West London rapper AJ Tracey’s ambitious second studio album doesn’t just nod to the pandemic; it references a 1997 NBA game when a visibly unwell Michael Jordan overcame food poisoning to help the Chicago Bulls to victory. Tracey is also digging deep to triumph over the odds, the title implies, with a US audience in his sights on this “sophomore” album.
What follows is a three-pointer taken with poise and verve. Despite the many basketball references – tracks like Draft Pick, Kukoč and Eurostep – plus the presence of US guests such as T-Pain and Kehlani, Tracey’s output remains reassuringly hyperlocal, not diluting his flows but rather taking plenty of familiar UK specifics international. West Ten, his terrific garage-revival hit with Mabel, is most obviously sited in Ladbroke Grove, but granular references to Tracey’s “opps”, upmarket restaurants and Vimto also litter these confident, irresistibly rhythmic verses.
Similarly, Flu Game’s bouncy productions tread a nimble line between trap beats, international party music and London forms. If these 16 tracks sound like end-to-end bangers (three have been hits already), the slight downsides are also familiar: Tracey is a clever wordsmith who can do better than some of the more obvious metaphors and hilariously retro chat-up lines. “I got something in my trackies and it’s only for you girl,” Tracey promises on Coupé.