Last night's Later With Jools Holland featured a rather provocative and extremely popular performance from rapper-turned-singer-turned-actor-turned-rapper-turned-spokesperson-of-our-generation, Plan B. No doubt a millionaire in his own right thanks to an annoyingly catchy song where he sings from the dock of a courthouse and raps his plea in a Jekyll & Hyde scenario, the internet went crazy over Ben Drew's latest single 'ill Manors', which is also the title of his new film, written and starring the nation's new favourite auteur.
The performance was everything that as an angry white, middle-class teenage boy, I would have lapped up. 2012's 'Killing In The Name Of' featuring hot violinists wearing balaclavas, a fast and furious soundtrack - produced by Al Shux, he of 'Empire State of Mind' fame - and of course, Plan B's rebellious, anti-establishment lyrics (anyone fancy a Bulmers?), chanting out "Oi! I said oi! What you looking at, you little rich boy?" in the chorus, completely missing the irony that although he may not always have been, he now too is a rich boy, thanks to playing the game of the music industry. I like the Warner Music Inc on the credits on the last thing on the video.
It's about time that someone made money out of the London Riots rather than just the thieves, but this song strikes me one that lacks any real depth or substance, and instead has cottoned on to the terror of last year's riots to help generate some proper publicity for his forthcoming ventures in both music and film. Considering he really isn't a very good rapper at all, I was surprised on first listen to hear that his record label had agreed to allow him to go down this route of 'truth-hop'. I'm sure Mr B wanted to stay "true to his roots", but ultimately, the best bit of his breakthrough hit single 'She Said' (ignoring the fact it played on and supported myths about rape) was that, against all odds, the chorus was actually quite pleasing to the ear.
Curious stuff then that no doubt as Plan B sat with his record label bosses, perplexed that his last concept album The Defamation of Strickland Banks had sold about three records, that he was himself up with his back against the wall. However, thanks to the shocking events of last summer, Plan B was given his own Plan A; "I know, I'll write a song about the riots, but I won't sing, I'll rap against it, and if we make it really CONTROVERSIAL than it'll drum up loads of publicity and we'll sell loads of records, ya?" I don't know if he said 'ya', but it amuses me to imagine that he did. "The Guardian and all those idiots who watch Later With Jools Holland will love it, and then we can probably even get to perform at this year's Olympics... maybe even cause our own Olympic riot to be covered for next year's album release?"
Here's perhaps a surprise to anyone reading this, but I am someone who was raised on benefits. I was fortunate to have two very hard working parents who came from South London and Newcastle, who whilst raising five children, spent every spare second trying to educate us and use whatever money they earned to help us lead better lives. But even when we moved into the middle class beauty of Sussex, we were still one of the poorest families, mainly due to the size of the family, but also due to the incredible wealth that a lot of friends and residents of the towns packed. Never did I once resent them, and never did anybody ever try to empathise with us. Yet, when there was a local burglar on the loose, we all joined forces, private and council, to knock the guy's head off with a spade one night and get him out of our town forever.
We were lucky we had such a loving family - I have met kids living in hostels, I know people who were adopted and never knew their parents, and worse of all, I know kids who were abused and beaten and adults who have survived to tell the tale. Throughout my life I have met people far worse off than I have ever been, and guess what? Some of those have now become millionaires. In their own right, through hard work. I have very rarely met anybody who has not become wealthy through hard work apart from inheritance, and those inherited that I have, well they're the lucky ones. I know lads who have been poor, and lads who have been involved in violence and drugs in the past but instead of condemning the higher classes, they've instead embraced and honed their talents to make something successful of their lives, and I'm very proud of anyone I know who is capable of that.
There have always been poor people. There has always been violence. It's not a new phenomenon and I think our modern generation, thanks to the likes of X Factor etc, has opened the doors to us becoming the closest we've ever been in regards to trying to close in on the rich/poor divide. Even as recently as one hundred years ago, we as a nation were still massively divided. Whilst I think reality shows do give a false promise that instant celebrity will bring you riches and happiness, there are enough 'success stories' to go round to prove that even though you're at an advantage coming from a privileged background, it doesn't have to be the only way you can achieve your own dreams. We are all given a chance to graduate from university thanks to student loans for university and can look to the stars thanks to acts such as Oasis and Dizzee Rascal who fly the flag with dignity for the underclasses.
But if you start condoning violence simply because people are poor and fed up, then all we are doing is inviting chaos into our lives. In my opinion, this is why the London riots spiralled out of control so quickly. Our wimpified society didn't immediately stand up to the disaffected and instead allowed them to run rings around British cities in days. Some blamed it on "social deprivation", but ultimately, the police just didn't smash enough onions and didn't do it quick enough. There was no strong message to anyone else considering getting involved. Where were the horse charges, the baton rounds, the water cannons? Order wasn't maintained, but excuses were well exercised.
So to hear a track where a boy from the streets, who is now living in the safety net of middle class England, tries to empathise with a culture that breeds contempt for anybody who can be bothered to get up and go to work in the morning, it irritates to that Plan B could really believe that the 90% of the country who are all quite nice, decent and respectable people are the reason that the small minority of scumbags in this country go out and rob, mug and fight innocents on a daily basis. There are those who are unfortunately labelled 'chavs' thanks to their baseball cap, the trainers, the hoodie, the beat-heavy music, the supposed violence and sexual hedonism and then there are the scumbags who are menacing and scary, deliberately embodying the stereotype so that there'll be an engendering fear within members of the general public.
I suppose you can't blame someone for sticking to their roots, in fact, I'd commend that, if it wasn't for the fact that he's all over the place with his criticisms. One minute he's blaming 'rich kids' for giving the poor 'chavs' a bad name, then he's showing off in his video despicable characters that he's seen to be promoting, who ultimately make everyone's lives unbearable, striking fear into the majority of the population on a regular basis. Generally if I see someone in a balaclava, I presume they are a dangerous person. Is it right to be glorifying an item of clothing best known for aiding robberies on a mainstream television channel? I just think it looks cheap. It only fuels the delight of the middle classes in hating the "chav" and allows merchandisers to rip off more punters whilst indulging in a cultural and political dead-end.
I ask anyone who listens to 'ill Manors' one question; Have you ever been mugged by a rich kid before? Because I've never been mugged by a rich kid. Yes, I've been pissed off by rich kids before. God knows some of them can be absolute twats, but at the same time, they're generally causing trouble in my life through my own envy and jealousy. However, I have been chased and beaten up by 'chavs' before. I actually usually refrain from using the word to describe them, but they have not spared me such compliments, with many derogatory terms being shouted my way for years and years since I stopped wearing tracksuit bottoms aged sixteen. Yet it's cheered on to support this notion by non-black, non-underclass cultural critics and consumers (the 'rich kids' Plan B refers to) because it momentarily gives them the illusion of outsider status.
I know for a fact that not all poor people are workshy. I know that not all people who wear sports gear are criminals, nor are they violent. I loved playing sports all my teens, and wouldn't wear anything but tracksuit bottoms and football jerseys up until I started going to college. I had dozens of friends who did the same. So to lump everyone into the same category like Plan B has done - suddenly explaining that 'chav' means 'council estate and violent' (I think you'll find it doesn't), is wrong. It's an intellectually dishonest approach to the situation, and considering I have read hyperbolic tweets from those who work at his record label post-Jools claiming he is a "genius", surely such a genius could have been able to raise a few more interesting and challenging points within his song?
We wore trackie bottoms and Reebok Classics (I still do) but we didn't walk around trying to intimidate innocent people, and we didn't thieve even though at times we were so fucking skint all we could afford was to kick a football around a park seven nights a week. Yeah we all dreamed of becoming rich and I was a massive fantasist when it came to thinking money was the root of all happiness when I was a child, but never ever did I feel repressed by it. I didn't know what it was like to be rich, and still don't, so therefore I had no reason to resent anybody for it. Whilst I believe this country is tailored to cater for the rich and make it harder for the poor, it isn't actually the rich kids that are making this country go to the dogs, it's instead the fault of our government and provocative media. This is how the system in this country works: if you're at the top, you can screw those below you. They can fuck about with our country - fuck it up for millions and us, the little people, can do fuck all about it.
Getting your string section to wear balaclavas is not going to change this. Nor are ghetto-porn images in your videos, or vacuous gobbing off on middle-of-the-road music programs like Later With Jools Holland. I almost feel like we're all being done over by Sacha Baron Cohen or Leigh Francis, of which would make perfect sense that Ben Drew is in-fact a comedy character, parodying the typical loud-mouthed ill-opinionated arseholes that you hear down your local pubs each day. You could write a brilliant sketch where the same person could be judged for the same views, but once you take off the headphones and the baseball cap, you are no longer marked and are suddenly free to assume a position of privilege.
The problem I have with Plan B is that whilst Ben Drew seems good-willed in his intent, wanting to use his celebrity and mainstream record deal to debunk the stereotypical views of the underclasses, he completely misses the point whilst doing so. Instead of embracing the idea that not a single person of any socio-economic background should be treated any differently than another one, and that some people are luckier than others when it comes to the way they're cultured or the circumstances they're born into, Plan B instead glorifies the riots of last summer by announcing they were a vindicated and valid way for those who feel alienated by the current state of the UK to express their frustrations. It's a very irresponsible view to blame it all on the 'rich boys', the police and the politicians.
This view he's adopted would ultimately mean that Plan B is accepting the portrayal of those from poorer areas in this country are different to the rest of the society. And if Ben Drew is trying to make these people proud of this, then I am happy to accuse Plan B of being completely stupid. Do you really feel that the underclasses on the streets of Hull, Blackpool, Sunderland and Manchester are really grateful that Plan B is speaking up for the rest of them? A Southerner who wears smart suits, cropped hair and now lives a priviliged lifestyle who is now trying to condescendingly patronise the working classes by lumping them in with the unemployed and illegal immigrants and those capable of shambolic, pointless and violent behaivour.
It's so totally ignorant to think that Plan B is the voice of our generation given that the song 'ill Manors' actually offers no actual analysis or aspiration to actually find a solution to poverty and unemployment that plagues our fair Isles and causes anger and frustration within so many of us. Plan B is exploiting the underclasses, and making a fool of the middle classes and those in the music industry and press, who are desperate to be 'down with the kids' by celebrating watered-down urban vehicles in order to not look the fool when they realise that the Emperor isn't actually wearing any clothes at all.
He's objectifying the working classes through a song that is going to make him rich. Why nobody opposes this shows just how stupid the record-buying public are, but even more worrying is how desperate the press in this country are to declare a song and performance like this as 'genius' when it's actually just one man presenting a list of stereotypical views of council estates and contradicting himself in every other verse whilst never bothering to offer a solution to the problems that plague our society.
I don't understand why Plan B has been elevated upon a pedastal when his rage or the topics he's covering is nothing new. Why do you think that the underclass are going to caress a man who is signed to a major record label, about to release a highly-promoted film and is living a life of luxury and put him higher in this estimations over the hundreds and thousands of rappers and urban poets out there who express their frustrations with society in a far more astute and poignant fashion? I'm always fascinated by how short people's memories are. This is a bloke who was releasing terrible soul records only a few years ago. Now he's the saving grace of the working class and hailed as our finest rapper? Pull the other one.
To reflect on my youth, when I was a teenager, my favourite UK hip-hop rapper was Skinnyman. His 'Council Estate of Mind' album resonated perfectly with me - I wanted to relate to the 'chavs' and try to understand their frustrations and feelings. 'Hayden', my favourite song off the 2004 album, is a brilliant anthem for the streets and offers an interesting point of view that even the teachers and authorities in today's societies are being screwed over. Here's food for thought: that if all of us changed our mindset, things would start to get better and we might treat social breakdown and lack of ambition in a different light.
Teachers who saw their education as a blessin
Come to school now all in a sort of depression
All o' da kids in the class, they all stressin
The teacher's just waitin for that first kid to test him
So school doesnt seem like its any kind of lesson
We're out on the streets tryina make our possession
The manor that we're from has turned like spaghetti western
With itchy fingers on da triggers ready for the pressin and its...
Pure depression, I'm standin at the crossroads,
Thinkin bout all the other children of the lost souls
And now we only aim for goals that we can see
Another brudda thought he saw his future shottin B
He's 19 an' he's caught wid a half a Kee
So now he aint comin home until he's 33
What a waste of a life
Jus' like a criss girl I knew who fucked man for a taste of pipe
No-one's ready to face up to these fights
But you find some mad shit on these council estates at night
So lock your shit down safe an tight
And stand firm like a soldier so you dont lose face, alright?
The police patrol the streets like beasts
Instead of chasin the theifs they pull us up and give us beats
So we run these streets red, kids are holdin their head
As they drivin around on their stolen peds
They're just dealin the cards that life has dealt em
Half of their crews are now lockdown in Feltham
Schools an' probation just cant seem to help dem
The law has made sure that they've grown to resent dem
Dont ask them now what is their life representin
To get through their day is their sole intention
An you cant tell them that they're wrong
Coz they're all men-child and feel they know whats goin on
They havent got no time to enjoy jus bein young or havin fun
They out there keepin it headstrong
They couldnt let Skinnyman come and advise them
They look at me as if my words was patronisin
They cant think about no long term plans
When they just young boys tryin to be some o' da mans dem
They cant think about no long term plans
When they just young boys tryin to be some o' da mans dem..