Latin Grammys 2018
AJ Tracey Drops 'Secure The Bag!' Grime EP: Interview
AJ Tracey is a 23-year-old West London grime rapper who dropped his Secure The Bag! EP to his growing repertoire at midnight (Oct. 6). A fan of his asked to be featured on the track "You Don't Know Me," and oh yeah: that fan happens to be acclaimed British singer Craig David. No big deal.
On the eve of his EP's release, Tracey spoke to Billboard about his latest project, including the meanings behind some of the songs and what influence grime star Stormzy had on his sound.
I first want to say that I found there are so many lines that I paused the song just to write down. I feel you have so many verses peppered throughout that are just lines that other people are going to want to remember or write down for themselves. Or, like, you know how sometimes people say for Drake that he has a lot of Instagram captions in his verses? I feel like that’s what this is. I feel like the essence of grime is in the lyrics because every beat, while not totally the same, is similar in-your-face and punctuating the words, not necessarily meant to take over the song?
Yes and no. The essence of grime is in both flow and the lyrics. Yes, the lyrics are important, but it’s about showing who you are and where you’re from. It’s talking about your lifestyle.
I think it’s a pretty obvious question to ask: how much of an influence Stormzy is to you?
I would say in my music, not at all. But, I’d say, in life he’s a big influence. He’s my friend, he’s my brother. He gives me a lot of advice on what to do, where to go. Anything I’m doing, he’s a fan. In life, he’s a massive influence. Musically, I don’t really have any influences. I inspire myself.
“Blacked Out” stood out to me because it’s very confident -- like all your songs are -- but I think it was also nuanced in a way when you say, “I was a hopeful kid like you.” What tone overall do you hope to set with this particular project?
I guess ‘Quarterback’ would be the one to set the tone.
You previously told me the backstory of “Quarterback,” so I was hoping to go through the tracklist and get what each one means to you? So, we’ve got “Quarterback” covered (as previously told to Billboard: “Basically this track was inspired by Super Bowl [LI between Atlanta and New England] recently. I was in a hotel in Glasgow and saw how Tom Brady was calling all the shots. I basically related to him in that sense. I feel like Brady in the music scene!”) but what about “Blacked Out,” where did that one come from?
“Blacked Out,” compared to all my other songs, that’s like a grime song. It’s just typical U.K. Grime. There’s not much twang to it, there’s no outside or international influences on that song. That’s become a usual A.J. song to people -- something that incorporates those influences. So I knew when I dropped ‘Blacked Out,’ it wouldn’t be something that they expect. The track is me talking about how I came from an impoverished background, and I’m striving to be better and build for myself.
So “luvd u” reminded me that people generally see titles of songs that have the word love in them any way whatsoever, they assume it’s going to be this upbeat or outward love song, but this one more reminded me of Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” when it isn’t a love song at all.
I’m glad you said that because I wanted to give it the title “luvd u” and make people think it’s going to be a love song and then they realize it’s actually not a love song at all.
Yeah, because I feel like it’s actually about how many options there really are in the world and how do you even know what’s really right for you?
Exactly. You hit the nail on the head. That song, there’s been a couple of women that I thought I loved. I don’t know if I loved them, but I certainly adored them. And maybe after the initial stages of me being infatuated, I realized that they’re not really here for me. They just like what I’m doing, or they just like my music, but they don’t really love me.
"Bird Call," what about that one?
"Bird Call," so a bird in English slang -- I don't know about anywhere else in the world -- but bird could mean a female who you've obviously applied unrealistic standards.
I’d like to ask about Craig David. How did you get to team up with him for this?
This is quite funny. So he must have told his manager that he liked me I guess, and I’d never met him before. His manager got in touch with mine and they set up a date for us to meet. So I went to meet him and the first session we just hung out, we became friends. I don’t really like making music with people unless I have vibe with them. If I don’t vibe with you then I don’t want to make music with you basically. He had massive bars of chocolate in his room so we were just eating chocolate, and talking about our favorite music and stuff. Off the back of that we started vibing. I think we made about eight songs together. I had a lot of different options for features on my EP, but I only wanted to put people on that went with the theme of the project, and that I knew well. I decided to put music out that was genuine -- that when you heard the tune it was a moment. Every single tune me and Craig had together, we both loved. It was like a basket of fire, and he said “I’ll take this one” and I was like “Cool” and I said “I’ll have this one” and he said “cool.”
Why would you say that you’re so proud of this collection of songs?
This collection of songs is a very different from anything else I’ve ever dropped because this is the music I want to make. This is the sound I want to make. No one’s pressuring me to make it. No one’s told me what to make or put me in the corner. I have listened to my fans, I always listened to my fans, but I’m not going to make music for other people, it needs to be music that I want to make. This sort of music is literally what I would listen to, what I do listen to, so if people like this, it means a massive deal to me -- because that means they genuinely like what I want to make.
How did you craft the cover art?
The concept behind the artwork is basically me finding a girl I can trust, securing the literal (bag) full of money and evading the evil that’s trying to hold me back and block me. Also, the deep colors are meant to be cohesive with the feel of the music. The whole art style is based on an old horror movie poster.
I have to ask you: is it a career goal for you to have one of your songs on the FIFA soundtrack?
Oh yeah. Giggs has a jam on FIFA, and I loaded up my game and heard it and was like, “Ah, he beat me to it but I’m gonna get there.”
I know that you were part of the unveiling of the new Tottenham kit -- your favorite club. Have you maintained a relationship with anybody on the team? Do you show them your music or anything like that?
Oh yeah, yeah. I’m a fan of them, and they’re a fan of me.
You can listen to Secure The Bag! from top to bottom below: