2019 will be a landmark year for AJ Tracey. With a handful of gigs in Australia in January, in February he’ll release his debut album, a self-titled record that promises to showcase the many sides of an artist who has become the ultimate musical polymath.
Next up is his European headline tour culminating in a sold-out performance at London’s legendary Brixton Academy. “It’s kind of a whirlwind” admits AJ, “but I’m ready.”
The 24-year-old is part of a cohort of musicians known for leading and defining grime’s contemporary sound, though, in the last year, he’s more than proved his creativity outside the genre. Whether it’s the vibrant rhythm of dancehall inflected Butterflies or Baauer produced 3am nodding to funky house and bashment, he moves effortlessly between scenes and sounds whilst staying true to his roots. The album promises to be a celebration of the multitude of subcultures that thrive in the capital. And beyond; in a series of recent tweets, he unexpectedly revealed that even country music wasn’t outside of his remit.
AJ’s refusal to be pigeonholed is an authentic stance for someone who grew up in a melting pot of different sounds. The son a Trinidadian rapper father and a Welsh pirate radio DJ mother, growing up he’d hear everything from NWA to drum and bass. As a teenager in the early 2000s, he fell in love with London’s burgeoning grime scene, listening to Skepta and Dizzee Rascal on repeat. AJ soon started spitting himself, uploading freestyles to Soundcloud which made waves online and across pirate radio circuits. “I went as HAM as I could. I worked in a bar and whenever I wasn’t working I did radio until people noticed me. I’d work till 2am and then go to Enfield for [pirate radio veteran] DJ Spooky’s show”.
Late nights and long hours paid off. In 2016 AJ was invited to do a set on BBC 1Xtra’s seminal Fire in the Booth series; it’s now on over 5 million views. A raw and thrilling performance, AJ Tracey proves himself as a fierce MC, spitting with razor-sharp speed and precision. Two months later he went viral with the release of Ruff Sqwad sampling, Thiago Silva with fellow MC Dave. The following year, he released 8-track EP Secure the Bag, which charted at number 13, cementing AJ’s status as one of the UK’s most exciting MC’s, a talent who can take the essence and excitement of grime, evolving and amplifying it to bigger audiences while continually representing his community. A supporter of the Labour party, in the run-up to the 2017 general election, he appeared in a video discussing the housing crisis, student debt and the importance of protecting the NHS. “I don’t believe it’s anyone’s duty to speak about anything” he explains, “but I have this platform” he explains. “If there are things I need to talk about, then rest assured I will.”