The title of west London grime artist AJ Tracey’s second studio album refers to a basketball game during the 1997 NBA Finals. The Chicago Bulls’ megastar Michael Jordan played and won the game for the Bulls while suffering some kind of illness – jury’s out on whether that was flu, food poisoning or hangover. It is seen as a triumph of mind over matter, a man drawing on the absolutes of his body to succeed no matter what.
This fiery album, laden with basketball references, draws its energy from that attitude: Tracey will overcome any obstacle, even a sometimes deadly virus, to succeed.
It begins with him clearing his throat, which I always find to be a slightly nervy way to open a record, even on a track titled “Anxious” – though Tracey sounds anything but as he rattles through his successes.
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“Five top 10s ago my people asked me, ‘Where’s the hit?’/Now every quarter I drop songs that could’ve won a Brit” – it’s not empty bluster when at least half the songs on this record have that spark needed to mop up airtime and TikTok backdrops (see also: clever samples, moreish hooks).
That said, the middle section lags under the weight of its own expectations. “Glockie”, for example, which speaks of Tracey’s legacy – “without me these rappers wouldn’t exist” – is monotonous, delivering its tired message over an uninspiring beat. Is this the portion of the album where Tracey gets overwhelmed by flu? Because I feel like I just took a swig of Night Nurse. It’s the sort of track that saps energy rather than adding anything of particular interest, and is surrounded by similarly fillerish tracks.
The section drags on and even the re-emergence of Auto-Tune aficionado T-Pain can’t revive it: I’m in no way against the 90s R’n’B beats and summery backing tracks, but maybe just one or two would have been fine.
I don’t know enough about basketball to make a quippy analogy to finish: all I can say is that Flu Game feels like a draw.