Son Raw will drive up straight to your door,
spin and piledrive your face to the floor.
When people say grime’s blowing up, they mean Boy Better Know’s blowing up, and when they say Boy Better Know’s blowing up, they’re ignoring the fact that London’s most visible emcee collective has been building an independent following for over a decade. Culture Clash, and a mutual appreciation society with A$AP Mob, introduced them to a wider audience, but their foundation was always sound. And while Skepta may be the crew’s most marketable member, and Wiley’s the one getting the “Godfather of Grime” tags, it’s JME who never once stopped repping for the genre.
That’s an idea Integrity> burns into the listener’s head across its 16 tracks, along with a few other specific bullet points: JME’s monetary success, his sobriety and veganism, his love of cars, clothes and videogames, and what it’ll take to reach his level. It’s the success gospel of gangsta rap as told by a nerd, alternating between extreme reverence for urban culture and a complete disregard of the clichés expected of emcees.
Calling an album Integrity> doesn’t leave a writer much room to maneuver, and to his credit, outside of a few comedic exaggerations (he’ll spear your eye out with a bamboo skewer!) for metaphor’s sake, JME doesn’t indulge the kind of fantasies that turn most emcees into killers and kingpins. Instead, he’s more likely to describe the work required to set up a business, brag about his skills at first person shooters, and tell you he’s all about the veggie wrap at Nandos.
It’s a strange dichotomy: No one’s doubting that JME’s certified, but a decade removed from his beginnings on pirate radio, he’s basically a proud nerd talking tough. In a set, it works perfectly: JME’s got stage presence for days and I’ve seen him work a crowd as well as any festival rapper in the world. In album context, it sometimes feels like he’s yelling at me for not working hard enough. Chill, bruh.
More problematically, JME’s integrity means he never deviates from his now established formula: scowling rhymes over 140BPM beats produced by grime veterans like Deeco and Preditah. That’s fine as far as singles go–“96 Bars of Fuckery,” “No You Ain’t,” “Don’t @ Me,” “Man Don’t Care,” and the title track all bang in the rave–but in an album context it gets a bit long. Even when he shifts from his typical subject matter on tracks like “Game” or collaborates with BBK, the vibe doesn’t deviate. Some shifts in tempo, beats by newer producers, or a few more left turns could have worked in his favor.
“Test Me,” the album’s sole Joker production, is a great example of how good JME can sound when he shells over a beat that’s just a tad more accomplished or musical than your average banger. Of course, JME will be quick to tell you, me and anybody else that he doesn’t give a shit and that he’s doing exactly the kind of music he wants to while waving his bank balance as proof of concept. It’s hard to argue with success, but sometimes integrity means taking honest feedback.