Those who’ve followed the career trajectories of the likes of Stormzy and other breakout rap stars will know that being independent is no longer a handicap. The same is true for Ché Wolton Grant, aka AJ Tracey, an artist who’s one of 2017’s success stories.
The MC with a Welsh-Trinidadian background grew up in Ladbroke Grove, West London, dropping out of a criminology course at uni to pursue music. Making waves on pirate radio from 2014 and armed with crystal-clear delivery, playful bars and an international outlook that surpassed grime, AJ quickly made a name for himself. A heatedly-received collaboration with Dave (‘Thiago Silva’) and a repeatedly viewed Fire In The Booth freestyle later, and he’d cemented his title as one to watch.
Arriving this year, his fifth project to date — ‘Secure The Bag!’ — saw AJ make his bid for global status, flanked by the likes of Craig David, Jme, Denzel Curry and 67. The diversity of guests and sounds — grime, hip-hop, afrobeats — pinned the release high up the charts, something which, for an independent artist, takes graft and talent. Socially conscious and especially outspoken over the Grenfell fire tragedy, AJ’s shown a broader interest than just in spitting bars, and, with show after show lined up already, 2018 is most certainly his for the taking.
“I grew up selling penguin bars and crisps trying to stack for a pair of air,” he tweeted recently. Now he’s fronting Nike Air campaigns. How’s that for aspirational?