Artists Of The Year

CMU Artists Of The Year 2012: Plan B

By | Published on Wednesday 19 December 2012

Plan B

When Plan B received the Artist of The Year award at this year’s Artist & Manager Awards in November, one of his thank yous went to his label, Warner/Atlantic, for “believing in” him. Fairly standard, I know, but he referenced back to the company’s purchase of the indie that originally signed him, 679 Recordings. He pointed out that he was one of the few artists on the label that Warner Music kept on after the purchase, at a time when, as far as he was concerned, he was “just some rapper with an album that didn’t sell very well”.

And it definitely is to the major label’s credit that it saw something worth nurturing in Plan B, because there have been times when he has been an artist whose vision isn’t so easy to see.

Even though CMU had made the rapper’s 2006 debut ‘Who Needs Actions When You Got Words’ one of its albums of the year, I’ll admit that I didn’t rush to press play when, in late 2009, Atlantic’s PR department excitedly emailed us about the new Plan B single ‘Stay Too Long’. I expected more of the bleak, acoustic guitar-based rap of the debut, and the moment just didn’t seem right for such a thing. But, for old time’s sake, I did eventually make time to listen, only to have to go back to the source to double check this was the same Plan B from three years earlier. The jump from the dark social commentary of his debut to a soul concept album wasn’t a typical career trajectory.

Yet, despite him having taken such a sharp turn between albums one and two, when Plan B said in 2010 that he was shelving his soul singer alter-ego and returning to rap, it seemed unlikely. After all, this time around he’d had a big hit, and even he admitted that his label wasn’t especially happy with his decision to divert from that winning course.

Regardless, he forged ahead, saying that he would put out his music online for free if the label didn’t want it, adding: “I’m not going to water down my hip hop. I’m not going to do what radio want. That’s selling out. I want to swear and talk about fucked up shit. If I want to talk about something radio won’t play, why should that stop my creativity?”

He’s a stubborn bastard, you have to give him that. When he subsequently told the folks at Atlantic that his new album would actually be the soundtrack to a “hip hop musical”, it’s hard to know if that would have immediately placated them or not. On top of the latest genre switch, does the fact this was, basically, another concept record help or hinder the marketing plans? Whatever, Atlantic put together a release schedule.

The title track from the album, ‘Ill Manors’, was released in March, accompanied by a statement from Plan B defending the violence in its video, which he said was a “satire” on the previous summer’s riots in London. Calling for more discussion of what had caused the rioting, while worrying that the subject had “been swept under the carpet and forgotten about”, his seriousness was backed up by the unrelenting track itself.

The album was equally dark, if not more so, picking up where his debut long player had left off and painting an unwelcoming picture of life in East London, reflected in the film it soundtracked. And though the film was made, and much of the album recorded, prior to the summer riots of 2011, it seemed all the more relevant upon its release.

While ‘Ill Manors’ the album hasn’t seen anything like the success of ‘The Defamation Of Strickland Banks’, which sold over 800,000 copies in 2010 (it being something of a phenomenon that year), it did nonetheless go to number one and has shifted more than 100,000 copies so far this year. Certainly not the commercial nosedive it might have been, and arguably a testament to artists being allowed to take risks.

For his next trick, Plan B says he’s going to disappear for a year in order to live a normal life. And as unlikely as that sounds, if anyone’s going to pull it off, he probably will.

See all of CMU’s Artists Of The Year for 2012 here.