British success story, Plan B, might not come off as the most eloquent guy but last month he gave his thoughts to an all-ears TEDxObserver crowd on hip-hop and the term ‘chav’, among other topics. It’s definitely well worth a watch whether you’re a fan of his music or not. I found myself agreeing with a lot of what Ben Drew was discussing over the course of his twenty minute talk, until we got to one my biggest gripes with the term conscious.
Pretty early on in the talk, he familiarises us with his roots in music. “And so we wouldn’t listen to anyone apart from our favourite rappers.” he explains “their words are what guided us. Unfortunately, some of those words are negative. Within hip-hop there’s some that romanticises street life and being a gangster and selling drugs. But there’s also conscious hip-hop.” Plan B goes on to explain why he prefers that side to the genre, and it pretty much echoes the sentiments of this site. Then he plays a bit of his new single that pretty much sums up the talk so far.
This is where he started to lose me a little, not in the rest of the talk (in fact, he goes on to make many excellent points on the term chav used as a derogatory term, that anyone would have a hard time disagreeing with), but in the imagery and sound he shared with us.
The new track from his forthcoming movie – both titled “Ill Manors” – in the context of the TED Talk, is a fairly well done piece of satire on the media’s perception of certain segments of lower class Britain. It comes off with this faux-Public Enemy anger against the class divide. However, surely you couldn’t blame someone for missing that context. Unless you’re one of the hundreds in attendance or you’ve contributed towards the 22K views figure on YouTube, who have been given the benefit of the eight minutes prior, is it that obvious that this is satire?
What you looking at little rich boy, we’re poor around here, run home & lock your door
Do a little test. Play this video to a friend who hasn’t seen the talk and ask them whether they agree with the message. Ask them whether they understand the message. I’m betting they missed the point. The video features stolen TVs, assaults and Molotov Cocktails to Plan B’s violent sounding drum & bass influenced track – who could blame them.
The key to all satire comedy sketches is in the end, the satired subject looks stupid, letting everyone in on the joke. Satire in music is even tougher – those who claim to listen to Lady Gaga ironically, probably just love them some Pokerface – but the personal nature of rap means it’s possible to pull it off. Ugly Duckling’s track “Pick Up Lines” is a great example of this but only works because of the exaggerated lyrics and the comical vibe of the track itself. Whereas Ill Manors sounds more like an anthem for looting.
If the track was created for awareness or to make a point, well done, you’ve sparked some interesting debate in the YouTube comments in the meantime. However, whether the reasoning behind this is simply to make a point, making your track in such a sarcastic tone always has the risk of going against you.
So was the talk just Plan B attempting to justify why the new tracks sound aggressive? Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t think his latest material entirely speaks for itself. Calling your music conscious but hiding it under the vail of the same mainstream music you’re trying to better, is arguably way worse. At least Jay-Z & Kanye admit to “getting people going” regardless of meaning.