On June 11th 1997, Michael Jordan was dehydrated, struggled to breathe, and was considering the need for an IV drip. It was game five of the NBA finals, with the series tied at 2-2 against the Utah Jazz, and the greatest basketball player in the world had severe food poisoning. The Chicago Bulls forward finished with a scintillating 38 points whilst on the verge of nearly collapsing throughout. This was dubbed the ‘Flu Game’, and only added to the legend of a man whose name became synonymous with greatness.
AJ Tracey has named his sophomore album after this legacy defining moment, aligning himself with one of, if not the best player to ever touch a basketball. The West London rapper is thus striving for greatness, and Flu Game, a hoops-themed album that is split into four quarters, delivers through its versatility, consistent lyricism, and diverse production. AJ portrays himself as the Michael Jordan of UK rap, and across his project, he fills up the stat sheet with an array of heavy cuts and club ready bangers. If we are to compare MJ and AJ through the vehicle of the album, it is fair to say that both men rarely miss.
The album kicks off with “Anxious”, where Remedee’s minimalist production allows Tracey to experiment with flows that creates one of his most mature sounding tracks to date. The first quarter of the project shows the West London rapper at his braggadocios best, emphasising his versatility as he moves from drill banger “Bringing it Back” with Digga D, to a more Americanised style on “Cheerleaders”. The highlight of this quarter, and one of the best songs on the album, sees AJ link up with Nav on “Kukoč”. Produced by PXCOYO, Tracey attacks the beat with aggression and poise, coupled with Nav’s wavey trap vibes on the hook, this song shows the potential for AJ to gain a significant stateside following, as his style and the content of his bars translate effortlessly to an American audience. This first quarter sets a tone for the rest of the album, as Tracey is able to give fans old and new something to be excited about, combining the styles of his early career on “Bringing it Back” with a more mature sound on the likes of “Anxious” and “Cheerleaders”.
The second quarter of the album sees Tracey really step into his lyrical bag. The rapper is able to showcase his wordplay on “Draft Pick”, as he raps, “You ****** come like Steph Curry with the verbal threats, because it’s nothing but net.” He also asserts his influence on the rap game on “Cherry Blossom”, where he states, ‘I’ll take a genre that nobody’s fucking with, change something up and then make it a bop’. It is difficult to argue with AJ here when looking at his discography, while on this record alone, he is able to glide between genres with apparent ease. “Eurostep” sees the artist himself foray into production, tenaciously attacking the mellow guitar riffs with fast flows and a catchy hook. It is also good to see Nyge, a long term collaborator and friend of the rapper, executive produce the entire record, showing that while AJ forays into a more Americanised sound, his roots are still grounded in West London.
The back half of the album is strewn with potential hit records, as the production takes a turn towards guitar led anthems, which drive the beat forward and create an atmosphere of summer sounds. The production of Nyge, AOD, and YDZ beats, especially in the third quarter of the album, is seemingly influenced by the twangs of guitar across 50 Cent’s seminal 2003 record, Get Rich Or Die Tryin. T-Pain, perhaps the most surprising feature on the whole album, brings a jovial energy to “Summertime Shootout”, while AJ is able to show off his vocal chops next to the Florida star. Tracey further demonstrates his vocal ability on “Top Dog”, a polished, catchy track that instantly pricks the ears of the listener through the hook and is carried well throughout by AJ’s bars, making it one of the standout songs across the record.
“Little More Love” can easily be seen as the UK’s answer to “21 Questions”, as Trace-O questions the depth of love of his significant other on his first verse, before switching up his flow and delivering a cold outro to the song. Kehlani adds an RnB twist to “Coupé”, while Sahbabii and MillieGoLightly complement Tracey well on the vocal led “Numba 9”. The album closes out with “Dinner Guest” and “West Ten”, which are already hits for the West London rapper and feature MoStack and Mabel respectively.
What is most impressive about the final two quarters of this record is AJ Tracey’s ability to switch up his approach, moving from the genres of garage on “West Ten”, to a reworking of an EDM sample by the Nightcrawlers on “Dinner Guest”, to the sounds of 00’s Hip-Hop across the third quarter of the record. Tracey brings variety through his beat selection, flows and vocal range to create an album that keeps the listener on their toes, producing diverse soundscapes that pique interest across the record.
Many view Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” as one of the finest achievements across his stellar career, as it is demonstrative of his will to win, even when the odds were stacked against him. It came towards the end of his time at the Chicago Bulls, and put beyond any reasonable doubt that he was the greatest of his generation. For AJ Tracey, Flu Game is demonstrative of his artistic talent, spanning multiple genres across one record, and combining lyricism with elite flows and delivery.
If MJ’s victory was the epitome of his greatness, this album can be viewed as the epitome of AJ Tracey, as he lays out his ability to bring variety as an artist. Flu Game can also undeniably give the rapper a real chance to break America, which would also give him the opportunity to be seen as one of the most influential UK artists of his generation. The sophomore album therefore shows all the signs that if AJ Tracey continues this rich vein of musical form, he too can be synonymous with greatness in UK rap, as Michael Jordan is in basketball.
If you missed our piece charting AJ’s journey to super stardom. Check it out right here