Music

AJ Tracey, Flu Game, review: fiery but full of filler



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.

“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.

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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.
Kate Solomon



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