mon 27/09/2021

Album: AJ Tracey - Flu Game | reviews, news & interviews

Album: AJ Tracey - Flu Game

Album: AJ Tracey - Flu Game

West London's superstar rapper tries to find his mature style with mixed success

AJ Tracey is one of Brit rap’s aristocracy now. Along with the likes of Stormzy, Dave, J Hus and lately Headie One, he is massively bankable, with streams in the tens of millions for singles, sellout shows in Alexandra Palace, and radio ubiquity.

It’s the kind of sustained success that completely eclipses anything achieved by the previous generation of grime musicians, but also, because it’s uncharted territory it poses all kinds of questions about musical identity and about what happens next. And this, Tracey’s second full album, embodies many of these questions.

Its structure is interesting: it may start with a single, but it’s the distinctly non-pop non-stop flow of boasts of “Anxious”.  And the next few tracks continue in the same vein of drill-inspired eerie atmospherics, slithering bass tones and pure London rap flow, with lots of belligerent references to conflict, opps (enemies) and yats (women). Meanwhile the more obviously internationalist, R&B, pop and garage influenced tunes – sometimes featuring confessional and/or emotional lyrics – are saved for the last part of the album, ending with the most upbeat of all, “West Ten” with Mabel. Maybe there’s some streaming service gaming logic to this, but it also feels that he’s trying to make sure his rap bona fides are up front.

It also feels a little like a split personality: trying to keep the menace of road level rap as younger, edgier drill rappers snap at his heels, but also accept that he is part of the music industry establishment. Indeed “Little More Love”, right at the centre of the record, expresses the weariness of this position: not financially struggling but still chased by police, slightly wondering where to go next with success levels – and it’s by far the only song that hints that success can be precarious and hard work. And covering so many musical bases has its downfalls. Tracey’s real forte as a rapper is as a verbal and vocal technician rather than having the kind of heft of personality that allows a Stormzy or Headie One to tie disparate elements together, so he needs focus, which here could be tighter.

There are absolute gems here: the central trio of “Little More Love”, “Top Dog” and the shameless “Summertime Shootout” featuring US autotune god T-Pain, all heavy on the funk and R&B influence, bring out the best in his natural musicality, and suggest a fruitful direction, for example. But on the more standard rap tracks, for all the lyrical dexterity and production accomplishment, it can feel like he’s going through the motions. As Tracey works out his place in the world, and as the new mega money UK rap begins to mature, there’s a lot here that offers interesting routes forward – but this is not the definitive album his talents suggest he's capable of.

@joemuggs

Watch "Anxious":

It's trying to keep the menace of road level rap but also accept that he is part of the music industry establishment

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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