Release Date: Feb 8, 2019
Record label: AJ Tracey
It's been three years since bursting onto the scene with Thiago Silva and while AJ's flow hasn't slowed, his ability to deliver it across multiple genres has grown impressively. On his debut 15-track eponymous record he's unstoppable over grime, trap, garage and even country-inspired beats, rapping about girls, footballers (again) and proving people wrong. With the London music scene thriving, the overarching banner of 'rap' continues to break out into more forms across the capital, with drill, grime, afrobeat breaking into the mainstream.
Twisted, vibrant and ever-shifting, AJ Tracey's stellar debut is a perfect document of British rap's current eclecticism, a record that warps sonic expectations At the tail-end of last year, use of the term 'urban' music came under the spotlight. "I hate and despise the word 'urban'," said Sam Taylor of label services company Kobalt in a widely-discussed interview. "Not only is ‘urban’ an obviously wrong category, but it is also borne out of racial stereotyping of black communities." The point is a fair one.
Let us remember London in the early 2000s, a special place and time, when the city's pirate radio stations blasted out street tunes that seemed to form a forcefield around the tower blocks, protecting them from the horrors of Loaded magazine, post-Britpop indie, and New Labour. Out of the underground swaggered Craig David and Ms. Dynamite, genuine 21st-century British superstars whose debut albums shunned the UK garage sounds they'd built their reputation on and looked instead to contemporary American soul.
If you were searching for an artist who embodies the air of confidence currently surging through the UK rap scene, you could do worse than alight on AJ Tracey. He is, by his own admission, a "cheeky arrogant prick", who seems to delight in the fact that his rise to fame has put noses out of joint among the elder statesmen of grime. "I'm not here for just trying to emulate what they did and just trying to keep their nostalgia alive - I'm trying to usher in the new era," he told one interviewer, not long after his self-released single Butterflies went gold last year.