UK based rapper Plan B has made the swift transformation from gritty foul-mouthed, trash-talking rapper to sweet soul vocalist for his second album, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, an inviting mix of old-fashioned soul, R&B and hip-hop at its finest. It's definitely one of the best releases of the year so far.
More interestingly, behind its well polished front lies a story about a singer who ends up in prison for a crime he didn't commit (It's hard to find a concept album that successfully amounts to its story, these days). Opening is the breezy "Love Goes Down," incorporating horns and guitars emulating the classic '70s soul sound of the likes of Smoky Robinson and Otis Redding, following in its path is "Writing's On the Wall," also very '70s soul influenced. Next are the radio friendly, "Stay Too Long" creating an interesting '60s Motown sound--with layers of electronic guitars and rapid drums and "She Said," which is great too, embodying a nice jazz influenced vibe--horns, drums and guitars intact.
"Welcome to Hell," emulates the same warm soul that made John Mayer's Continuum such a favorite of mine. "Hard Times," lays on the harmonies pretty thick on the chorus with a charming melody. Its sounds great especially when the strings and guitars kick in. "The Recluse," "Traded in My Cigarettes" and "Prayin'," follow nicely, all sharing a shimmering old-school R&B sound.
"Darkest Place," is a personal favorite, I love its climatic composition created nicely with the orchestra. "Free," is a jaunty horn and drums fueled number, an obvious climax to the albums story with the lyrics "I ain't guilty of no crime, get these chains off me." I also like the acoustic "I Know a Song," its also lovely when the piano and strings kick in on the chorus. "What You Gonna Do," is an awesome end to the album, which finds the singer back in the court: "The court rooms the same, but the jury's changed/just like it was, when I was here before."
The Defamation of Strickland Banks is definitely one of the best albums of the year. Its solid mix of soul, R&B, jazz and hip-hop sure does not disappoint even when you take into consideration that the lyrics are not as strong as they were on his gritty rap debut Who Needs Action, When You Got Words?
Best: Stay Too Long, Darkest Place, Welcome to Hell, Love Goes Down, Free, I Know a Song, Prayn', What You Gonna Do