Plan B, Ill Manors and the Camden Ripper

THERE’S high critical praise everywhere you look for Plan B this week, all for his new song/rap/video in which he tackles last summer’s riots. The Guardian discusses whether Ill Manors is the best protest song ever. Ever? The Evening Standard says tonight it could win Eurovision. And gosh – even a Labour MP, Jamie Reed, likes it.

It is good. He says the right things about how the poor have been demonised, how the word ‘chav’ can be a weapon and the video particularly captures the untreated rage in parts of London ahead of last summer’s disturbances.

But, you know, I’m still trying to decipher the hidden social comment in one of Plan B’s older songs. Before Ill Manors. Before the soul stuff he did in a three piece suit. The cider ad. Before all of that.

Suzanne is a rap (with a little Leonard Cohen sample) about a prostitute being murdered in Camden Town by a man who then chops up her body and dumps her ‘bits and bobs’ near the Lock. It ends by asking us to keep an eye out for body parts floating up the canal. Names aren’t the same – but this came out in the wake of the crimes of Anthony Hardy, the Camden Ripper killer who murdered three prostitutes in his council flat in Camden Town. One of the victims was so badly mutilated she had to be identified by her breast implants. It was the most churning news story this area of London has lived through in the last ten years. I haven’t reported on anything like it since. [If you want to read about the tragedy of the case, here’s one of my essays]

Now, I know his is a challenging act (and that I’m not as young as I used to be) but given Plan B’s thoughtful style and some of the fine work he did after making this record, I keep waiting when I listen back to it to hear the message, the deeper point, the social comment in Suzanne. What I hear is lyrics like ‘Chop chop chop’ and then the buzzing of a machine saw and a woman screaming. You can read and listen for yourself:

Maybe I wrote too much on the Camden Ripper story, from the day the bodies were found to the inquiries into these horrors, and that the anesthetic of artistic licence doesn’t insulate me when listening to Suzanne. Others clearly saw the merit in it – YouTube is awash with media studies videos for the song in which boys pretend to be serial killers and girls pretend to be frightened prostitutes, recreating in the process one of NW1’s darkest hours. Now call me old-fashioned…

Below, some of the student video versions of ‘Suzanne’

4 Comments on Plan B, Ill Manors and the Camden Ripper

  1. jimjepps // March 21, 2012 at 6:17 pm //

    This latest is good music, which is all I ask of it, but I’m not sure it’s politics are that great.

    I’m pretty sure it’s saying that as the rich are going to treat us like animals then we will be animals. That’s a particular sort of progressive I suppose, but it’s exactly the sort of thing that justifies street violence and all sorts of badness.

    As to the earlier, yes, it’s rank. I’ve got no idea why anyone goes to see the Saw films or other torture porn in the mainstream, let alone wallow in true life horror.

    There’s several possible approaches on the difference. He’s grown up a bit. He’s bad on one thing and better on another. Or maybe they are of a piece where the grim side of poverty becomes a badge of honour as well as an injustice.

    The German left artist george grosz has impeccable lefty credentials but he did a whole series of pictures on sex murders. People see it as a metaphor for Nazi germany and WWI – but to be honest if true its contained in our heads not the pictures.

    Maybe the song is saying we live in a sick society – or maybe he just gets thrill from the idea of vulnerable women being murdered and chopped up.

  2. I also struggle to overcome my feelings regarding the first album; I loved Sick 2 Death when it was on the Run the Road 2 compilation but I just can’t deal with the misogyny on some of his other tracks. That includes the false rape accusation at the heart of Strickland Banks now I come to think of it…
    but I’m not prepared to write him off totally yet. He has an undeniable way with words and I think could offer a valuable perspective on the riots (and the buildup/aftermath). Just… massive pinch of salt I guess?

  3. jimjepps // March 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm //

    I’ve been watching the German original here which is really good too, less anger but more disturbing.

    It’s also possibly the first time that Shostakovic has been extensively sampled by a major artist in the UK – maybe?

  4. I dont agree with the whole you tube video bandwaggon but think Ben Drew is a genius for his uncensored look at as he says Camerons broken britian.If only the youths of today were to channel all the emotion and front they have in to a positive exspressive outlet this would broaden both minds and opinions in a positive sense.

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