Growing up tough in East London on a Forest Gate council estate, Ben Drew, aka Plan B, always felt outcast from society.
His punk musician Dad left him and his Mum when he was five months old and he hasn’t had any contact with him since he was six. Expelled from school he wound up in the Tunmarsh Pupil Referral Unit in Plaistow for kids unable to attend mainstream education.
It was here that he started making music and his life took a turn for the better. Under the alias Plan B, Drew has become a multiplatinum selling rapper and singer.
While music has always been his greatest passion in life, film is a close second. He has acted in a slew of films, and he recently penned and directed his own feature film, ‘iLL Manors’. It depicts life on the streets of East London seen through the eyes of several dysfunctional characters and their interwoven lives.
“It’s about all the nasty fucked-up shit that happens in the world that is written about in the newspapers, but there’s never an explanation as to why this stuff happens,” Drew told Time Out London.
“I wanted to show that there’s a cause and effect. There’s a line of dominoes and one’s knocking into the next, affecting the next. When you read this stuff in the paper, you’re reading about the last domino that’s fallen, that’s what you’re reading, but it never explains the dominoes before.
“If a kid stabs another kid, it’s always like, ‘This horrible, disgusting, violent kid stabbed another kid and killed him’. All right, why is this kid horrible and why is he violent? What makes another human being think that it’s okay morally, because we all know it’s against the law to pick up a knife and stab it in someone? What gets a human being to that point? These are the things that I want to know.
"I want to delve deeper into these things, and ‘iLL Manors’ was a chance for me to show why these despicable fucked-up things happen. Why do they happen? Where do they stem from? One of the points I’m trying to get across in the film is that we spend our entire adult lives trying to fix the things that either our parents or somebody else broke inside of us when we were kids.”
‘iLL Manors’ the film follows ‘iLL Manors’ the single, which was inspired by the London riots and is the first track on the accompanying album.
“What happened in Tottenham in some ways I can understand but what happened everywhere else in the country was opportunism. I won’t justify it because I don’t agree with it. In fact it upset me so much I want to change it, so I wrote this song to bring the issue back to the forefront of public conversation. I feel it has been swept under the carpet and forgotten about, and it still needs to be properly addressed.
“Since the riots happened I haven’t heard enough people within the public sector asking the two most important questions: ‘why did it happen and how can we prevent it from happening again?’ I do have a theory as to why and how but first I need to make my point. And I’ve chosen satire to do so,” Drew said in a statement.
“The point being made in my song ‘iLL Manors’ is that society needs to take some responsibility for the cause of these riots. Why are there so many kids in the county that don’t feel they have a future, or care about having a criminal record? I think one of the reasons is that there is a very public prejudice in this country towards the underclass.
"These kids are ridiculed in the press as they aren’t as educated as others, because they talk and dress in a certain way ... but they’re not as stupid as people think. They are aware of the ill feelings towards them and that makes them feel alienated. I know because I felt it myself growing up. These kids have been beaten into apathy. They don’t care about society because society has made it very clear that it doesn’t care about them.”
Full of the violence and drug abuse he grew up surrounded by, ‘iLL Manors’ isn’t a film for the faint hearted.
“I have known a lot of nasty characters. Some get arrested, some die, but they are just replaced,” Drew told The Telegraph. “Either you stay in that circle and get blinded by the madness or you get out, like I did, and that is what the film is about. There is a lot of stuff based on my own experience that I had to take out. I didn’t want to send people away from the cinema with a total feeling of dread and darkness.
"I have lost quite a few childhood friends to heroin and crack; I even tried getting one of my friends clean for 12 months, only for him to throw it back in my face. My experience with heroin addicts, trying to get a person you love off drugs, isn’t a positive one.
“I know a girl who had a crack baby, and I know a whole generation of kids from a village in Essex taking their parents’ cars and money and driving into London to pick up serious drugs. The parents had moved to get away from it, but their kids still go back. Your kids aren’t safe anywhere.
"In my eyes, the reality is even harder and more painful than what we show in the film, but you don’t want to send people home from the cinema feeling like they want to kill themselves. You need to bring some light and some hope to the film, although for me that side of it is the fairy tale, not the reality. People who don’t know this environment wouldn’t believe what really goes on.”
When asked who ‘iLL Manors’ was for, Drew didn’t hesitate in telling The Guardian that it’s for the kids that are living the life of the characters in the film.
“These kids are angry and fucked up and I am angry and fucked up. But I'm starting to calm down and I'm starting to see the bigger picture. I want to give them some knowledge and wisdom. You might say, ‘Get over yourself, Plan B!’ Whatever, cool. I know that for me to want to teach another human being is not coming from a negative place.
"As human beings, we're compelled to teach and to learn, that's part of the beauty of being human. What the fuck is the point of us being here if we're not going to learn nothing or pass nothing on?”
‘iLL Manors’ is available now. Plan B plays Parklife at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens September 29.