AJ Tracey AKA AJ from the lane, is one of the most prominent faces of Grime specifically, but of UK scene of in its entirety. Whether or not one considers him already an elder grime artist, it’s clear now that dubbing this 23-year-old talent an “up-and-coming” icon is a stretch.
AJ Tracey already “up and came” and with his latest “Secure the Bag” Project, he is showing his prowess. AJ Tracey, born Che Wolton Grant to a mixed Welsh-Trinidadian background, has been rocking his often shouted-out home streets of Ladbroke Grove for time now; where West London was once seen as ‘booky’ or dodgy in road credentials and perceived, at least by me, as full of rich people and Lamborghinis, it seems that the only flashy cars round his ends belong to him. And not for no reason, AJ Tracey does something remarkable with music, feeling the colours, vibes and the more fundamental elements of artistry and using that deeper input to create beats and flows that are deeply unusual. AJ Tracey pushes the boundaries of normalcy to make music that cannot easily be categorised and almost refuses to.
“Secure the Bag” is his 8-song project clocking around 26 minutes with features from artists as legendary as JME and Craig David with visceral contributions from 67 and Denzel Curry. Curry particularly was a great choice, something I have been curious about has been the sonic effect of UK and US artists working together (who wouldn’t love a Nines and J.Cole track) and AJ Tracey proved both his commercial awareness and his ear for a genuinely fire verse. The album appears roughly a week and a bit before his tour of the same name, and follows the earlier release of songs ‘False 9’, ‘LA4AWEEK’, ‘Blacked Out’ and ‘Quarterback (Secure the Bag)’, the last two of which appeared on the album. Notwithstanding the current popularity of Grime in the U.K, Tracey still manages to find his own rebellious niche of unusual, indie-sounding beats. No one raps on beats like AJ Tracey.
The vibes on Secure the Bag are different to his previous work. While he shows the same willingness to experiment on different beats and take trap, drill, grime and indie influences for his beats and song structures; what I thought was different to his classic bangers and previous projects like ‘Lil Tracey’, ‘Alex Moran’ and ‘The Front’ is the more complex lyricism and flows, and interestingly enough, the features.
For this reason, Alakazam featuring JME and Denzel Curry is probably the best song on the album. Not just because it’s an iconic meeting of a classic grime MCs of two generations with Denzel Curry, of “Ultimate” fame, for the “international heat” in Tracey’s own words, but because the whole song envelops you in the nostalgia, violence, and braggadocio that’s central to Tracey’s experience. With a casual Pokémon sample at the beginning, it is refreshing to hear an artist from the UK unafraid to express their own personality and idiosyncrasies in their work without the stoic masculinity and aggression clichés that dominate a lot of our music.
The punchy intro and chorus is Tracey boasting “I got hooks but I don’t go fishing, Alakazam I’ll make man go missing, I was doing trips, you were at home kissing, now I got henny coming out when I’m pissing” Life on road is 90% hustle and 10% pleasure, so Tracey celebrates with that good cognac. JME’s verse delivers nicely with a chill, sardonic tone – “smoke that beef like hickory”. Even on the electronic-ish, grime beat, Curry manages to input his distinct style and the end result of the combination is a magical track.
Quarterback (Secure the Bag) is the merciless response to the detractors. On slow piano chords overlaid with a sharp trap beat, Tracey comes out guns blazing. The Quarterback role in American football is central to the team’s performance, combining a cerebral role where technical skill is important with the need to be a powerhouse physically at the same time. Whether it’s the careful production of the beat or the purposeful lyricism you can hear the effort placed in production, it’s literally ‘alla dat’ and more.
Referencing quarterbacks isn’t a new thing for Tracey, on “Alex Moran” his EP named after a character from Blue Mountain State who started off a nobody and became a significant Quarterback. “Got them all running off the beat like Costa, My Team got a five star roster, little b**ch through a fit when I tossed her, if she wanna fuck twice it’ll costa” Quarterback is song declaring underneath the bragging of girls and money, his maturity as an artist, no longer just a kid from Ladbroke grove but now an artist with appeal to not only a generation, but an international generation.
Tour Team (feat. 67) was not a grime track, but nor was it the drill that 67’s presence would have you think, nor was it trap. Instead, it was all of the above. Dimzy, Monkey and LD jumping on the track with AJ Tracey was just #BlackBoyJoy vibes of successful young men chatting about their experiences touring the country, and the world. I’ll admit to watching AJ Tracey’s snaps enviously and when it’s not him playing console games or displaying his high-end liquors, it’s the hard slog and sometimes funny, journey on the tour bus. Though, with Tracey shouting “Big tourbus full of jawns, No Snapchat allowed on-board,” it might have its perks. The 67 crew jump in with their typically gravelly voices but the same self-confidence “You can never tell me about risk, I risked my freedom and shit,” Deep.
If you’re still sleeping on AJ Tracey’s talent and vision, please listen to Secure the Bag. Not only does the album challenge traditional conceptions of masculinity and love with songs like Luvd U and touching on his growth as a person on Bird Call, but also, his uncensored, raw tone on songs like Quarterback and Tour Team is an insight into one of the finest artists from the UK. I only wish the lyricism could match the more complex themes he touched on the album, particularly, whilst the Craig David feature was powerful, I do think it could have been spun better. I already know these tracks are gonna steal the charts, so that securing the bag thing? AJ Tracey’s got it sorted.