Rapper, writer, actor, director, conceptualist and soul supernova, Plan B, aka Ben Drew, has successfully straddled that difficult divide between Radio 1 ubiquity and artistic credibility; a commercial artist who also receives serious consideration from chin-stroking cultural commentators. No mean feat.
Plan B, O2 Academy, Glasgow ****
This dynamic performance was a career-spanning illustration of how he’s managed it. A fluid rapper who spits authoritative rhymes steeped in inner city violence and injustice, he’s also a nifty pop songwriter and supple soul singer. His voice is smooth yet impassioned; a tough romantic, that falsetto is flecked with grit. He’s earnest, but that furrowed conviction is alleviated and justified by some smart pop moves.
Drew announced his intentions by opening with the claustrophobic urban soul sucker punch of Grateful and Heartbeat from forthcoming album Heaven Before Hell Breaks Loose. Surging with hooky, foreboding, beat-heavy bombast, they established an intensity which barely wavered all night.
Dressed in a natty black suit with red lapels, he urgently marched and stomped across the stage like a taciturn Michael McIntyre.
Banter isn’t part of his repertoire; when your music really does do the talking, breaking that powerful spell with chatty asides to the audience would be foolish.
Every song barrelled into its neighbour, but it never sounded like a homogenous soup. Even the supposed mid-set breather, when he donned an acoustic guitar for a solo spot, was marked by the stark contrast between romantic yearner Love Goes Down and the ferocious rap soliloquy Kidz.
Inspired by the murder of Damilola Taylor, no wonder ears pricked up when he introduced himself to the world with this searing spew of social commentary. Thirteen years on from that excoriating debut, Ben Drew still sounds fiery.