Ben Drew (centre) directs the video for She Said
by Kev Geoghegan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News
When east-London rapper Ben Drew aka Plan B released his debut album, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, in June 2006, he was praised as "the UK's Eminem".
Tracks such as Sick 2 Def, Kidz and Mama (Loves a Crackhead) told gritty stories of teenage violence, drugs, rape and inner city hardship.
He came fourth in the BBC's Sound of 2006 in a list which was topped by Corinne Bailey Rae, an artist at the polar opposite of Drew's furious, lyrically twisted rants.
Now, with his second album, Plan B presents The Defamation of Strickland Banks, Drew becomes a different kind of storyteller.
Each track acts as a chapter in the life of a young northern soul and motown obsessed singer who is jailed for a crime he did not commit.
The major difference is that, for the most part, Drew sings on the record.
Film for the blind
Initially, Drew saw the album happening using a mixture of singing and rapping in the characters of Plan B and Banks but admits it would have become "confusing" for listeners.
"So, I split the two albums in two," he says.
The first two tracks released form the latest LP, Stay Too Long and She Said, showcase not only Drew's quick-firing rap style but his surprisingly smooth singing voice, which has been favourably compared, by the NME, to Smokey Robinson.
More realistically however, Drew's throaty delivery sounds closer to James Morrison or even Terence Trent D'Arby.
"The concept for what I like to call 'a film for the blind' came about before I even made the first album but the direction came later from writing a few soul songs," says the 26-year old native of Forest Gate.
"I had three or four songs and didn't want to waste them and I didn't think anyone else could sing them as well."
The result is a 13-track concept album, telling the the story of Banks' incarceration and life behind bars.
Each track or "scene" tells the next part of the story, the accompanying music videos illustrate those scenes and Drew aims to release a complete film at some point.
Drew says he envisages both the new album and his previous effort Who Needs Actions as part of a musical trilogy.
"Although you get the story in Strickland Banks, there are a lot of holes, there are a lot of missing scenes and the hip hop album which is called The Ballad of Belmarsh and hasn't been released yet is basically the deleted scenes," he says.
"Musically, it's like the first record which a lot of people know me for."
But 2009, was undoubtedly the year of Blue Eyed Soul, with artists like Duffy, Amy Winehouse, Adele and the production of the horn-obsessed Mark Ronson.
She may not have ditched the beehive but even Winehouse is believed to be drawing on reggae music for the follow-up to her hugely successful Black to Black record.
Despite that, Drew insists he is not worried that audiences too may have had enough of big band-flavoured soul music.
"Yeah, I think they have had their fill," he concedes before tersely adding, "But this is not that style of music, this has got a lot more depth in terms of the content.
"They might have had their fill of the way that Amy makes her music or the way Duffy or Mark Ronson make their soul music, but they haven't heard the way Plan B makes soul music."
Drew's music brought him to the attention of casting agents and he has appeared in several film roles, working with former Bafta rising star Noel Clarke and even acting opposite Michael Caine, in the revenge thriller Harry Brown, as a violent hoodie-wearing thug.
But surprisingly, he says that far from being bitten by the acting bug, he plans on using the the experiences to further his career as a director
"I took all those roles in the films to learn what it was like on a film set. I've been working on a script and it looks like I'll be directing my first feature by the end of the year."
The film, to be called Ill Manors is a return to Drew's rap music roots as it weaves together "six different stories that connect together and each one is represented by a different hip hop song".
Drew insists the circle back to his familiar ground represents his desire to be seen as a storyteller.
"I still love hip hop music, I still love getting in people's faces and being controversial."
The Defamation of Strickland Banks is released on 12 April.