Aitch – ‘Close To Home’ review: newfound maturity from Manchester’s poster boy

Tracing a journey from Manny to the world and back, Aitch's debut showcases a more honest, reflective side

Aitch’s brash, X-rated cheeky chappy persona might have led some to underestimate him. Known for slick, cocksure UK rap anthems that unite the club and the streets, bounce off a lyrical trinity of sex, money, and music. His seven UK Top 10s, including ‘Taste (Make It Shake)’ and 2022’s ‘Baby’, showcase his success thus far. But anyone who’s followed the prolific rapper since his explosive 2018 freestyle ‘Straight Rhymez’ will recognise his lyrical skill, and with ‘Close to Home’, the Manchester rapper pushes beyond his party boy image to unveil a more thoughtful storytelling ability. As he told NME last summer: “People were hooked on me being that cheeky boy, but how long before that gets boring?”

The 22-year-old’s debut album is over two years in the making, and he’s progressed from the beefy, 50 Cent-esque club bangers that dominated his previous EPs, 2019’s ‘AitcH20’ and 2020’s ‘Polaris’. Yes, there are strong traces of the bold, stunting pop-rap that’s elevated Aitch – real name Harrison Armstrong – to international status. On the swaggering, money-minded drill track ‘Louis Vuitton’, Aitch raps “Make some cake / Back to the estate / Then go buy mummy her next house”, while the bassy, US trap-inspired ‘Fuego’ maintains an intensely upbeat energy.

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But there’s a sense of maturation, increased honesty and deeper personal reflection, which show the growth required for a successful debut. This is clearest in ‘My G’, a loving tribute to his 12-year-old sister Gracie (nicknamed ‘G’), who lives with down’s syndrome. Featuring a smooth, melodic hook from Ed Sheeran, the track explores themes of sibling love and guidance: “And if the world is cruel / I will be the last one standing here to protect you”. It’s a heartfelt track that suggests after years of churning out club bangers, Armstrong’s ready to channel a more reflective side.

Besides family, you can’t move for references and nods to his hometown of Manchester. Aitch’s Moston roots are referenced on confessional opener ‘Belgrave Road’, while ‘Hollinwood to Hollywood’ tracks the artist’s journey from a rough north Manchester estate to the world’s most glamorous stages. Paying homage in samples of The Stone Roses’ iconic ‘Fool’s Gold’ bass lick on ‘1989’, Shaun Ryder’s hazy thoughts on ‘90s raving, and loving phone calls with old mates, ‘Close To Home’ conveys a deep connection to the city’s legends: “love the fact I get to travel round the world / But there ain’t a better feeling than a summer’s day on Church Street’. He made headline news in the album’s rollout when a mural of late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis was painted over with an advert for his music; he quickly tweeted out that it was done without his permission, and that “no way on earth would I want to disrespect a local hero like Ian”.

Seeking to follow Joy Division, Oasis and more by firmly engraving Manchester onto the international music map, Aitch’s debut draws on local heritage but remains heavily anchored in a forward-thinking rap blueprint. With the ‘cheeky chappy’ mask tucked slightly back (if not fully removed), and a more introspective attitude on show, it’s an even more powerful formula.

Details

Aitch Close To Home

  • Release date: August 19
  • Record label: Capitol Records
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