JME & his non-conformist album, “Grime MC”

JME has always done things his own way. At a time when getting signed to a label was the dream for many, JME, with his brother, created the Boy Better Know brand, releasing their own and other’s music through the label and establishing themselves as a powerhouse. JME helped to popularise the mixtape game with the release of Shh Hut Yuh Muh, along with the iconic cover. They were also one of the first to really hit it off with their own merchandise, with Boy Better Know t-shirts everywhere at one point.  And when grime was in a bad way, it was JME and Skepta’s That’s Not Me that helped boost the genre.

And now his latest release Grime MC has hit number 1 in the UK Record Store Chart and hit number 26 in the general chart. An amazing achievement considering JME has taken it back to basics, choosing to bypass the streaming platforms which make up a large part of the way music is consumed today, and strictly releasing his album via physical copies. This achievement is a testament to both JME’s ingenuity and the work that he has put in to establish a fanbase that will support him anywhere he goes. I even saw messages on social media where people said they had bought a physical copy, either or a vinyl or a CD, and did not even have the means to play it!

By releasing his music via a physical means, JME is hearkening back to the grime scene that he started in. Wiley has recently been saying that there is a need to take back the scene, from the major labels, and from the streaming platforms that have become pretty much the sole way people listen to music. Wiley’s argument is that by doing that, artists have an ownership over the genre, instead of allowing record labels to interfere with the sound.

There is also an element of nostalgia to it, I remember walking to HMV to buy a physical copy of an album, reading the booklet on the way home, the production credits, the liner notes, the shout outs, then putting the CD on when I got home. This feeling having an actual physical copy means it will stay in your mind for longer, calling you to go back and listen to it again and again. The criticism many have of the streaming platforms, is that the cycle of new music is endless, and as a result, very little music has staying power. Joe Budden on his podcast mentioned this, saying that he was sick of putting months and months into an album, for him then to release it and get questions about when the next one is coming.

JME also rolled the album out in a unique way, via a series of cinema screenings and a pop-up at Boxpark Croydon over the summer. The reason for this: ‘I want people to care.’ We have seen similar approaches in the US as well with both Wu Tang and Yasiin Bey fka Mos Def releasing their album via gallery exhibitions. We have also seen New York underground artists like Roc Marciano, Tha God Fahim and Mach Hommy, who sell physical copies, or copies via their own sites or Bandcamp, for a higher price. And the late great Nipsey Hussle famously sold copies of his mixtape Crenshaw for $100 each, with Jay-Z himself buying 100 copies.  Again as we are flooded with a constant stream of new content, artists look for ways to stand out and create an experience for their fan.

It also makes sense from a business stand point, going number 26 via physical copies, is worth a lot more than reaching number 26, and probably most numbers higher than that, via streaming.  As mentioned earlier, JME has always been ahead of the game when it comes to business, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more people replicate this model going forward.

Time will tell whether the album will end up on a streaming platform, I imagine at some point it will. But JME might have started a trend which will continue into 2020 and beyond. And JME being JME, he probably didn’t set out on doing it, as he said on a song off his first mixtape “I’m Just Being Me”

Words by Daniel David