern Britain,” tribulations and all.
“It’s not surprising Drew wanted to take time over his first album since 2012. After all, his career has been marked by distinctly different and perfectly executed phases: sink-estate horror rapper, sharp-suited soul man, chronicler of modern Britain. The good news is that Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose doesn’t stand still. Drew is singing again, not rapping, and he dips into dancehall, R&B, drum’n’bass, gospel testifying and as many more styles as you can shake a stick at. The bad news is that the amount of time he’s spent seems to have made him unsure of his identity. There’s neither the comforting familiarity of The Defamation of Strickland Banks, nor the confrontational abrasiveness of Ill Manors. It feels as though he’s trying to split the difference between them.”
- “The big takeaway here is that Plan B isn’t as seething as he once was – something that’s definitely good for his blood pressure, less so for those wanting urgency and vitriol. You only need to compare the lyrics on 2006’s ‘Kids’ (“Pick up an AK and spray / That’s the mentality of kids today / F*ck a girl and get her pregnant underage”) to this album’s closing track and positivity anthem ‘Sepia’ (“Dark in a corner as you bathe me in light / You’re a rainbow in a grey and cloudy sky”) to illustrate how this is a different guy. They may not have been perfect, but Plan B’s prior albums have never been disjointed. ‘Heaven…’ is. But, by his own admission, this is a songwriter in transition. In that respect, this album is as true to life as anything else he’s done before.”