A truly maverick figure in the world of music, Ben Drew’s diverse creativity is inexhaustible. Awards, accolades, acclaim and multi-platinum album sales might be enough for some musicians, for Drew, it’s just the tip of his artistic ambitions. Following his quadruple- platinum No.1 second album, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, a BRIT, three Ivor Novello’s and sold out headline tours, Drew, AKA Plan B, has just completed his self-penned directorial debut film and album, iLL Manors. Starring Riz Ahmed (Four Lions, Shifty), and introducing an impressive cast of newcomers, iLL Manors is a stark, often brutal and provocative depiction of Forest Gate, east London, where Drew was born and raised.
Combining overlapping stories and an interweaving rap narrative, iLL Manors is conceptual in both approach and execution. As with his music, Drew pushes boundaries on every level - and makes it work to incredible effect. Encompassing everything from gang initiation to prostitution, legal and illegal adoption and drug dealing and drug addiction, thematically and visually it’s a bold, shocking debut. As billions is spent on the Olympics, less than three three away social and financial deprivation is rife in E7 - and beyond - and Drew refuses to shy from addressing current socio-political issues. In some ways, there are echoes of his prophetic debut album, Who Needs Actions, When You’ve Got Words, a record that proved to be far ahead of its time.
iLL Manors will be a must-buy. Featuring production from Labrinth (Tinie Tempah), Chase & Status (Rihanna) and Al Shux (Jay-Z) the soundscape is as bold and brilliant as its namesake. Bass-heavy, there’s references to the music Ben is listening to now (Azealia Banks, Odd Future, Frank Ocean, Maverick Sabre) as well as the dubstep, bass, hip hop and D&B that have shaped him sonically over the years. iLL Manors – the album will be released on 14th May, following the film on 4 May.
It will be yet another huge achievement in a career that has already seen international acclaim, high-profile collaborations and worldwide tour dates.
The Paul Epworth (Adele) produced No.1 album Strickland… has so far sold some 1.4 million copies in the UK, also giving Plab B his first two Top 10 singles and garnering one BRIT, three Ivor Novello’s, one MOBO, a Music Producers Guild award, 2 Q awards and a South bank Sky Arts award. Strickland Banks was the fifth biggest seller of 2010. After touring with Chase & Status, with who he appeared on their hit, End Credits, Plan B announced a headline UK tour, which was extended to over 100 dates and saw him perform all over Europe, Australia and the US. He was also asked to support Noel Gallagher at the Royal Albert Hall and duetted with Elton John as part of Elton’s BBC Electric Proms performance. A festival favourite, Plan B has played every major festival from Glastonbury to SXSW, Coachella, and Australia’s Big Day Out.
In print, Plan B can be found everywhere from the NME to GQ and the broadsheets. On screen, he has been on every major talk show from Jonathan Ross to Jools Holland. His online statistics are also impressive, with over 100million YouTube views, 170k Twitter followers and 4.5 million Facebook Likes to date. Outside of music, Plan B the brand has begun to build. Carefully chosen endorsements with Hewlet-Packard and Bulmers have established his commercial appeal, while as an actor he has impressed in Adulthood, Harry Brown and 4,3,2,1. Later this year, Drew will appear in a starring role in the big screen remake of The Sweeney alongside Ray Winstone. The two have become mutual fans. “He’s a genius that kid,” say Winstone recently, while Ben is similarly enthusiastic. “Everything you want a man to be, he is, and more. He proper looked after me, man. Not just because he had to, but because he genuinely wanted to.”
But for Drew, it’s iLL Manors that is the highlight to date. Despite the sales and international success, it’s this film project and album that he considers his biggest achievement thus far.
It’s means more to me than selling all them records for Strickland…. Just the sheer difficulties and hardships it’s taken. With the film, there were a lot of doubters, and uncertainties and it was just really hard. It has almost killed me in a way. I’ve lost my mind a few times, which is why it’s such an achievement. I want it to be amazing. I wanna smash it.”