Meet Aitch – the Stormzy-approved rising star putting Manchester rap on the map

"Not in a big-headed way, but I must be good at this"

Manchester rapper Aitch has success bolted on for 2020. Not that last year wasn’t a whirlwind year for 21-year-old Harrison Armstrong. His song ‘Straight Rhymez’ had already racked up millions of streams and brought him to the attention of Stormzy, who later had him feature on the massive ‘Take Me Back To London’ with Ed Sheeran and ‘Pop Boy’ from ‘Heavy Is The Head’. After becoming a viral sensation for his Kenny Allstar Freestyle on BBC 1Xtra and crashing into the top 10 with ‘Taste (Make It Shake)’ and ‘Buss Down’, the infectious no-fucks-given attitude of Aitch has made him one of the most in-demand rappers in the UK.

We had a quick catch-up with Armstrong to get the lowdown on what makes him tick, and where he’s going from here.

Do you feel like the Manchester rap scene is starting to get the appreciation that it deserves?

“I feel like it is slowly getting recognised. The Manchester scene is getting bigger and bigger and artists are getting more views online a lot quicker. It feels like it’s gradually moving forward. It’s looking good, Manchester – really.”

What is about the culture of Manchester that’s allowing for so much good rap at the moment?

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“I don’t know. There must be something in the water. Everyone is in their own lane and not trying to sound like they’re from London or America. Birmingham had its moment in the grime scene and that. Things just come and go. Manchester could really just make it and stay there. Things won’t be considered as ‘the Manchester scene’ or ‘the London scene’. It will all just be one big scene.”

Do you feel as if it’s more challenging to be a rapper outside of London?

“Just getting recognised, that’s the hard part. Once you’re there, you’re there. It doesn’t help not being in the centre of it where everything is going on. There are millions of MCs in London alone, never mind anywhere else. People from London aren’t always going to look past their own city.”

When did you start out as an MC and realise that this was what you were going to give your life to?

“I decided that when we put a freestyle video on Youtube. We expected nothing but it just went crazy and got 10,000 views in no time. Then you get 50,000 views, then 100,000 views – that’s just how it was. It just clicked and things started working out.”

How much of a headfuck was it to go from rapping in your bedroom to being on 1Xtra and featured with Stormzy?

“I don’t think about it. I don’t wake up every morning and think, ‘Wow, life changed’ – or ‘We’ve done it’. There’s so much more to do, and I’m not done yet.”

What impact has working with Stormzy and Ed Sheeran had on the way you see things?

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“It’s definitely from taken me to a wider audience, and been a massive inspiration. That’s what Ed and Stormzy bring to the table. It was mad and just went crazy. I would 1million percent work with them both again. 1trillion, even.”

Looking through the comments on your Kenny Allstar freestyle, people are always taken aback by your flow. How do you explain people being so surprised by your delivery?

“It’s so mad. Even when I’m performing, I don’t really feel any way about it. I find it funny, if anything. I might sit there and write a verse and think it’s average, then play it out and everyone will go crazy. With the Kenny Allstar freestyle, I knew I was going to come in and merc it but didn’t think it would get that reaction. All you can see is Kenny smiling throughout the video. It’s a realisation. Not in a big-headed way, but I must be good at this. I’m just writing bars how I think you should write bars.”

Everything you do seems to have a sense of life and fun to it. Do you feel as if you might start to get a little heavier on your new material?

“I just try my best to be myself. I just tell my story. Not my life story. Sometimes there will be a moment that lasted three seconds but I stretch it out into a song. I just try my best to be myself on the songs and away from the songs – whether it comes to spitting, being on social media or when I’m around people. The next plan is just to develop my music and make something more mature.”

What’s inspiring your writing at the moment?

“My feelings towards certain things and the way that I look at them. I never seem to express my feelings in music, it tends to be all of the good things. I’m not saying that I’m going to come and start being all depressive, but there are definitely two sides to the story.”

Aitch at The Academy, Manchester.
Aitch live at The Academy, Manchester. Visionhaus

Anger is an energy. 

“That’s what it is. I never used to get pissed off and make a song. I’m the type of person who gets pissed off, drops everything and ignores everyone. It could be anything: about a female, about a friend; it just needs to come from the heart.”

So you’re not going to wake up and write a Brexit song then?

“Ha! Exactly. The music is just going to have more meaning.”

Aitch will perform at the Brighton Dome on Saturday May 16, as well as at Wirelss and TRNSMT Festival this summer. 

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