Plan B Talks "The Defamation of Strickland Banks," Favorite Books, and Telling Stories
Mon, 10 Jan 2011 07:47:32
Plan B hatches a subtle scheme to save hip hop at large on The Defamation of Strickland Banks.
He does so by infusing a healthy bit of soul into a personal, story-laden rap style. The UK singer-songwriter and rapper constructs an intricate narrative on his concept album—The Defamation of Strickland Banks. Plan B's flow is eloquent, elegant, and utterly engaging as he follows the album's hero to hell and back. It's one of the most unique hip hop albums since The Streets' landmark, A Grand Don't Come For Free, and it's bound to be remembered as a modern classic. The Defamation of Strickland Banks has also laid the groundwork for Plan B's next masterpiece, The Ballad of Belmarsh, which is in the pipeline…
Plan B sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about telling stories on The Defamation of Strickland Banks, some of his favorite books, and so much more.
He's about to make a big splash in the U.S. so be sure to check him out now! Move over Eminem...
Did you always have a complete vision for The Defamation of Strickland Banks?
It came together piece by piece. My first record was hip hop, and I was a soul singer before I started rapping. That's why I call myself Plan B. For years, I was writing mushy, Usher-type love songs. It was contemporary R&B. Then, I switched and started doing conscious, aggressive, and dark hip hop. I was going down this road, and I just jumped off the tracks and went down another road. I never stopped loving soul music, and I never stopped writing it. Through the process of making the hip hop record, I would occasionally write a song outside of the genre. One of the songs I wrote was "Love Goes Down." After the first record, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, I just wanted a break from the politics of hip hop so the band and I experimented with lots of different styles of music. The better songs that I was writing were the soul songs. We had a bit of a headache on our hands because we had these great soul songs nobody would ever hear unless I released them. We knew the public in the UK saw me as a rap artist. The music I was writing prior to the first album was genuine, classic-sounding soul. It was always my ambition to make my second record a concept album or "Film for the blind," as I call it. I just didn't have the story; I did have these soul songs. In order to let the world hear these soul songs the band and I thought were so great, I decided to make the concept album about a soul singer. Everything after that was just another bridge that we would come to and have to cross. I tried to make a hip hop record that had elements of soul, and it ended up becoming a soul record that had small elements of hip hop instead. In the end, I had a soul record and a hip hop record that I wanted to release together as a double disc. The label talked me out of it, and we ended up going with the soul record—The Defamation of Strickland Banks. Now that the soul record has been successful over here, I think a lot more people are open to my hip hop, and I'm going to release my hip hop album—The Ballad of Belmarsh—in the UK. None of it was premeditated. It was all happy little accidents that happened. There was a love of music and storytelling. It was a natural progression.
The record has a bit of rock vibe too.
Certain rock has soul influences. "Stay Too Long" reminds me of "Brown Sugar" by The Rolling Stones. For me, that isn't straightforward rock, it has a massive soul influence. Although the music of "Stay Too Long" is a bit rock, the way I'm singing is still soul. I always thought "Brown Sugar" had that feel to it. I kept "Stay Too Long" on the record because the rapping is more like Rage Against the Machine. I've never been afraid to experiment with stuff. You can experiment with things and make them different. It doesn't necessarily mean it can't be on a soul album. I let that creativity flow. If we were writing a soul song that had a rock 'n' roll feel, I let it go.
What's the story behind "The Recluse?"
Well, you've got this famous guy in prison who doesn't belong there. Because he's famous, he's a target for the queers, the murderers, and the rapists. I asked if I was in that position, what would I do? There are people out there trying to attack me. I'm not a killer. The first thing I'd do is stay in my cell and not come out. I'd grow my beard, not wash, and stink to the point where any rapist would find me so disgusting he wouldn't come near me. "The Recluse" is about someone who's not coming out of his cell, not washing, not looking after himself, and growing a beard so he becomes repellent to anyone who would want to cause him harm. This character thinks that's going to stop them but it doesn't. That's why "The Recluse" leads into "Traded In My Cigarettes," where he makes the conscious decision to save up all his cigarettes and trade them for a shank to protect himself from all these people who want to do all this fucked up shit to him.
Did you always know "What You Gonna Do" would end the album?
As I was writing it, I did, which is why I try to namedrop every song on the album in "What You Gonna Do." When I heard the music, it just felt like the end song—whether it be the penultimate or the very end. I say, "Just don't leave me on a cliffhanger," and it became evident that it had to be the last song. On the hip hop record, you find out in greater details what happened in the Strickland Banks story. I knew that record was coming so I didn't want to disclose that information on The Defamation of Strickland Banks. That's why I left this album on a cliffhanger.
Do you tend to read a lot when you're writing?
I started reading later on. In school, I had no interest in learning academics. I had no interest in reading the works of Shakespeare. Only since I left school, I started having an interest in history and novels because I could read the books I wanted to read and not the Tudors and fucking Stuarts they making us fucking learn about in the UK. That really teaches nothing about where we're going. The past can genuinely help a human being learn about we're going in the future. I felt the history I was taught in school never did that. Since I left school, I've gotten a greater respect for history. I feel like a sponge who wants to learn more and more. The art of storytelling was within me. I had a childhood where I didn't get everything I wanted. I wasn't spoiled. I had to use my imagination for the things I wanted. I had to dream a lot. My mom didn't have the money to get me the clothes and sneakers the other kids had. The greatest muscle we have in our body is our brain. The part of our brain that allows us to imagine things can only get stronger through not having many things. That made my imagination very vivid. I would visualize things. Rapping is something I had to work very hard at. Soul music came very naturally because I was writing about love and how I was feeling. The first record was mostly hip hop because it was like my new toy. That album was very personal. It had songs about my mom and my dad. He left when I was eight. I never saw him until very recently. It had songs about my friend who died. I laid my whole life on the table for everyone to see. I just didn't feel like it was the right time to do it again on The Defamation of Strickland Banks. That's why I took a vacation from hip hop and made a soul record.
What are some of your favorite books?
I love the movie Fight Club, so I decided to read some of Chuck Palahniuk's books. I love his writing. He has very dark sense of humor and imagination like myself. I read Survivor and Haunted. After that, I found out about a British novelist who wrote a book called Kill Your Friends by John Niven. It's about a serial killer who works as an A&R guy in the music industry. He's a horrible, nasty bastard, but it's a really funny book. I connected with it because I'd been through that whole process as an artist and met a lot of motherfucking fake A&R people. This book exposed the dark side of the music industry with a lot of humor. It's amazing. I've also read stuff like The Philistine Prophecy and The Way of The Peaceful Warrior. Those books are spiritual bypassing religion and most of the shit in the world that causes fucking wars. The decisions we make lead us to where we end up. I'm really into that, but I'm also into the dark twisted shit that happens in life. There's so much dark shit in life. You can either let it depress you or find humor in it and laugh at it. That's why I choose to talk about dark things and have that sense of humor.
Have you heard Plan B yet?