AJ Tracey - 'Self-titled' Album Review
You can't take a breath in UK Hip-Hop without hearing AJ's name mentioned and yet, it's taken just under 8 years for his debut album to drop after his Soundcloud debut in 2012 and in that time he's dabbled in grime, dancehall, trap and hip-hop. Moving into 2019, AJ Tracey has been a straight hit machine, moving away from his grime roots into a more commercial sound, one that has upset some fans along the way. And while admittedly I miss the days of 'Thiago Silva' and 'Spirit Bomb', AJ Tracey's debut album shows that he hasn't forgotten his roots, featuring throwbacks to his grime and garage sound, but while there's a handful of hits scattered across this project, there's an equal amount of stinkers as AJ relies on his own recipe a bit too diligently.
After the lead singles 'Butterflies' and 'Doing It' dropped in 2018 it was clear that AJ's debut was going to be about as genre-flexible as his career up until this point, one of them being a classic dancehall inspired pop track and the other being a hard-hitting grime banger. Diving into the album the opening track 'Plan B' is a nice, spacey piece of UK hip-hop with a catchy chorus but not much lyrical content otherwise, and sadly this goes for the rest of the album, with a few exceptions. With it's low-key and guitar lead instrumental behind some drill-influenced drums, 'Country Star' is one of these exceptions as it see's AJ at the most lyrical he's been in a long time, as his flow on the second verse of this track is nothing I've ever heard from him before and I love it.
This track is a prime example of the spacey, Post Malone-esque pop-rap that AJ reaches for on his debut, and for the most part it doesn't pay off, making the same sounding tracks over and over again hoping that one of them will stick with 'Psych Out!' coming the closest. With some really solid vocal melodies and a hard hitting beat, this track sees AJ taking his newfound popstar role seriously and it really works, even if it features some really cringe-worthy lyrics. Another guaranteed hit comes from the star studded 'Nothing But Net' featuring UK legend Giggs, who provides this patient banger with a brilliant verse, setting it apart from the rest of the tracklist. While this album follows some strict pop-rap tropes, the best moments are when he breaks them and goes straight into his roots, like on the phenomenal 'Doing It' and the sinister 'Horror Flick' the only two grime tracks on here, something that I wish he dabbled more in considering his history. Another curveball comes in 'Ladbroke Grove', a full on garage throwback that see's AJ acting as a garage MC opening with "AJ Tracey live and direct" giving the feel and sound of the classic British genre.
Outside of these highlights however, AJ Tracey's debut is fairly repetitive as we hear him use the same song structures and same flows more and more as the album goes on. But this isn't anything new, as his previous EP Secure the Bag, as great as it was, had glaring holes in it's songwriting as AJ often just repeated the chrous 3 or 4 more times to pad out the track length something that becomes glaringly obvious and tedious on repeat listens of his debut album. Yet, as much as it might upset older fans, sometimes this new pop-rap direction pays off for AJ and for every dud on this tracklist there's a an absolute hit that if anything, will make it's way into your brain and hang there for a week or two.
Listen to the album below: