Less than two years ago, West London rapper and MC AJ Tracey released ‘Secure The Bag’. Despite his detractors, today he seems to be doing just that. Following his commercial breakthrough last May with the breezy sounding ‘Butterflies’, he followed it by finally announcing and releasing his self-titled debut album – landing a Top 3 spot on the UK album charts in the process.
With the aforementioned ‘Butterflies now almost certified platinum and his debut receiving rave reviews, the 25 year old recently embarked on a 15 date sold out tour across the UK and Ireland, bringing Thornton Heath’s own Yung Fume and his tour DJ Yank Boogie along with him for the ride. With the stage set for his penultimate lap at the famous O2 Academy Brixton could the self-proclaimed “most versatile artist in the UK” cap off a successful tour with a bang in his hometown?
As I approached the venue, the smoke from the drum cooked jerk chicken masked the sea of concert goers decked out in AJ Tracey merch. Brixton was alive with excitement – more so than usual – as just under 5,000 people were anticipating an energy imbued performance from an artist that The Guardian once listed as one of the best new acts to catch live. Thinking back on his performance at Wireless Festival 2017, he spat bars with a ferocious haste over nostalgic grime beats that had the crowd pumping. Given that his constantly evolving sound is slightly distant from that performance, I had no idea what to expect. His ‘rockstar’ status was solidified by the strong female contingent that was in attendance and a wave of euphoria was present even an hour and a half before he was due on stage.
At 8pm on the dot, DJ Yank Boogie hit the stage with a dynamism that is rarely seen by tour DJ’s. He was riling the crowd before he even touched his decks, the showmanship was evident to see and he was on a high given that he was kicked out of the venue the last time he was there. Kicking things off with Travis Scott and Drake’s ‘Sicko Mode’, the sight of drinks flying was commonplace as Yank’s unique hosting skills on the deck made the crowd lose it. He followed this with Sheck Wes’ ‘Mo Bamba’ which incited high-spirited moshing and a hearty singalong as the venue was fast filling up. The crowd wanted more and it was a shame that his contribution was brief, but Yank did well to warm the crowd up for his cohort Yung Fume, who has been at the forefront of the trap wave emerging in UK rap.
The 21 year old kicked off his set with ‘Watch Me Flex’, a fan favourite that demanded an immediate wheel up. The crowd reaction was crazy as he and Yank both brought the energy to their set, with Yank comfortably balancing the double act of DJ and hype man. Fume took a minute to acknowledge the crowd as he stated it was probably the biggest crowd he had ever performed in front of. This is testament to his rise over the last three years which started with ‘Sideting’, the next song in Fume’s setlist. This mix of old and new songs was greatly appreciated by the crowd as he performed ‘Untouchable’ and ‘I’ll Be Back’ off of his latest mixtape ‘Noughts and Crosses 4’. Appropriately, Fume performed ‘Look What I Did’ – a high-octane collaboration between him and AJ Tracey as a reference point for what fans could expect from the main act. Fume’s half hour set concluded with ‘Secrets’ another recent mixtape cut featuring Lil Durk, which displays his ability to flex on record with his American counterparts.
Not long after this (and a wig flying around the venue as we waited) the stage lit up as it was time for AJ Tracey to round off his countrywide tour. Red fireworks went off as ‘Plan B’ the opener of his self-titled debut played out on the thumping speakers. As this happened, you could hear the female contingent in the building screaming wildly as his face was plastered on the three big screens on the stage set up. He stepped out into the strong beam of white light on stage and introduced himself before getting into the thick of his performance. He opted to run through the album in order and each song had a unique display on the screens; ‘Jackpot’ had a monochrome slot machine display while ‘Rina’ and ‘Wifey Riddim 3’ had an assortment of fine women on show behind his tall frame. He didn’t miss a step as he recited his lyrics with a swagger and confidence that was befitting of his reputation on stage. AJ then threw us a curve ball by performing ‘LO(V/S)ER’, a crowd favourite judging by the instant reaction to this power play. By the time he got back into album mode via ‘Double C’s’, girls were being carried out as the heat being emitted from the pyrotechnics on stage was intense. It really did feel like I attended a rockstar’s show!
He was in his bag when the backdrop pictured him in a lavender field as he sat and rapped the lyrics to ‘Country Star’ into the mic stand. Shania Twain herself would’ve applauded that take on the popular genre. The thought into props and stage production was quite remarkable; he had everything from two pole dancers (during ‘Psych Out’ and ‘Necklace’), a dazzling array of fireworks and Dragon Ball Z style graphics (‘Buster Cannon’) and even brought out some special guests (I’ll get to that later). On stage, he seemed to be right at home as he was in control thus far, he even got his two step on as the crowd cheered him on.
AJ wasn’t messing about when he proclaimed to be the most versatile artist in the UK; his debut album encompasses many sounds and genres of music. This versatility is epitomised by ‘Ladbroke Grove’ a nostalgic take on the Garage days of old that saw the crowd bubble and skank, as he went from rockstar to Garage MC. He then performed a medley of tracks that would have fans of his old sound melting. ‘Packages’ got the crowd rocking as he seamlessly ran through his old EP’s, including tracks like ‘Alakazam’, ‘Blacked Out’, ‘Luke Cage’ and ‘Quarterback (Secure The Bag!)’. At this point you had to think about how extensive his back-catalogue is given the fact that it feels like yesterday he released his debut EP ‘The Front’.
He took a pause and teasingly asked the crowd if he could bring out some friends; the deafening roar was his queue to flick through his contact list. The charismatic MoStack came out to perform ‘What I Wanna’ before AJ joined him for their brand new collaboration with Steel Banglez titled ‘Fashion Week’. Man of the moment Dave soon joined him on stage to perform their early 2016 banger ‘Thiago Silva’, at this point the blue smoke from a flare engulfed the crowd, with AJ encouraging safety to his animated crowd. It was only right that Not3s joined AJ on stage to perform ‘Butterflies’ and sprinkle his take on dancehall into the mix and create a vibe for the ladies.
To wrap up, the venue blacked out as he performed the Swifta Beater produced ‘Doing It’. It was an appropriate way to end the show, as he wanted to close with something for the girls and the guys with his last two songs. Overall it was an accomplished performance by an artist at the peak of his powers, he had something for everyone on the night and certainly lived up to his reputation. The crowd were ecstatic as they slowly made their exit, AJ Tracey can rest knowing that the words printed in that article in The Guardian ring true in present tense.