Review (ENG) : AJ Tracey // Secure The Bag ! 2
Updated: Mar 3
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This last 27th of November, AJ Tracey unveiled his latest EP “Secure The Bag! 2”, that is over a year and half after his first studio album “AJ Tracey”. Named after the artist himself, this album had marked a turning point in his career. Indeed, it had truly concretised the expectations placed by the public on the young prodigy by highlighting his ability to adapt to a broad spectrum of genres while remaining effective and without ever losing touch with his own identity.
Every artistic decision made on this very project, as well as on its Deluxe version, appeared organic and well-mastered, even though Grime was, over the course of the 20 tracks, missing to some degree. “AJ Tracey” had however allowed the rapper to expand his musical horizons and to gain exposure, especially in North America.
Secure the Bag! 2 made its appearance three years after the first opus of the same name, which was released in 2017 (Even though the majority of the tracks from both EPs were made around the same period, in 2016). Secure the Bag! was Tracey’s first project to enter UK charts and can be considered to be his most accomplished artistically speaking. Indeed, it remains somewhat more impactful than the following opus in my eyes because of its short format and its better mastered ambiances.
Its tracklist counted some of the songs that have remained as the Tottenham rapper’s most successful. This is namely the case for mesmerising “Alakazam” and for massive banger “Quarterback”, from which the production is used here once again on “Red & Green”, as well as for some purely Grime songs like “Blacked Out” where the Londoner retained the crudeness which characterised his flow on previous projects.
While the first “Secure The Bag!” and AJ Tracey’s first studio album expressed the artist’s ambition to propel himself to the top of the UK scene, this EP explicits that he has reached his goals. The rapper in fact proclaims himself to be the “prince of the new school era” as of the intro, “Yumeko”.
Here, the Londoner looks back on his journey, his motivations and his accomplishments, which he touches on with a certain degree of wit.
«I’m the prince of the new-school era /And achieve what I wanna but it's progress » - Yumeko
« It's a process and I just get nearer/I take risks every day like Yumeko » - Yumeko
« Would you believe?/I killed the shows overseas spread the sound like a disease/ I brought the world to its knees » - Yumeko
« Rolling with demons, protected by angels/I do this for all of the mums that are crying/SK, SK, SK, SK/ All on my feet I don’t rock nothin’ else » - Yumeko
The gentle and mesmerising production, with its frantic hi hats, by Lukrative (who also was a producer on Pluto x Baby Pluto among other things) and F1lthy (producer for WifiGawd, Sickboyrari, Bladee, Lucki, Matt Ox,…) gives the track an almost “epic” edge. This seems to perfectly capture AJ’s rise to success as well as the headliner status in the UK scene which he’s acquired in recent years.
On the following track, “LA4WEEK 2”, the production is courtesy of the rapper himself alongside Nyge (who produced “Quarterback”, “Return of the Mac” for MizOrMac…) and brings forth a colder and more aggressive atmosphere. This allows for AJ Tracey to be more trenchant than on the intro.
«Weighing up onions, T-house pungent, straight outta London dungeons » - LA4AWEEK 2
Just like on the first “LA4WEEK”, AJ links up with Swoosh God, a New York rapper and affiliate of the A$AP Mob who delivers a sharp and precise flow where he proudly shouts out MTP, the crew alongside which AJ Tracey earned his stripes at the beginning of his career.
« If you hate on the MTP, I just SMH and then KMT » - LA4AWEEK 2
His energetic flow gradually gains in intensity and provides a nice contrast to Sloan Evans’ more melodic flow, which concludes the track in a slower manner and on colder notes. This ensures a seamless transition to “Red & Green” and its more energetic production, which is identical to the beat from “Quarterback”.
Along with “Yumeko”, “Red & Green” is one of the tracks which best embody AJ’s rise to success in the past few years. The artist mentions his favorite designers (the likes of Chanel, Raf Simons or Visvim), which are synonymous of a luxurious lifestyle. This also serves as a reminder of the rapper’s ability to paint a picture through his lyrics- this overall allows him to boast about his accomplishments with total confidence.
« I'm in Margiela, it's green (Green)/All of these VV's on me (On me) I put Visvim on my feet(feet) /I need to win for my team » - Red & Green
« You tried to cop this new Raf got declined/Chanels I placed on my face got me blind No record deal, I ain't locked into buying » - Red & Green
« My blicky is wet like it’s Ferg (Ferg) [...] Tony Hawk down on the curb (Skrrr) […] I got art on my head like I’m Bari » - Red & Green
AJ Tracey often mentions designers in his lyrics. In that respect, the track “No Chucks” makes reference to a particular model of Rick Owens trainers which are often confused with Chuck Taylors, though being much more expensive and high-end.
« My Gang come like rednecks, all we push is trucks/Got Rick Owens on my feet, these ain’t no Chucks »- No Chucks
On “Red & Green, AJ Tracey delivers a more energetic flow, similar to that of “Triggered” and “No Chucks”. This echoes back to what the artist had accustomed his audience to and may very well be one of the most interesting demonstrations of technique of the EP, along with “Graveyard Shift” featuring Slowthai.
In this effortless banger, AJ looks back at his past illicit activities while continuing to mention elements which embody and reflect his success in music, whether it be jewellery, frequently traveling while on tour or his costly cars.
« I was sellin' pills in the rave/Razor on me, give a brother a shave/Dip duck dive, where you get raised » - Graveyard Shift
« Keep it a G like Warren (like Warren)/ Got the horsepower like Ralph (like Ralphy) And we gotta stick with that Lauren (that Polo) » - Graveyard Shift
By contrast, “Hikikomori” is significantly gentler and airier. The frantic hi hats are once more perfectly compatible with the vehemence which the artist demonstrates when mentioning his ambitions.
« How can I moan when my crib’s got a pool? I was sittin' 8 balls, never played pool » - Hikikomori
The title of the track directly stems from a Japanese term which designates the withdrawal into oneself of Japanese men who only go out to satisfy basic needs. AJ uses this idea to express his relentlessness and his overflowing productivity in music, by contrast to going out in order to pursue things he views as trivial or vain. This idea is underlined in the catchier and more melodic pre-chorus.
« I don't wanna go outside, I'm feelin' like NBA/Tryna get paid, been countin' up stacks all day Everybody callin’, texting, don’t even know my phone’s not on me But I got the mula on me, gotta keep a ruler on me » - Hikkimori
As a matter of a fact, Secure The Bag! 2 encompasses numerous references to football and mangas which serve as a way to illustrate the rappers discourse, similarly to previous projects. “Hikikomori” is no exception as the Londoner borrows his references from Naruto to exemplify his lyrics, whether it be his determination with Rock Lee or his attitude through Deidara.
«That Lee I’m a guy like that/ Deidara birds, I’m fly like that (Brrapp) (…)/ Akatsuki my gang, I’m stylish black/I’m Shisui, bros know I got their back/Orochimaru, you snakes can’t dap”- Hikikomori
AJ Tracey had previously demonstrated his passion for mangas on numerous occasions, either through his lyrics, the title of his songs or his profile pictures on social media. The cover of the project reflects the artist’s interest for this culture nicely while using the same visual concept than for part one.
On “Blow My Phone”, the artist mentions a certain feeling of success along with his accomplishments in music. This however does not refrain him from also underlining his integrity on the track’s cold and hazy production, which retains a metallic tone.
“I'm still likkle Tracey A (Yeah) London star and quarterback” - Blow My Phone
« I’m in Halifax or it’s Barclays babe, I don't go to chase Biggest smile, walkin' out the bank, like I own the place Gothenburg, Tilburg and a dot, yeah they know my name » - Blow My Phone
“No Chucks” continues that theme through a more melodic trap beat with fast-paced snares. Here, AJ mentions his lavish lifestyle and his accomplishments once again by naming some of the artists alongside which he has achieved some of his biggest commercial successes, like Dave with “Thiago Silva” or Aitch with “Rain”.
“Like Skepta man stay on mains/ Went platinum on grime with Dave/ Linked Aitch, and made it rain (Okay, let’s go)/ I can’t complain (No), my music’s on GTA” – No Chucks
Moreover, Tracey’s close circle occupies an ever-present place in his lyrics. This is especially the case on “Triggered”, where bouncy hi hats are mixed with more metallic sounds. Here, AJ mentions his integrity in regard to those who he considers close to him, though this is at times not mutual.
“I kept it one (Yeah), with some n***as (One)/ That didn’t keep it one with me” -Triggered
“I just put ten on my shoes (Ten) /And I just put ten on my boo (Boo)/ I just put ten on my boys (Ten)/ I just put ten on my goons (Let’s go)” -Triggered
Besides, he also mentions his reluctance to make new friends as a result of the numerous betrayals the artist has endured- this topic is frequently touched upon throughout the project.
“I don’t want no more friends (No more)” – Triggered
“Old friends talking ‘bout me but they me their life (Yeah)”- Blow My Phone
The project reaches its conclusion with “Columbiana” and its cloudy production by Nyge, where AJ plainly displays how successful he is with women.
“She love me cah I’m makin’ a killing/ I got Columbiana girls and I got British/ Wait I ain’t finished, Swedish, Dutch and Finnish” - Columbiana
All in all, this EP once more confirms AJ Tracey’s versatility and technical abilities. Similarly to the first Secure the Bag!, this project showcases eclectic atmospheres as well as lyrics with lighter themes where all-out confidence holds a place of central importance.
It encompasses the artist’s unique sound, in which he keeps on excelling through raw and vigorous flows. One can also note that the productions chosen remain significantly further away from Grime than those in his projects prior to 2016. He thereby continues to draw his inspiration from a wide variety of styles, like for instance the new Trap scene which is developing in the US, but also from more underground trends. This is achieved in particular through his collaboration with beatmaker F1lthy, who can be considered to be a true “veteran” of a scene which has been developing on Soundcloud in the past few years.
Secure the Bag! 2 therefore keeps its initial promise: though it is not one of the artist’s most accomplished projects, it remains hugely effective. Indeed, it displays a wide array of atmospheres which are ideal for AJ to fully display his versatility.
This EP can be seen as a hazy ride which is set out to be a continuation of the first opus and comprises its fair share of gems. In all logic, this should In turn allow for AJ Tracey to even further establish himself in the UK scene.