Versatile: Able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities. (Definition taken from the Oxford English Dictionary)
There’s our answer to what it means to be versatile, no further discussion really needed.
Or so it would seem. In current society there has been a wave of thought that promotes validating people’s feelings and experiences. This is great on the most part and has allowed for some progressive thinking, especially regarding gender and sexuality. What it has also done, however, is damaged how people debate and evaluate the things people say because of how much importance has been placed on the way a person may feel.
What does this have to do with music, right? AJ Tracey recently tweeted “im the most versatile artist in London you dont have to agree with it its a fact” which quickly gained a lot of backlash, especially across social media platforms. The backlash came mostly in the form of denial of his statement, paired with proposing an artist who is more versatile.
Now granted, if we look at the definition of versatile, AJ has every right to say he is versatile. He has covered multiple genres, making him adaptable, hence ‘versatile’. Where his statement falls into question is him saying he is the ‘most versatile’ and that his opinion is actually fact. There are no set criteria for what being the ‘most versatile’ equates to, as an expression of being the ‘most versatile’ can only be a feeling. This is where the problem lies, as the importance placed on feelings, makes it appear that every expression of a feeling must be validated as having merit.
But this shouldn’t be the case, as we know just because somebody feels something that doesn’t make it indisputable or something that cannot be proven to be wrong. For example, I can feel like I am the best at juggling in the world but the fact is I can’t juggle more than two items. You could probably go on YouTube and find somebody that can juggle 15 items in one hand with a blindfold whilst spinning on their left foot – they would be better at juggling than me, and that would be a fact despite how I felt.
This is where AJ falls victim to his statement. The fact of the matter is that in terms of music, being versatile is more complex than just a feeling.
In music, to be versatile isn’t as simple as being adaptable, it means being good at being adaptable and also requires evidence of this publicly. More so, it doesn’t mean that you can use your patented style on any style of music, which is what AJ does for the most part. Being versatile is showing how you can make multiple styles of music well, and make any of them sound like your own.
The biggest example I would serve to show that AJ’s argument falls down, is on ‘Butterflies’. Whilst the track was very successful, the general criticism of it was that AJ shouldn’t have done the hook, the reason for this being that he chose to go down the melodic route for it. Melody is not something he is adept at – not saying that he can’t hold a melody, he is just not that great at it. Not3s is featured on the track, an artist who is known not only for melodies, but for extremely catchy melodies and memorable hooks. This further heightened criticisms of AJ’s singing on the hook and made it seem like he had missed a trick.
To be the most versatile you don’t have to be the best at everything you attempt to do, you just need to prove that you are very good at it. What the comment seems to highlight to me is that people are often not content with being in the lane they are in regardless of whether they are successful. The comment of claiming to be the “most versatile” screams seeking validation that he is capable of more than what he feels he is known for. There’s no problem with wanting recognition that you can do more, or have done more, than what you are commonly known for, but you need to express that very carefully. It equally highlights that feelings are not always right. If AJ had chosen to say that he was the best artist London, even that would have more merit than his statement on versatility.
To truly highlight just how wrong he was, I will list the four following artists, as examples of London-based artists who have proven that musically, they are more versatile than Tracey.
The first artist, is arguably the most versatile artist in the UK: Chip. Chip has had a long and storied career despite still being very young. During his career, he has shown us time and time again, that no matter what tempo, genre, or role on a track he plays, Chip will kill it. He has tackled Grime, Rap, Bashment and Pop, just to state a few. The young artist has undoubtedly tackled more. Each and every time he has tackled a genre, the tracks have felt like Chip tracks, not just Chip jumping on a particular genre for the sake of it.
A name that was thrown out a lot during the debate on social media was Dave. The two artists have quite a few similarities; They can both do rap and grime extremely well, but where Dave probably comes out on top, is that he is better at creating melodies and hooks. As well, he is capable of performing his tracks acoustically and playing them himself on the piano. Dave is probably a more versatile artist than AJ despite their similarities.
Another artist that was thrown out very heavily on social media was J Hus. This one almost needs no explanation, he has consistently progressed and pushed the limits of the sounds we expect from him and he has done so effortlessly. Common Sense was a lot of people’s album of the year when it dropped, simply because of its diverse quality, it shouldn’t have worked, but with Hus’ flexible style it just fell into place. Melodies or bars, Hus can get any beat to mould to his charismatic musical approach.
Final example, is the now legendary, Wretch 32, he immortalised himself in the scene through producing numerous freestyles that boggle the mind – even on the 15th listen. In his singles and albums, he has been equally successful. Having traversed and paved a lane for himself in grime, he transitioned over into much more, such as rapping and tackling full on singing for entire tracks. Wretch has proven himself to be capable of it all. He has shown that despite typically being labelled the UK’s premiere lyricist, he is way more than just lyrics – he is a true artist, that not only understands the musicality that people love, but can deliver it packaged almost any way he wants.
So what has this proved? Well it shows versatility in music is more than just doing what you normally do over different types of instrumentals. Also, that the idea of being the most versatile is not something that can always be looked at objectively, due to there being no defined criteria to it. It has however, showed that even when looking at such a subjective statement, subjectivity can be disproved by fact. Most importantly, it has proved that AJ Tracey is by no means the most versatile artist in London – that is a fact.
Editor’s note: Zweli is a UK Hip-Hop/Grime Writer, all views expressed in this article are solely his own.