Having spent a couple years supporting his successful 2010 effort The Defamation of Strickland Banks, Ben "Plan B" Drew had to strike while the iron was hot, seizing the day with enough clout and financial backing to fund his directorial debut, the feature film Ill Manors. As such, this soundtrack was a bit delayed, with some tracks recorded after the film's completion, but if ever a recording deserved that "music from and inspired by the film" tag, it's this one. Ill Manors, the soundtrack, is a thematically sound album with the dour life of the U.K.'s lower-class youth always in focus. Their dreams, hopes, victories, and inevitable defeats fuel these songs, all of it tied together by dialog from the film along with spoken word from performance poet John Cooper Clarke, his dark humor making him the album's wise and wise-cracking "Watcher." Like Drew's leap into the director's chair, it's an ambitious move, but any thought that he's in over his hoodie is wiped away quickly by the opening title track, which invites "Let's all go on an urban safari/We might see some illegal migrants" as cellos and dirty beats lay underneath, because this is not only a full-bodied, string-instrument soundtrack, but a grimy soundtrack too. Drew's turns of phrase are in check here, and while he's still good in an Eminem style with shocking punch lines, his writing is simpler and more earnest than previously, leaving the metaphorical stuff up to Clarke and the dialog samples. "Drug Dealer" could have fallen out of the late '80s with its boom-bap beat and slice-of-hood-life lyrics, and even if dubstep, grime, and an ultra-fast delivery all point to rap that's post-millennial, Drew's throwback, keep-it-simple style is a welcome contrast. Hearing about kids who don't make it to their teens or parents who are doomed to inflict their pain on the next generation in such raw and certain terms is designed to snap listeners out of their jaded mindset, and it works, especially when surrounded by music that is either rich and seductive or immediate and flashy. Solid, purposeful, and crafted in a manner that betrays both Drew's age and the album's hurried road to release, Ill Manors makes heavy-hitter number three for the rapper, suggesting that Plan B doesn't issue albums, just milestones.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries