9th March | SWX
Photos: Naomi Williams
Confidence has never been a problem for AJ Tracey. Leading up to the release of his first album, a mixtape here and an EP there whetted the appetites of young audiences, hungry for new material from the fast-rising rapper. Now, ever since the release of his eponymous debut album, it has only accelerated his rapid increase in visibility. That doesn’t appear to faze the twenty-three-year-old from Ladbroke Grove.
His rabid fanbase of die-hard teens show off with lit screens waving in the air and let balloons go flying around the venue. Despite their distractions, they pay attention to his every word, chant collectively and fire the aggressive bars of ‘Buster Cannon’ right back at him.
While the themes in his songs hardly deviate from cash, success and keeping rivals in check, he delivered the lines with the cheeky conviction that everyone loves him for. In one of his poppier grime tracks, ‘Doing It’ he admitted, “there’s pop stars that I’ve been and I’ve got a few that I’d want to.” It’s vague enough not to be outright rude, but provocative enough to entice a mass singalong.
Those expecting a major flex, like fellow rapper Fredo bringing out Drake at his Manchester gig on the same night, may have been disappointed. But guests don’t define a gig. ‘Secure the Bag!’ is evidence of that. It provoked the most activity, creating a mosh pit that was so big it – well it wasn’t actually good enough for the South London MC. So he restarted the song, hoping for a wilder response from fans. Did it work? Surprisingly, yes. You can’t say he isn’t a perfectionist.
His ability to genre-hop so easily is his greatest strength. ‘Necklace’ may have taken the melodic guitar line from Craig David classic ‘Seven Days’ but he made it his own. Despite the generous auto-tune you hear on the album, on this song in particular, he retained the more harmonic shades of his voice in a live setting.
He shot back to the garage era he grew up with in ‘Ladbroke Grove’, which contained one of the fans’ favourite phrases, “AJ Tracey live and direct”, and ‘Butterflies’ was the dancehall crossover that won everyone over easily. Any slight changes in genre never appeared forced or too big a departure from his normal sound, but saw him playing at different strengths, whether focused more on singing or rapping.
He may be versatile in genre, but he is consistent in one respect: his unwavering confidence. Its a quality that, fortunately comes across as passion for the music. Without that we wouldn’t have the likes of ‘Psych Out’, his biggest hit of the night, thanks to the American trap that fuelled his best Young Thug impersonation.
There are few artists that manage to make both the boys and the girls take their shirts off at a gig, yet the Ladbroke Grove MC succeeds. Saying that, he has a huge amount of talent at his disposal and has a large handful of bangers to show for it. With so many directions to go in, who knows where he will take his music next. One thing is for sure – AJ Tracey isn’t just a rapper to keep an eye on, but an unpredictable star worth watching.
See the video for ‘Necklace’ (ft. Jay Critch) here: