Aj Tracey: ‘You look like me, I’m doing it on my own. You can as well. It’s not a cliche’

AJ Tracey joins Dotty on today’s episode of ‘The Agenda Radio’ on Apple Music 1. In the interview, AJ discusses his plans to one day ‘bow out gracefully’ from his career in music, and reveals he’s keen to try other creative pursuits including video directing and interior design.

He also talks about the importance of being an independent artist and acting as a role model, and reflects on the financial risks associated with being unsigned. He also discusses the complications associated with hiring friends, and explains why he considers his grandmother’s support the true marker of success.

AJ Tracey Tells Apple Music About His Plans To ‘Bow Out’ Of Music Gracefully…
Speaking now as a 27-year-old, I hope I bow out gracefully, but obviously I understand why people don’t do it because you love music, that’s all you know. What are you going to do? Sit at home and twiddle your thumbs and not go to the studio anymore? I can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine not making music, but when it comes to that time, I promise you, I’m definitely going to at least give it a try and be humble and be like, yo, it’s not my time anymore. Let me just back away from the music thing. I’ve got a while yet. Look, I’ll give you a perfect example. You see Skepta. Skepta at his age, he is as lit as he’s ever been. You never hear a bad Skepta verse… The way he dresses, his style, the things he does, where he attends, who he hangs around with, it’s never forced. As soon as it does look forced, that’s when you know what time it is, you get me. So there’s people in his category of the OGs who maybe sometimes force it and he doesn’t. So that’s what I’m saying….Eventually they’re not going to care about me one day, you just need to accept it and be like, cool, what’s my next venture? Can I help out the youth? Can I uplift other people and maybe help them have a career that I had? Because at my age right now I’ve got like eight platinum records or something. Even if I fell off tomorrow with it, I’m happy with what I’ve achieved already. I’m really happy.

AJ Tracey Tells Apple Music About The Fields He Wants To Pursue Outside Of Music…
There’s loads of things. I love fashion. I love art as well. This sounds super random, but I’d love to do interior design, seriously. I think I have a good eye for colours and stuff. I don’t know, man. I love loads of stuff. I would love to shoot movies. Shooting movies would be sick. Directing would be hard. Obviously running a record label and helping little kids who were in similar positions to me, instilling the confidence in them to go forward and get me championing them and making something of themselves. There’s loads of things. You can do anything. Go into football. I love football. Maybe go and help them make decisions on things. I don’t know if I’m qualified for that, but you know what I’m saying? It’s planet Earth, there’s loads of things to do.

AJ Tracey Tells Apple Music He Wants To Set An Example As A Black Business Owner…
I feel like it sets an example – seeing me even speak about black owned businesses. It’s like for us to really ingrain in the youth that you can be a black owned business. Like… me as someone, a person of colour or whatever you want to call it, mixed-race, black. I’m someone who can set an example and say to the kids, “You look like me, I’m doing it on my own. You can as well.” It’s not a cliche, it’s actually the truth. I started uploading music from my bedroom to SoundCloud. I didn’t need anything but the internet.

AJ Tells Apple Music About The Financial Risks Attached To Being Independent…
I feel like one of the main setbacks is… I can give you an example – doing music videos. I don’t know if everyone knows what a budget is for music videos nowadays. But if I want to make something… a movie, if we want to make a movie, It’s going to cost at least £50K starting. Minimum £50K. So if I’m spending £50K, that’s £50K out of my own pocket, £50K I could have given to my mum, to my bredrins, to whoever. So if that video doesn’t do well and I don’t ‘recoup’ so to speak, off of the views, the streams, whatever, from that song, then I’ve just taken a loss. That’s my loss. Obviously, that alone is a big risk because if I do an album campaign and I’ve shot five videos, and they costs £100K each, obviously that’s half a mil.

AJ Tracey Tells Apple Music He Made A Loss On His Acclaimed Ally Pally Show…
I did Ally Pally, that show I did. I took a loss monetarily. A big loss, but obviously it’s not a loss because I gave the fans a great show. That’s the best show I’ve ever given in my whole life. People left saying, “Yo, that’s the best British show that I’ve ever seen in my life”. That’s what I wanted. So it wasn’t a loss, but obviously in terms of money economically, it was a loss. It cost a lot. I don’t want to go into it, but it cost a lot. But it t was worth it. Because really when I saw the reactions to the kids saying like, “Yo, this is the show that AJ put on for us. We know he cares.” That’s what matters to me because not when you come and see me at a show, you know what you’re getting. They can tell their friends, “Oh, AJ cares. If you spend your money on his thing, he’s reinvesting it into us. It’s not just like he’s just taking it and just buying a Lambo and just putting on a rubbish show.” I’m not on that.

AJ Tracey Tells Apple Music About The Importance Of Independence…
Well, being independent for me, it means a lot, man. It means creative freedom. It means the wins that I do achieve… obviously there’s losses… but the wins are all mine. Me and my team, my team’s quite small. But it’s just a feeling of independence. It’s freedom. It’s doing whatever you want to do and reaping the rewards from it…. I think I’ve just always been a bit rebellious, a bit of a… not quite an anarchist, but en route. I just don’t like doing whatever anyone wants me to do.

AJ Tracey Tells Apple Music About Experiencing Anxiety and Being A Role Model…
I’m anxious a lot of the time. I feel like being anxious is nothing to look down on. If you’re anxious, you’re anxious. It is what it is. You just have to find ways to deal with it and live with it. For me, it’s crazy because I won’t be anxious going on stage in front of loads of people. I’m cool with that. I’m fine with that. But then I’ll be anxious talking to my mum maybe about, “Oh, mum, I want you to move out the ends.” I’m worried about her reaction and how she’s going to feel. It’s just how it is, isn’t it? It’s how we’re built, man. I think that song as well, I named it that because it was less about what I’m saying in the track and more about how I currently feel. I’m just trying to show people that even me, I’m sure some of the kids look up to me and admire what I do… Even me, I feel anxious sometimes. So I want them to feel that, oh, if he does and it’s all right for him to feel like that, it’s all right for me to feel like that.

AJ Tracey Tells Apple Music About Experiencing Paranoia…
I’m paranoid of everything. I’m always paranoid. Of everything, man. When I go out, if I’ve got expensive jewellery on, I’m paranoid, I’m always looking everywhere, checking. If I see someone, if you see someone in a corner looking at you and they’re looking and then they get on their phone and you’re like, right, whos my man calling? This is what it is. I think it’s partly some PTSD from growing up because when you’re growing up, you have to avoid these things that you shouldn’t really have to deal with. Then they just embed themselves in you, and then even when you’re safe, you end up being worried about things. I’ve done nothing wrong, my car’s legit. I’m in my car, police are behind me, I’m paranoid. I haven’t even done anything. I’m just worried about what, I don’t know. It’s just a feeling you get. I feel like paranoia comes with success and it should. It should do because you see what happens when people are lax, man. When people are lax, it can go wrong init. I’m not trying to have anything go wrong, to be honest.

AJ Tracey Tells Apple Music Why Giving Jobs To Friends Sometimes Backfires…
Yeah, 100%. You have to do that. I feel like that’s the rite of passage. It has backfired before, I’ll be honest. With one of my close friends, I don’t think he’ll mind me speaking about this because it was a long time ago. But obviously I was doing the shows, we’re from the ends, we never had much money. There’s free alcohol at shows and whatnot. He used to get a bit excited on the alcohol. I did as well, to be fair. We all did. But you know that because it’s me and it’s my job. If I mess up, I’m to blame. But if he messes my thing up, obviously it’s not cool. So we had to just allow the business thing for a bit. He reset, he got himself together, and obviously he’s got a new job with me doing something else. So obviously I’m always trying to make sure the mandem are involved, but it can definitely backfire because you don’t want to mix business and pleasure. People have to understand when you’re at work, you’ve got to do a job, but outside of work, you do what you want innit.

AJ Tracey Tells Apple Music Why His Grandmother’s Support Meant He’d Found Success…
When I wanted to be a rapper, I told my grandma, and obviously she’s from Trinidad. So you can just imagine her reaction. She was not happy at all. She was like, “That’s not a real job. How are you going to make money from that? You need to finish your education. I want you to be X, Y, Z,” which is great. She means it from a place of love, but she doesn’t fully understand that you can actually make something of yourself from music. I think what it was, was that she kind of just wanted to see me do something for her to believe in the music. So I was waiting for something to show her. I got a booking for £1000. I went to my grandma’s house, I showed her the email. First of all, she was like, “£1000? Why would anyone pay £1000 to watch you rap? What have you done?” But when she understood and I broke it down for her, she said, “You know what? Cool. As long as you’re minding your business, you’re not getting in trouble, and you’re being a good person, then cool. Say no more. I’m happy for you.” Now for me, that was a sort of me being lit. For me, that was like I’ve made it, because my grandma, to win her over, is very hard. So if she thinks that I’m on route to doing something good, I must be on route to doing something good.

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