It’s been just three years since AJ Tracey first stepped on stage as an MC. Tagging along with a pal to a Jme Tropical club night in Bristol, AJ only went because he’d never been to anything like that before. Soon, he was the star of the show. “They let me spray a bar on stage,” the west Londoner reminisces. “I didn’t have my breathing right, didn’t know how to project my voice and I just freaked out!” But this meant he caught the bug. “I thought, ‘This is a crazy adrenalin rush! This must be the best life ever.’”
And now, in 2017, this is AJ Tracey’s crazy life. He’s just finishing off a huge UK tour and his latest EP, the blistering ‘Secure The Bag!’, hit Number 13 in the album charts. But while it’s all sunshine and big-time collaborations now, his current success is down to years of hard graft. “I started rapping lyrics when I was six years old,” AJ explains. “My dad used to just rap with me, like, little jokey vibes.”
Since then there have been countless nights freestyling on pirate radio sessions, five stellar EPs and a brief stint at university. Now, aged 23, AJ is seriously in demand with fellow musicians and even brought it back full-circle by collaborating with Jme. “It was like a grime milestone, working with him, ’cos he’s one of the old guard.”
But while musically he’s often pigeonholed as a grime MC, AJ Tracey wants to avoid being branded as one genre. “I’m definitely not grime and I’m not rap… I’m just an artist, I just make whatever I think is good, and there’s not really a label for it.” He’s also a huge rock fan, influenced by bands such as Thirty Seconds To Mars and Bullet For My Valentine. “That music made me open up a more emotional path. Now I put more emotion into my music rather than just letting people hear what they want to.”
On ‘Secure The Bag!’, this blend proves his credentials – like on ‘Blacked Out’, a cocktail of braggadocio and fervent candour, that sees him assertively declare he’s top of the pack. Who are we to disagree?
From: Ladbroke Grove, London
Buy: ‘Secure The Bag!’ is out now
Live: The Forum, London (5 Nov)
Strange But True: AJ Tracey loves Tottenham Hotspur so much he has their logo tattooed on his arm. His music is now played at their Wembley matches.