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On debut album, AJ Tracey sounds like the future of British rap

"AJ Tracey"

Release date: 08 February 2019
Album of the week
04 February 2019, 01:00 Written by Sam Higgins
With his self-titled debut record, West London rapper AJ Tracey stamps on anyone lazily labelling him as simply ‘grime’ and drives London hip-hop into a new era.

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. With more artists than ever staking their claim to dominate each sound, AJ’s debut pulls them all together, stamping his identity on each vibe to brilliant effect.

AJ Tracey fires out of the starting gate eagerly and sets the bar for what’s to come. "Jackpot" and "Rina" bounce into action with infectious rhythms – the latter a love song…of sorts. It doesn’t slow down at "Wifey Riddim 3" – continuing from the other two volumes – and this is the best one yet, backed by marimba-style percussion, AJ delivers some surprisingly-well sung melodies in the chorus.

"Country Star" catches you off guard (yes, that is an acoustic guitar in the background there). It doesn’t conform to the genre’s simple, dreamy melodies, but this is where AJ’s is in his element, rhymes rolling off his tongue as smooth as a fine whisky.

A record 15 tracks long, even without any interludes or sub-par tracks, needs a pick-me-up to keep you going. Enter, "Ladbroke Grove", a garage-infused track made to dominate the clubs in the summer. AJ’s previous track with Baauer, "3AM", teased his ability to produce driving vocals across dance tracks that people won’t be able to keep still to, but this is even more effective. He’s equally able to throw it down in a tough, confrontational tone as more mellow and melodically. Doing It is a flex of his ability to do just that, too. "Any rhythm any vibe I’ll adapt to", he spits confidently.

Fans of rap across the Atlantic often struggle to stick with the tougher brand London produces, but while AJ won’t be relying on winning them over, he has probably the best chance of any. Double C’s ad libs, the autotuned vocals in "Necklace", there’s something for everyone on this record. Not to mention "Psych Out!", which has the feel of the Post Malone x 21 Savage collabs.

Three features, Not3s on the unavoidable "Butterflies", Jay Critch on "Necklace" and Giggs on "Nothing But Net" add firepower to a already-powerful arsenal of tracks, without taking the limelight from AJ. With this record, he’s laid to down a marker, not just for 2019, but for the future of UK rap. It’s hard to think of a debut so confident in every musical aspect since J Hus’ Common Sense. Advice: consume daily for effective mood enhancement.

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