Ben Drew, also known as Plan B, sometimes mistaken for Strickland Banks, is a reluctant star. His transformation from underground hip-hop artist on his first album Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, to the lounge suit wearing, soul singing, lady-killing alter ego he embodies for his second album, The Defamation Of Strickland Banks has been as swift as it is surprising.
It's a loose concept album, the songs tell the story of the rise and fall of the singer as he finds himself falling foul of his own fame and taking a stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure. The album’s Motown-inspired sound, backed up by 26-year-old Drew’s ‘secret’ belter of a tenor voice has proven a hit with, well, pretty much everyone.
Navy and gingham jacket £920 by Gucci at Matches and grey polo with navy trim by Original Penguin.
“I was doing a gig in Glasgow, and this guy in his early 40s was walking down the street with an eight-year-old girl and he kept on looking at me,” Drew tells FHM. “Then he said, ‘Excuse me, are you Plan B?’ I said ‘yeah’ and he said his daughter would really like a picture. I was shocked because she was so young and the album had only been out three days.
I’ve had grannies and all sorts coming up to me. What’s great about the new album is it’s old music that dads and grans and shit can be into, but also kids and teenagers because it’s got rapping in it.”
Blue and white pinstripe shirt £45 by Peter Werth, navy knitted tie £75 by Grieves & Hawkes, grey and lilac Prince of Wales check trousers £225 (park of suit) by Ben Sherman and belt £230 by John Varvatos.
Alongside acting roles in last year’s Harry Brown and Noel Clarke’s latest caper 184.108.40.206. Drew has suddenly gone from the kind of rapper you play really loud after having an argument with your parents, to a primetime pop star. But unlike his alter ego, fame isn’t going to change Plan B, he even has his next album finished and ready to go.
The Battle Of Belmarsh will be a return to the dark rap of Drew’s first album and will tell the tale of Banks’ stay in prison. After his record company decided the album was a bit rich for their tastes, Drew will release the album himself, ensuring both Strickland’s and his own story don’t finish just yet.
Blue tonic suit £225 by St George by Duffer and Debenhams, aubergine cotton shirt £105 by Aquascutum and silver tie £8 by Next.
So you’re a full-blown pop star now. Is that weird after so long underground?
It’s funny because I wasn’t a role model until I got a No.1 record. Before that I was just a raw artist trying to do something different. You’re expected to be really responsible as soon as you get a No.1 record, but I think the music suffers.
So you’re not going to compromise and stay safe on the next record The Ballad Of Belmarsh?
The Ballad Of Belmarsh is very underground and dark. Off the back of this album I think it will do better than my first record did, but I’m making it clear in interviews it’s a very adult project, it’s not for kids. It’s the responsibility of the parents to make sure that little girls like the one I had the picture with don’t hear it.
Grey and lilac Prince of Wales check suit £225 by Ben Sherman, blue cotton shirt with white collar £99 by Sand, silver and white print tie £65 and gold tie clip both Dunhill, white pocket square £40 by Canali and rings Plan B's own.
Crumbs. But you sound really happy on your new album, it must be fun to perform?
Yeah, this album is a lot more enjoyable to perform live, because musically it’s doing something I can move to. You must have to look after your voice more so you can keep belting it out Smokey Robinson-style… I’ll have a peppermint tea and honey before I go on stage, purely because I smoke so much and drink so much it’s the one thing that makes sure I don’t sound like Marge Simpson when I’m singing.
And are you enjoying the new look with the suits? Or do you get back in your civvies as soon as you’re off stage?
The thing is, those suits are so slick you can’t really wear them about the place ’cos you’ll fuck them up. So I only wear them if I’m going out. There’s a dressed-down, Strickland Banks prison look that I sometimes wear, but I still wear my Zoo York T-shirts, Nudie jeans and my Vans.
Grey and black dogtooth check suit £675 by Love Moschino Uomo, navy knitted polo shirt £93 by Armand Basi, black watch £960 by Longines and grey leather 'Keston' shoes £80 by H by Hudson.
Is it hard to act being such an awful bastard like your character Noel Winters in Harry Brown?
I’m just thinking that it’s my job to make the audience hate me. And it’s much easier to make people hate you than like you. Especially the whole public perception of me from the first album, people find me unapproachable and are intimidated by what’s been written about me. It’s just playing on that, it’s fucking easy for me. When I was at school I didn’t have an older brother or any support network, so if anyone used to start on me at school it was just little old me against the world.
What was it like threatening Michael Caine?
It was nerve racking. You don’t know how people are going to perceive you. It was about staying focused when I met him. I wasn’t trying to crack jokes with him. I wanted to be respectful.
Plan B’s The Defamation Of Strickland Banks is out now