“AJ Tracey’s such a dickhead, all he do is boast.” The west London rapper gets the criticism in early on Anxious, the first song on his second album. Then he gets busy with the boasting. “I made a million quid,” he claims more than once – probably an understatement given that he’s been on eight top 10 hits to date and his two-year-old debut album is a gold seller. In other songs he’s in and out of Harrods, A Jewellers in Hatton Garden and the glitzy Mayfair restaurant Novikov. In case you’re one of those poor saps who he says can’t get close enough for a selfie, he also reveals the manufacturers of his glasses (Cartier) and his socks (Gucci, darling).
And now the 27-year-old is really going for the big time. Previously he’s been vocal about his passion for football – his Dave duet Thiago Silva, named after the Brazilian captain, was a viral Glastonbury moment in 2019 even though Tracey wasn’t there, and the Twitter account of his favourite team, Spurs, wished him a happy birthday last month. But with the basketball theme of this new collection, front loaded with dense, murky sounds that are a long way from the poppier stylings of his biggest hits so far, he surely has one eye on appealing in America.
The title, Flu Game, refers to an NBA Finals match between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz in 1997, in which Michael Jordan scored a matchwinning 38 points despite having food poisoning. Another Bulls star from that time, the Croatian Toni Kukoč, has a song named after him here, and Tracey will sell you a full range of orange basketball kit to go with the album in his online store.
Allying himself with one of the greatest teams in any sport makes sense. He’s been bragging about his versatility for a long time, bubbling up through the aggressive grime scene and then scoring a huge hit in 2019 with Ladbroke Grove, a song in the summery UK garage style. There’s something to suit most tastes here again, from the Latin guitar licks of Top Dog to the Nineties dance samples of Dinner Guest, from the slower, more menacing Glockie to the slick R&B of Coupé, on which Californian star Kehlani sings a snippet of Destiny’s Child.
The catchier melodies appear in a lighter second half, before he earns a convincing victory in extra time with the zingy Mabel duet West Ten. It’s more than enough to show off about.