Jme Remains Grime’s True Fighting Spirit

Words: Yemi Abiade

With little to no fanfare, Jme announced his return to music with a new album, Grime MC (his first since 2015’s Integrity>). While a new project from Jme is enough to get excited about, the manner of his announcement was rather unique. Posting a video to his YouTube channel and not uttering a single word, he played two tracks from the set—“Nang” featuring Skepta, and “You Watch Me”—while jotting down appearance dates at national record stores on a chalkboard. The message soon became clear that he was only releasing the album in physical format (CD and vinyl), a bold move in 2019.

Thanks to the overwhelming shift in the way we listen to music in the last half-decade or so, we now live in an era where digital streaming sites have kicked physical sales to the curb as the primary avenue of consumption, where fans can easily access all the music in the world for a fixed monthly price instead of dishing out a tenner for every album. Artists moving to reverse this trend might be seen as taking a gamble. To some degree, the black British music scene relies on streaming numbers for its stars to obtain record deals, brand partnerships and the higher-tier rewards of success.

Speaking to Tim Westwood earlier this year, Jme expressed his fondness for streaming sites but, for his new album, a want for more than just slapping it on sites for anyone to consume. “I don’t want to keep making albums and telling people to stream it—that’s not why I make music,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out how people who love music like me can consume it. I’m not making music for people to have a £10 a month subscription to some company that gives (artists) 0.000001 pence per stream and throws my song on a playlist.”

The re-emergence of vinyl—over 4 million records were sold in the UK in 2018 alone, up 1.7% from the previous year, while CD and vinyl sales made up a combined £2 billion profit—has served as a symbolic backlash to streaming’s prominence as fans clamour for a return to more tangible relationships with music. Unmoved by the mechanics of streaming, Jme’s announcement placed his priority to his fans first and foremost, the day ones who flock to his shows and know every one of his bars.

Jamie Adenuga has been fearless from day dot. Part grime MC, part maverick, part shrewd businessman, he has etched out a lane for himself unlike most in the genre, making the times change with him rather than the other way around. From the day the first batch of Boy Better Know t-shirts became the streets’ hottest commodity, to every defiant cry of independence on record, the scene has forever known he was about moving on his own terms. As early as 2006, on “Serious”, Jme was breaking down the science of being an underground star navigating through the industry, woke enough to warn tough-guy rappers that they’ll get nowhere with their content. As the years have flown by, Jme has fine-tuned his principles while retaining the aura of an everyman—a normal, nerdy, driven MC, ever present yet somewhat distant.

Whether he’s examining the relationship between grime and the police or chopping it up with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Jme has represented the scene to the fullest, taking it into spaces to which it isn’t normally afforded. Proving his worth as a social commentator, his eloquence and language has broken down even the touchiest topics (racism and politics) into something digestible for a grime generation. That is why publications such as i-D and Noisey approached him to talk to Corbyn and examine the intricacies of Form 696 in respective documentaries.

As DIY as they come, Jamie has made the best of what he’s had around him all his life, using the tools learned from growing up working class to become a self-made superstar. Selling physicals of a project is nothing new to a man who sold Boy Better Know mixtapes when the majority of grime MCs had shutting down raves at the top of their list. If anything, it represents a return to his roots, to a simpler time when grime artists needed to be seen and understood by a still-developing audience. Jme has seen every stage of grime, from its emergence to its hibernation to its ‘resurgence’, and never once dropped the ball musically, never once went pop, instead continuing to write eternal bars, shell down shows and build his legacy. One of the last true soldiers of the genre, particularly as some of his counterparts sought glossier sounds and more money in their pockets in the late noughts and early 2010s, he was one of the first to scream that grime was everlasting, and when he speaks, the scene listens.

Serving almost like a lone ranger despite being embedded with his BBK crew, Jme has virtually transcended any and all of his affiliation by moving differently, speaking to his unadulterated independence. His flair for music has only improved as his career has progressed. 2015 album Integrity> was arguably the best the UK scene produced that year, with some of Jamie’s best tunes in years (“Man Don’t Care”, “Don’t @ Me”, “The Money” and more) and, by keeping features to a minimum, he’s retained a quiet elusiveness as he matures into an elder statesman.

With classics for days and weeks and months, his catalogue is up there with some of the scene’s very best, and it speaks volumes that he’s remained humble and impervious to the lure of selling out or compromising himself. It’s just not the way he’s programmed. Like The Jedi legion popularised by Star Wars, Jme remains grime’s shining light, able to keep things not too serious with his subject matter while also cranking up the pressure when necessary on tunes like “Integrity”, another mission statement that his principles could never be swayed.

Jme’s Grime MC LP and its subsequent marketing campaign represents the next chapter, one of comfort and assurance in knowing that where he goes, his fans and the scene will follow in droves. And when he begins travelling the length and breadth of the country to record stores, signing copies of the project, it will be sweeter knowing he’s moving on his own terms as he has in the past and will continue to do in the future.

Posted on November 18, 2019