Interview with JME: The grime artist rewriting the rulebooks
It has been said in the past that if there is a rulebook on how to carve a career out of the music industry, then JME is ignoring it. He rarely gives interviews, has never had a manager and, instead of riding on the coat-tails of his older brother Skepta’s achievements, has remained independent and stuck to creating grime music rather than chasing commercial success.
Despite (or perhaps because of) all this, JME is one of the scene’s most established and successful artists, as well as one of its most beloved figures. In the last year alone, JME has won the Lord of the Beats producer contest, featured on a top 3 hit alongside Wiley and Skepta with Can You Hear Me? and been named as one of the UK’s most influential tweeters. The truth is, he isn’t so much ignoring the rulebook as he is completely rewriting it.
In 2012, JME released 96 F**kries and began what was to become one of the most memorable promotional campaigns in grime’s short history. Using nothing but his Twitter account, he managed to get the track to fall just slightly short of the Top 40. “I was 11 sales off charting, 11 sales” he says with a tinge of disappointment in his voice, “I’ll do it again, I hadn’t planned it at all so I’ll do it again.”
The premise was ludicrous, and a lot of fans perhaps reasonably doubted the possibility of getting a two-and-a-half-minute, 96 bar grime freestyle with no chorus and a swearword in the title into the top 40 with no support from radio at all. JME, however, wisely exploited his influence on social media and offered to retweet and reply to any fans who sent him a screenshot of them downloading the song from iTunes. “I think it was the first time anybody had done that,” recalls JME, “It was just meant to be a bit of fun”. These days you can see this technique being implemented by artists of all genres, as well as businesses of all sizes in the name of engagement. Once again, JME proved to be ahead of his peers and working to his own set of rules.
JME recently claimed on Twitter that he would most likely not do another album and instead release singles, partly due to a feeling that the album format is becoming outdated. “I think the album format was made because that’s how music evolved” he claims, “they figured out a way to put 12 tracks on a vinyl so they put 12-track albums on it”. He continues, “If I do a track I want to get it out and I want people to hear it, I don’t want to sit on it for ages. I want it out there the second it’s ready”. He does, however, confirm that a Boy Better Know album is forthcoming, as suggested by fellow crewmember Frisco in a recent interview. “There’s no way there’s not going to be one,” he tells me, “Wiley wants to put it out on a label, he wants it to be the thing that stamps BBK’s authority so he’s been fishing around for a deal for it”.
If grime is becoming ever more digitally based, as it seems to be, the question has to be asked of what will become of the genre’s live shows and raves such as Eskimo Dance, grime’s flagship event which is due to take place this Friday 15th November. “I think it’s even more important now” claims JME, “Back in the day we used to go to Sidewinder or Garage raves and there were plenty more of them but now there ain’t that many so it’s more important now than ever”. With JME being so tech-savvy and having such an impressive online presence, it’s easy to forget that one of the main reasons he has built up the reputation that he has is his ability to put on an entertaining live show. “Boy Better Know are good because everyone’s on stage doing their bars together, but we’re all still fighting for the mic,” he tells me, “the energy of Boy Better Know is what I love”.
Eskimo Dance is a unique event in that the MCs who are booked and named on the flyer aren’t necessarily the only ones who will turn up. Two of the standout performers of last November’s event were Slewdem crew’s Chronik and Tempa T who turned up unannounced, an event which JME recalls fondly, “I love to watch Tempz perform because it’s Tempz,” he tells me, “I love to watch the energy go from Tempz to the crowd”.
“I was on Xbox Live the other day and someone told me they were coming to Eskimo Dance,” recalls JME, “it’s their first one and it’s probably something he’s heard about a million times or whatever and it is a big deal”. For JME, the importance of seeing the best grime MCs on stage and in their element cannot be overstated and is still a source of inspiration for him to this day, “as an artist you get inspired from being on stage or watching other artists on stage,” he tells me, “The scene isn’t internet tweets and digital videos, they’re all promotional tools for this, and this is the scene”.bbk, Boy Better Know, Eskimo Dance, grime, JME
Recent Posts on Arts
- Friday Book Design Blog: Fitzcarraldo Editions
- Children’s books for October: Meg and Mog, The Demon Dentist and The Whispering Skull
- Friday Book Design Blog: Slightly Foxed and Notting Hill Editions
- Good Indian sales at Sotheby’s London but contemporaries’ slump worsens
- Ryoichi Kurokawa: "Digital art is already classical"
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter