Words by:

Original release date: 4 May, 2015
Label: Boy Better Know

Grime’s re-emergence as a force can be dated to 2014.

This was the year that a string of molten-hot anthems including Meridian Dan’s German Whip and Skepta & JME’s That’s Not Me set fire to the mainstream. These tracks championed a back-to-basics approach; authoritative bars over crunching, skeletal beats. For those who grew up in step with grime’s first gen, these bangers no doubt evoked memories of epic Lord of the Mics clashes, explosive PHTV freestyles and Risky Roadz DVDs. But for a new generation of listeners, they represented a fresh new wave – the sound of gun-finger triggering pull-ups and subterranean basslines that shook crowded, sticky dancefloors. Then, in April 2015, Skepta’s Shutdown, with its accompanying, tracksuit-laden video, added the exclamation point to the genre’s triumphant return. A week or so later, his brother and fellow Boy Better Know founder JME dropped Integrity>, his long-awaited follow-up to 2010’s Blam!.

But placing Integrity> within the context of grime’s revival only tells half the story. Its commercial success (the album entered the UK albums chart at No. 12) was certainly buoyed by a livewire connection with the rebellious energy circulating among a youthful new listenership, especially against the backdrop of a bleak general election campaign. But, unlike many other MCs, including grime’s then poster boy Skepta, JME resisted the early 2010s impulse to pivot towards a more sugary, radio-friendly sound. He refused to smooth down his edges. No big Preeya Kalidas hooks, just commanding flows over beats colder than frozen puddles on a north London industrial estate. This kept the grime purists firmly in his corner.

JME came of age in Tottenham at the turn of the millennium, during grime’s first wave. Then, the culture was ubiquitous and irresistible; school playgrounds were filled with the sounds of cyphers and polyphonic ringtones, while at home, kids learned how to avoid the adverts when taping their favourite MC’s radio appearances. If you’re from JME’s manor – like this writer – you might have seen him at the local skatepark next to the cemetery, or at the Krispy Kreme on the A10. He lived and breathed the culture, and has been one of its most consistent standard bearers since he picked up the mic, beginning his career in earnest with Serious in 2004. It was an early example of the sharp sense of morality that punctuates his writing, with lyrics that ruthlessly skewer the idea that “to MC tough/ Your lyrics must be about negative stuff”.

JME’s personality and worldview feels fully formed on Integrity>. Over a punishing instrumental that pays homage to Youngstar’s classic Pulse X beat, he shells bars with his trademark crystal-clear diction about shopping in Lush, veganism and fluoride-free toothpaste. It’s the kind of grime-nerd easter egg symbolic of his reverence for the genre’s history. The Deeco-produced, dubstep-adjacent Work is about, well, hard fucking work; the only day JME “don’t put in the work is the 30th of February”. While grime is rooted in Jamaican dancehall, soundclash and Mic Man culture, the beat selection here is a nod to the other half of its parentage: dance music. And Man Don’t Care is an explosive, obvious standout, featuring Giggs’ now iconic digestives-and-cinnamon-tea referencing guest verse. For Birmingham grime stalwart Dapz on the Map, Swifta Beater’s cold-steel production was destined to be a hit: “I used to ask him, ‘Who’s got this beat? Can I have it?’ He would always say it’s for JME. I remember hearing it for the first time and phoning Swifta like, ‘He done it justice still!’ For me, the best on the album by far.”

“I used to ask Swifta Beater, ‘Who’s got this beat?’ He would always say it’s for JME. I remember hearing Man Don’t Care for the first time and phoning Swifta like, He done it justice still!’” – Dapz on the Map

JME is at his razor-sharp best on the album’s uncompromising closer and title track, Integrity, taking aim at bandwagon jumpers and “cocaine snorting label executives” wanting to capitalise on grime’s new dawn. Manga Saint Hilare – who, like JME, has been on grime’s frontline from the outset – feels the track is the clearest summation of the MC’s personality: “It’s my favourite song from the album. It shows who JME is as a person, what he stands for and why he does what he does.” It’s both a bold statement about the fearsome independence he embodies, and a shot across the bow for all grime’s latecomers. “You never used to check me back in the day/ You never used to rate me back in the day,” he spits, voice full of contempt. The track, and the album as a whole, unfolds like vindication after more than a decade of tireless graft.

For both Dapz and Manga, the album should be filed alongside the most significant grime releases. “Integrity> is right up there with the best. “It’s the way everything feels so simple and effortless,” says Dapz. I don’t think JME has ever made a bad album. He always makes sure all of them are him, and that’s why I love them,” Manga adds. JME never compromised or wavered on his ten-year journey towards Integrity>. It’s something he addresses directly on Same Thing. “I come back, same flow, I ain’t changing/ With the same durag and the same grin,” he declares. He’s still the same JME who told us he was Serious back in 2004, only now he’s pushing a “badboy Megazord whip” and is reaping the hard-earned benefits of staying true to himself.