Grime is a genre associated with power-packed lyricism, hard-hitting beats at 140 BPM and individuality expressed through style and substance. It’s no surprise then, how the relationship between Grime and social media (another medium of individual expression) has only strengthened over time. Whether it’s the mid-2000s when Tinie Tempah was vlogging on YouTube, or today, where Big Narstie solves life’s problems as Uncle Pain and Stormzy reaches Top 10 chart success with a YouTube vid for ‘Shut up’. Social media has been imminent in the promotion, distribution, and building of Grime for both artists and supporters.
When it comes to social media, what was once a revolutionary force of connection and communication, however, for many has now become a hollow vessel for vanity and ‘Likes’ currency. Facebook lets you ‘pree’ your existing friends, not really best for reaching out to new people. Instagram is hijacked by hot models and a barrage of comments that can easily drown you out and Twitter is a cluster of in-groups that may or may not be open to your advances. I am one of many young people who abstain from using certain social media platforms due to anxiety, social presses and lack of authenticity by other users and I know I am not alone. As highlighted by Nominet’s 2017 Digital Futures Index Report, 12% of Millennials say that they have suffered anxiety or other mental health issues as a result of social media in the last year. Considering we, Millenials, are the Internet generation, shouldn’t there be way less of us feeling this is because of Social Media? Well, as a Grime Kid, I did some digging into my social media past, and realised JME had the answers all along.
So what makes JME a changemaker? “Everybody thinks to MC tough, your lyrics must be about negative stuff” (JME, Serious. 2006). This lyric is a bar for a generation. It challenged thought patterns, shattered stereotypes and made light of the same topics spat by MCs over and over again. More importantly, it showed how 140 BPM could be used to spread positivity and humour, not just war dubs and freestyles. This bold statement, was a challenge to the ‘norm’. It showed JME as a new breed of Grime MC. One who had the capability to articulate himself as more than just a regular underground spitter from Tottenham, and the cajones to shake things up without fear of challenge and rebuttal. He was fearlessly himself. This is what he brought to Grime. This is what he brought to Social Media. JME’s authenticity eased the pressure of social media for artists to portray themselves as a ‘badman/ roadman’ with no damn to give. JME cut that crap. For a long time, he only had Twitter as his social platform of choice and regularly expressed his views unadulterated via tweets. His Twitter bio even explained what he stood for at one point (e.g.: ‘No Meat. No Fish. No Dairy’ etc…) without any hesitation.
In return, JME’s supporters would also tweet him whatever they wanted. JME’s social presence was relatable. His active interests in gaming let him battle fans on XBOX while streaming it and having banter with his Twitter followers. This broke notions of what a Grime MC ‘should’ be, allowing Grime kids to see MCs not just as rappers, but as relatable personalities. He was basically your mate whom you could play video games with, learn new things and have banter. Being one of the first in the Grime scene to adopt technology and harness its potential to connect with a solid fan base, JME’s adaptability with time and tech helped Grime evolve from pirate radio to social media and kept JME’s label Boy Better Know at the top of the Grime pyramid.
JME’s fearlessness and authenticity laid a foundation for the Boy Better Know brand to maintain and expand its success online. In my view, he did this by using social media to BREAK 3 things:
By connecting with people on Twitter, JME branched out to supporters beyond Grime. He touched gamers, skaters and other interest based groups, all while repping Grime and being true to himself. This broke any geographical boundaries and was an ice-breaker between Grime and the rest of the world.
Selling merchandise (mainly T-shirts) independently to a passionate fan base online not only made Boy Better Know a grime music powerhouse, but gave the brand more authenticity and accessibility. Now I, sitting at home, could wear what JME, Skepta, Wiley, Frisco, Maximum, Shorty, Jammer and Solo 45 were wearing on stage and follow their behaviour on social media. As a fan, in my head, I had now become part of Boy Better Know.
Collaborating with a range of different artists and promoting through social (YouTube, Twitter etc…) allowed more eyeballs on his products and shed more light onto his label, Boy Better Know (BBK). Since 2007, JME and BBK members have collaborated with various artists regardless of geographical barriers or musical audiences, such as: Drake, Tre Mission, A$AP Mob, Jay Sean, Puff Daddy, Tempa T, Ed Sheeran and Giggs (to name a select few).
Looking back at JME’s use of social media inspires me to be myself online, and adhere to my brand’s values when I do create a brand. I’ve realised that social media anxiety can stem from the expectations we have of each other online, and that one doesn’t need to give into those pressures. JME showed that if you are true to yourself online, the right people will build with you and that Instafame may be temporary, but strong relationships create longevity. Going against the grain is not always a bad thing and lying to yourself because social media likes determine your worth, is a horrible existence (imo). JME used social media to counter cultural norms and in doing so, changed Grime.
Written by Jiyan Davé.
Connect with me (ironically) on Insta @jiyandave – Let’s chat about this & build something!