(AJ Tracey)
The west Londoner’s lyrics are a blur of Vegas hotels and high-end cars – but laced with witty asides about Lenny Henry

If you were searching for an artist who embodies the air of confidence currently surging through the UK rap scene, you could do worse than alight on AJ Tracey. He is, by his own admission, a “cheeky arrogant prick”, who seems to delight in the fact that his rise to fame has put noses out of joint among the elder statesmen of grime. “I’m not here for just trying to emulate what they did and just trying to keep their nostalgia alive – I’m trying to usher in the new era,” he told one interviewer, not long after his self-released single Butterflies went gold last year. It’s a theme he returns to within seconds on his eponymous debut album: “Me and you are not the same,” he assures nameless backbiters, “I’ve got a different past.”

Indeed, self-assurance seems to find expression in ways that go beyond standard interview braggadocio. His debut album arrives in a sleeve that features the 24-year-old west Londoner cradling a baby goat. If it isn’t clear exactly what cradling a baby goat has to do with the album’s contents, it’s certainly an effective way of putting some distance between Tracey and his peers in terms of iconography: you can have the bling and the gritty urban landscapes, I’ve got livestock. Following on the heels of an onstage appearance with Jared Leto’s Thirty Seconds to Mars and the announcement that he would like to collaborate with, of all people, pallid teen-poppers the Vamps, a lot of pre-release attention has been attracted not by the album’s guest stars – a great, calm-but-menacing turn from Giggs on Nothing But Net and rising Brooklyn rapper Jay Critch amid the soft-focus, Auto-Tune-heavy Necklace among them – or indeed the inevitable co-sign from Drake, but the fact that among its multifarious styles lurks a track that Tracey has described as “my take on country music”. Even in a scene increasingly untroubled by the kind of generic divisions that once defined it, a metaphorical jaunt to Nashville feels like a brave new frontier.

As it turns out, to describe Country Star as country music amounts to gilding the lily. It features an acoustic guitar and the lyrics mention both “cowboy spins in the car” and “cowgirls zipping off bras” – this is very much what the role of girls, cow or otherwise, amounts to throughout the album – and there the similarity ends. It’s a rare instance of Tracey writing cheques with his mouth that his music can’t cash. Tracey’s impressively dextrous flow can conceal a slight lack of lyrical content – aside from a solitary mention of hating Nigel Farage, the politicking rapper of the Grenfell marches and the Grime4Corbyn campaign is noticeable by his absence, preferring to stick with the less provocative topic of how successful he is both financially and with the ladies, including, Doing It suggests, some famous ones. But his musical versatility is never in doubt.

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