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Photograph: Gobinder Jhitta
Photograph: Gobinder Jhitta

AJ Tracey is playing a blinder

The London rapper might have legions of followers but he’s still a big ol’ fanboy himself. Nana Baah meets the anime, video-game, interior-design and Spurs geek at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Written by
Nana Baah

We're closing off 2021 re-sharing some of our favourite pieces of the year. In October, we hung out with AJ Tracey at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

After a year spent avoiding crowded public places, a packed football stadium is pretty strange. Walking through an empty one is even stranger. Usually thousands of fans fill the seats at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London, but today: no one. There are no crowds, nor are there any footballers about. Instead, there’s just a groundsman tending the pitch surrounded by a sea of 60,000 deep-blue empty seats.

But in one room, deep in the bowels of the stadium, some of that matchday chaos is brewing.

In the eye of the storm

There’s a flurry of arms surrounding AJ Tracey. His hairstylist takes over from his barber, expertly retwisting his locs; his make-up artist appears from nowhere, swooping in to place two gold under-eye masks on his face. It’s like rush hour.

We’re in one of the ground’s luxe family and friends suites. Complete with big-screen TVs, plush chairs and a mini-fridge, it usually plays host to players’ mates, partners and kids during games. Today, though, it’s been turned into the dressing room of the London rapper and Tottenham fan as he gets ready for his Time Out cover shoot. It’s covered in jackets, tracksuit bottoms and Tracey’s very own personalised Spurs shirts. Despite the mayhem, the 27-year-old seems at home. He’s been in the stadium more times than he can count. Armed with a season ticket, he watches every single game. ‘Even the tiny pointless ones,’ he insists. He speaks in short, determined sentences. ‘I’m here near enough every week.’

AJ Tracey
Photograph: Gobinder Jhitta

Coming up

Tracey’s not exaggerating. It’s clear to everyone here that he’s a proper, proper football fan. The kind that loves all the players equally and refuses to settle on a favourite. Later, when we head to the stands and he’s asked to imopersonate a manager, he gesticulates, pen in hand, miming yelling from beside the dugout. ‘I watch them, you know?’ he laughs. When a group of fans on a stadium tour start bellowing ‘Come on Tottenham!’ from a glass walkway above the empty pitch, Tracey’s team look puzzled but he’s completely unfazed.

AJ Tracey – real name Ché Wolton Grant – has seen fandom from all angles. He had his first real show in Shoreditch’s XOYO in 2015, warming up for ASAP Nast and Skepta. ‘They wouldn’t let me in the green room,’ he says. ‘I wanted to say “hi” to them because Skepta is my favourite rapper ever, but [the venue] wouldn’t let me because I wasn’t famous enough.’ Just months later, after the release of grime mega-hit ‘Thiago Silva’, a collaboration with south-London rapper Dave, he sold out three of his own headline shows in under an hour. Now Tracey calls Skepta a mate and releases the kind of songs – whether they’re grime, rap or trap – that dominate radio all summer long, blasted from passing cars and drifting from open windows.

In 2019, his single ‘Butterflies’ went platinum; in 2020, the next one, ‘Ladbroke Grove’, went double platinum and this summer he was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award. Throughout our conversation, he twists a recent addition to his little finger: a championship ring adorned with an unfathomable number of diamonds – the kind that NBA players get after winning a final – and the years ’19, ’20 and ’21 engraved on it. ‘That’s for three summers of success,’ he says. It’s a long way from where he started out.

AJ Tracey
Photograph: Gobinder Jhitta

Early days

Tracey’s childhood was spent in Ladbroke Grove, mostly stuck inside playing video games like Halo or RuneScape. His mum was a jungle DJ and his father a rapper, so music was always written into his destiny. But after his dad left, and while trekking across London to play his music on pirate radio stations, Tracey ended up dealing as a way to make money. ‘I did certain things when I was younger,’ he says. ‘Obviously it is what it is, in the streets and whatever.’ Talking to me, he doesn’t shy away from that period, but he certainly seems glad not to be there any more: ‘I just don’t need to be in that area.’

It was Tracey’s mum who picked him back up. He says that without her he wouldn’t be here: not in the Spurs stadium, not collaborating with his favourite musicians, maybe not at all. ‘I’d probably be in jail, or, God forbid, something even worse,’ he says, becoming quiet and serious for the first and only time as we chat. ‘She went above and beyond. I’m sure my grandma praying for me every week definitely helped too.’

I’ve pulled up an armchair next to Tracey as he waits for his lunch (his usual: chicken bites from ShakeShack). Sitting back in his seat, he seems serene. His sentences are never longer than they need to be. Sweetly, he apologises before he swears. He’s calm. That is until we start talking about one of his obsessions…

AJ Tracey
Photograph: Gobinder Jhitta

Pisces energy

‘Wait, who do you support?’


‘That’s okay, then. We have no beef with them.’

When Tracey loves something, he loves it hard. He jokes that his comittedness comes from being a Pisces. ‘I hate people who are like, “Man’s not a fan”,’ he says. ‘What’s the problem with being a fan? I don’t get it. That’s just insecurity.’

The west Londoner has always been into Spurs. He inherited his love for the team from his dad. If you overlook the announcement of the release of his sophomore album ‘Flu Game’, or the tweet about performing his new single ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ with Gorillaz, his Twitter feed looks like that of any other diehard Tottenham follower. He recently nerdily tweeted corrections for the new FIFA game’s ratings (‘dele shoulda stayed 83, kane should be 91’).

But it’s not just football he’s geeky about. He’s got a tattoo sleeve dedicated to his favourite anime, ‘Dragonball Z’. He talks lovingly about everything from his mum’s skill at knitting (‘It’s actually hard’) to his cousin – musician and chef – Big Zuu’s cooking. He waxes lyrical about T-Pain, often revered as the king of Auto-Tune, with whom he recently collaborated on the track ‘Summertime Shootout’. ‘Every single artist you hear today from NSG to Lil Baby,’ he says, ‘the way we’re using [Auto-Tune] is because of T-Pain. He invented using it in that way.’

And then there’s one topic that turns him evangelical: his home neighbourhood. ‘I think west London is London,’ says Tracey, gently knocking his knee against mine in excitement. ‘Where you go to do your shopping is west London. If you go to Hyde Park, or you want to see where the Queen lives, it’s west London. If you want to go to Carnival and celebrate Black culture, it’s in west London.’

AJ Tracey
Photograph: Gobinder Jhitta

Looking forwards

Tracey can’t navigate London the way he’d like to any more. Recently, as he queued at a juice bar in Chelsea, a woman recognised him. Rather than say anything, she FaceTimed her friend and shoved the camera in Tracey’s direction without even saying hello. ‘Obviously, it’s very weird and it’s offensive to me,’ he says. ‘You know, I’m not a puppet.’ So he prefers spending time at home, playing video games like he did as a kid: FIFA or online fantasy battle game League of Legends.

A year ago, Tracey relocated from his beloved west London to south of the river with his girlfriend. It’s where he spent a chunk of lockdown, a time he avoids dwelling on. ‘I can’t sit here and complain about it because I’m a millionaire,’ he says. ‘My mum said to me: “Imagine if we were still in Ladbroke Grove in that tiny flat and lockdown happened. It would have been finished.”’ He used the time to get into interior design. ‘I’m so, so good at it,’ he says, matter-of-factly, sitting straight up in his chair ready to reel off his inspiration. ‘I love Japanese architecture. As well as a few modern French and Italian pieces.’ His face lights up as he launches into describing a coffee table (‘a translucent black cube’) he bought that was then delayed for four months due to Covid and Brexit.

But while Tracey’s left Ladbroke Grove, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. His focus now is supporting younger talent, like fellow west Londoner Digga D, whose track ‘Bringing It Back’ Tracey recently featured on. ‘For me to get to this position, it was not easy at all,’ he says. ‘I’m surprised I made it. I’m not even joking.’ He wants more people like him to feel like they stand a chance in the industry. As we speak, he has an idea for making sure other Black artists are given what they need to succeed. ‘If all the Black artists got together and made a Black-owned label promoting Black artists…’ He pauses for a second, as if slowly realising that he counts some of London’s most important artists like Skepta, Dave or Stormzy as mates. ‘Maybe among my friends it could happen.’

AJ Tracey
Photograph: Gobinder Jhitta


I’m still in the stadium as the photoshoot is ending. I walk under an arch that says ‘Home’ in big gold letters and into the Spurs dressing room, where Tracey is chattering away about Tottenham with his team. The walls are lined with the shirts of his favourite players and the recently installed – according to Tracey – tactics board on the floor. He seems buzzing to be in there. For a moment, it’s clear that, despite all his success, he’s still the same old Ché: a young guy who, like many his age, spends hours playing online battle games, has an anime tattoo and is a Spurs megafan, delighted to be stood on the hallowed ground. The sold-out shows, the championship ring, having the clout to secure his football team’s stadium for a shoot, are the opposite of what Tracey, and young men like Tracey, expect life to look like.

‘It feels like we’re not meant to be in here, right?’ he says, grinning as he sits down between the shirts of star players Son and Kane. ‘That’s because we’re not.’ 

Styling by Aga Dziedzic, assisted by Georgia Petrou; Make up by Dorita Nissen repped by Wizzoandco using Ren skincare Glow range & Charlotte Mensah Manketti range; Hair by Jay Itani, Lock Technician Steve Lox; Thanks to all at Tottenham Hotspur FC

Vintage Spurs shirts from; black jacket: Arcteryx available at; sunglasses: Louis Vuitton; shorts and camo jacket: Aries available at; white jacket: vetements available at; pink trousers: Palm Angels; sandals: Birkenstock X Rick Owens; Reflective Stone Island Jacket from @arco_maher Archives; jewellery: artist own by A Jewellers

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