AJ Tracey’s life naturally intertwines with soccer, or as he would prefer to call it, football. In June, the U.K. star found himself performing at the Hideout Festival in Beach Zrce, Island of Pag, Croatia. One month later, Croatia made its first-ever World Cup final and became the second-smallest country to ever make the final.
Tracey’s love for the sport runs even deeper, as he’s huge fan of the Tottenham Hotspur. The Premier League club sent 11 players to the World Cup. Five of them played for England (Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Dele Alli), nine of them played in the semi-finals and one won the World Cup with France. In July 2017, Tracey helped Tottenham launch their new 2017-18 kits. Earlier this year, he starred alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in the FIFA 18 World Cup reveal trailer.
Currently, the 24-year-old rapper is riding the high tide of his latest single “Butterflies,” which sits at No. 23 on the official UK Top 40 Singles Chart. But while music is always a topic of conversation for him, Tracey is mainly here to talk about the beautiful game and England’s historic World Cup run — even though his Three Lions came just short of securing the bag.
The 2018 World Cup finished Sunday (July 15) in Russia with France beating Croatia. England finished fourth after losing the third place game to Belgium the day before — the best finish for the country since 1990 (they haven’t won since 1966 on home soil.) Throughout this year’s tournament, England finally won a penalty kick shootout and boasted the Golden Boot winner in Harry Kane — a Tottenham Hotspur.
Read Billboard’s full conversation with rap’s resident soccer (or football) fan below.
Is it fair to say that, actually, your Tottenham Hotspur won the World Cup?
[Laughs] Won the world cup? Nah, not really, even I don’t think that’s reasonable! Obviously our goalkeeper and captain of our team is captain of France, so he put in the work. And Harry Kane is definitely a Golden Boot winner. So he definitely had a hand in something. Tottenham players did well, for sure, but I wouldn’t’ say we won the World Cup!
Are you suffering from World Cup withdrawals like the rest of us? I know for me, it’s been a bit of an emotional crash not having it to look forward to every day. Does that affect your creativity?
Yes, I’m having World Cup withdrawals; but no, this is sneaky of me to say, but I actually care about Tottenham more than I care about the England team. So I’m actually looking forward to seeing who Tottenham sign. I’m one of those sad football fans who watches back games multiple times, so there are infinite games I can watch.
Did you feel a difference in the vibe around England during the World Cup, specifically London where you are? If so, then how?
I definitely did see a difference. I feel like it’s a young new team with a different dynamic and a mindset, and everyone was really excited to see what they could do. We didn’t have that mentality of, “Oh, we’re England, we’re just gonna get battered.” I’m actually looking forward to seeing what we can do with this new team moving on.
I remember when I spoke to you about your song “Quarterback,” you mentioned that Tom Brady’s comeback Super Bowl win over the Falcons inspired it. Specific to world football, about a year ago, you unveiled “False 9” to accompany Tottenham’s kit release, you’ve shouted out Pique in lyrics, have a song named after Thiago Silva. How has this World Cup, and events in England because of it, informed your music? Any songs coming called Tripper?
No songs called Trippier. I dunno, man. The World Cup was over too quick for me. It just didn’t feel like normal. Usually, they feel really long and around for a while, but this one didn’t so I’m not sure it did inspire me. There will be more football references in the songs, but no World Cup inspired ones. Unfortunately.
It’s a divisive time in England since Brexit. For those of us not there, could you describe what the climate has been like in England, and how this team’s historic run came at the right time for the country?
We definitely needed that boost, and it made the whole country feel a bit more together. But then, something happens — like today I just read on the news that the Tories have decided that animals can’t feel pain, so they’re going to start creating laws surrounding that. For me, that’s just ruined everything. They basically don’t seem to care about anything or anyone. They just want to make sure our trade is OK, which it won’t be anyway, so our country is basically f—ed.
France’s team has 15 players with African roots. There’s been lots of chatter about the importance of immigration illustrating itself now in football. What do you think about that? Does it apply to England?
Yeah, I completely agree with that. If we took away anyone other than those with English heritage from the England team then they’d have a team that’s nowhere near what we have now. No Dele Alli, no [Raheem] Sterling. I read something that said that we’d only have six players in our England squad if we didn’t have immigration. That says a lot. I guess we’d still have good old Harry Kane!
More personally, does it hit home for you, son to a Trinidadian and Welsh?
Yes, of course it does. We need immigration for so many reasons in our country — economy, culture, everything.
Favorite moment from this World Cup?
Er… Trippier’s free kick, 100 percent.
Which player of this specific Three Lions group would you say you most relate to and why?
Probably Dele Alli because he knows he’s good, and he is good 100 percent, but sometimes he shows he’s got a strong attitude. So, that’s definitely me [laughs].
Why do you love this sport so much?
Why do I love it so much? I don’t want to go too deep, but football and Dragon Ball Z were the two things that, when I was going through a hard time when I was younger, kind of gave me an escape. You know what I mean? So that’s why. Everyone asks me about why I care about anime and football so much, but that’s because anything dark that happened in my life, those two things would make me feel better. I just used to sit in front of the TV and watch football and breathe a sigh of relief. You know what I mean? It’s another world. An escape.
Can’t let you go without talking about “Butterflies.” How does the song, and the widespread way people are attaching to it, illustrate the direction you’re headed as an artist?
It doesn’t really illustrate a change in direction. That’s one sound I might do more of in the future, but it’s just a part of my sound. Every now and again, I might dabble in that area — you know what I mean — but I just wanted to bring some good vibes to people. The world’s in a very crazy place right now. London is a very crazy dark place, [and] I just wanted people to know that it’s not all about violence and drilling. Sometimes, you can be happy and celebrate.
I’m really happy about how people are attaching themselves to it. This whole change in what’s popular in the charts has helped my SOCA rhythm to do well. I just go in the studio and make what I want to make. I’m not trying to make a hit. I just go in and do my thing, and I’m glad people are liking it.
Real quickly, can you tell us about “3AM,” your new single with Baauer?
We met ages ago in L.A., and then a couple more times since then. We link up whenever we’re in the same place. Our managers are friends and stuff like that. He’s a cool guy, like he’s a proper nice person. I don’t meet many people in music who are proper nice people, but he’s cool. He’s like my bredrin. We’ve got about five or six tracks. His friend actually once gave me a chocolate bar that had some weed in it, and I’m not really a smoker. It didn’t hit me for about six to eight hours, and way later, I fell off my chair and bugged out. I went to sleep and woke up still high. Never doing that again!