The once underground genre, Grime, is now taking over the mainstream. Skepta’s release ‘That’s Not Me’ has opened the door to the masses who now feel safe to peer into this genre’s world and, to many people’s surprise, the suppressed talent has burst into the public eye.
By now, if you’re a Grime fan or not, you’ve probably heard of the “problem” named Stormzy. Not only has he taken the culture forward in ways that no one ever thought possible, but he developed a recipe capturing the imagination and appreciation of original Grime fans and hooking in with the new mainstream audience. Simultaneously, Lady Leshurr did the same; an easy one line, sometimes one-word hook, complimented by an overall slower flow with a handful of metaphors and punch lines. Then, to compliment these words, they infuse the bassline and garage sound with a modern trap or southern hip-hop flare. These two artists in particular, have pushed forward and have become the first generation of this new era of Grime.
But just like anything in life, when you start moving forward, opportunities for other people begin to appear behind you. Please welcome West London recording artist, and a member of BBC Sound of 2017 long list, AJ Tracey.
So with all this initial hype, is AJ Tracey the future of Grime? The only way to know for sure is to watch this guy in action.
Thanks to the team over at Freerange, we were able to see AJ live in the flesh at Bristol’s ‘Analog’. The basement feel of the club gave that atmosphere most modern-day Grime misses. Festivals, up and down the country, might offer you the opportunity to mosh like a barrel of sardines in a tent, but this was intimate, confined, and gave that claustrophobic tension that you saw in the original Lord Of The Mic videos.
Along with AJ, 20 men take to the stage with the headline act and it soon became their very own Eskimo Dance; but with structure – let me explain. See, after watching AJ Tracey, it has become clear that his style pays homage to early 2000s Grime, but yet still pleases the new mainstream crowd. You can hear a perfect harmony of raw and relentless flows with punchlines that feel right when they’re interrupted with a pull-up, or when the crowd screams bar-to-bar back to him. Take his hit song, ‘Pasta’. The song is rich with lyricism which, in a live setting, pumps energy into the room, but has a very simple hook which people can easily sing back. ‘Pasta’ alone shows that AJ has learnt the mistakes of his peers and – speaking broadly – their lack of ability to produce a catchy, ear-worm hook. And it’s this structure that balances the energy throughout and delivers an impressive and high energy performance; regardless of the technical faults or security problems. It’s this structure that allows him to perform like he’s an originator while keeping this new crowd on track; merging two worlds into one.
Aside from his tracks ‘Luke Cage’, ‘Pasta’ and ‘Buster Cannon’ sticking out, the remix of the Southern American Hip-Hop track ‘Knotty Hair’, by Denzel Curry and Rick Ross, spoke the loudest about the future of AJ’s career and in a very positive way. There’s always been a stigma around UK artists trying to please American ears and a UK artist jumping on a US beat was sometimes frowned upon. Due to Grime’s growing success in the states though, it seems this is wearing off. AJ doesn’t fear to jump on this style of a track but, in fact, he thrives off it. While spraying fire over a rugged Grime is probably his favourite hobby, this expansion over genres and cultures comes pretty close behind it. ‘Knotty Hair’ shows that AJ can hold his own with one of the biggest stars in the world. He also jumped on a ‘Cansino’ beat that saw A$AP Rocky and Lil B (THEBASEDGOD) come off second best. These type of remixes gain him respect in these foreign lands; backed up with his visual work, especially seen in the ‘Luke Cage’ video that was filmed in New York, and this push overseas has resulted in a North America Tour with fellow British artist, Dave.
While people from the new gen, like Stormzy or Lady Leshurr, take the lead, people like AJ are catching up. After seeing this artist in a close to natural habit, it’s clear AJ Tracey is a beast. AJ is the future of Grime.