“Yeah, I saw the Northern Lights,” remembers a weary AJ Tracey, just off a flight from Lapland, which included an 11-hour layover in Helsinki.
Now he’s in a studio in London’s Soho, a rail of soon-to-be-worn clothing to one side, a fat pink diamond chain in the shape of a heart hanging low on his chest; a simulacrum of the rapper lifestyle he’s looking to break into. “Just don’t call me a grime artist, please,” he says, politely… but firmly.
Only a few short years from ditching a Criminology degree at London Metropolitan – “I did it to make my mum happy and stay off the streets” – the Ladbroke Grove-born 24-year-old runs his own label, distributes his own music and is selling out shows in the UK and abroad, with gilded approval arriving A-lister stars like Drake and A$AP Rocky.
“Ah, the golden Drake co-sign”, he chuckles. Ringlets pulled low over his forehead. “We’re cool, man. We’re cool.”
Self-styled as, “weirdly British; very cultured. Versatile and volatile”, Tracey’s lyrics, laden with braggadocio and clever wordplay, reveal a London (and lifestyle) heavy on danger and pathos. His teeth and aesthetic were cut on pirate radio and the mania of live shows.
“I used to send out emails to producers to collaborate and they’d give me nothing, not even a response”, he says of his early days. “As soon as I started popping off, out they came!”
“But it’s too late now, they can fuck off.”
A diehard Tottenham fan – “The only place I feel totally normal” – AJ is back in time for February's North London derby, before flying out to Trinidad and Tobago, his father’s birthplace, with “more work, more singles and more success” in the pipeline for 2018.
But first, some sleep, maybe?
“Not even”, he says, limbs unfolding from the studio stool, pink chain readjusted and Armani replaced by Canada Goose and rare Air Max.
“I’ve got things to do first, man. I’m busy.”