Emerging on Youtube seven years ago at the age of 16, Aitch (‘H’, the first letter of his name Harrison) is the most popular rapper in the UK right now that’s not named Stormzy. After a couple of EPs, his breakthrough came with the song “Rain” alongside AJ Tracey in 2020, but unlike internet sensations from the United States (such as Ice Spice or GloRilla), Aitch has crossed over to a wider audience whilst maintaining an emphasis on honest, comprehensible raps. With a down-to-earth, working-class background and a Northern accent, he has managed to distinguish himself in a crowded field of rappers that still leans very London-centric. 2022 was his biggest year, with hit singles alongside Ashanti and Ed Sheeran, and it often feels like he’s never far from media coverage.

His debut album “Close to Home” is an admirable attempt to legitimize a lot of what’s wrong with modern pop-rap. For every meaningful song revealing a vulnerable young man, there’s a po-faced flip on a music industry formula that threatens to break the listener’s connection. There’s a bad boy persona remiss of anything truly illegal; more a cocky ladies’ man than a legitimate menace to society, and that’s where his collaborations with pop princesses have flourished. The use of Ashanti’s “Rock Wit U”, which is billed as a feature from Ashanti for how prevalent the interpolation is, ensured a #2 hit single for Aitch but much like Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life”, you’re there for the sample. While the Ashanti track plays on a nostalgia now prevalent in 30-40-year-olds, older heads will appreciate “1989” with Aitch spitting to The Stone Roses’ “Fools Gold”. Musically, the album is all over the shop, with everything from trap, dance, pop, Spanish guitars, and fucking Ed Sheeran. The problem with Ed Sheeran collaborations is he usually doesn’t complement the record – it just sounds like an Ed Sheeran song with Aitch on it. A bit like the one he did with Eminem.

Being a Northern lad, Aitch does maintain a weaker accent than some of his contemporaries and it would be great to hear him embrace his roots more, although “Sunshine” is an admirable, almost undiluted side to the Aitch we are presented with elsewhere on “Close to Home”. These tracks where the shiny videos and radio-friendly dance music are shoved to the side in favor of honest life stories are where Aitch reveals his true talents. Unfairly labeled as the poster child of chav-rap, it nonetheless highlights an overlooked aspect of UK rap – a willingness to embrace the normalcy of life in England, namely the working-class Northern version. It’s a major reason why Bugzy Malone is both highly respected and immediately familiar to listeners – he’s making Bugzy tracks and including outside influences. A lot of Aitch’s music on “Close to Home” is outside influences that happens to include Aitch’s rapping.

“My G” is dedicated to Aitch’s sister, who suffers from Down’s syndrome, and is mentioned numerous times on the album. It’s predictably catchy but lacks the depth found in similar songs that talk more about the life of those living with a disability and share how that impacts one’s life. There is more insight in one verse of Rugged Man’s “Wondering” than there is on this track. Of course, comparing an intricate lyricist who has been doing it for thirty years with a newcomer is probably unfair, but it’s the standard that a young emcee should be aiming for. In that respect, Aitch is a jack of all trades, a master of none. A straightforward, digestible presence with a cheeky chappy vibe that will sell records. The reflective nature of “Close to Home” as an album draws parallels with similar records focused on tracing and embracing roots, but lacks the identity that, say, Kano uses to celebrate his origins. There’s so much that could be done with a Northern UK emcee to celebrate a part of England that has numerous industrial cities with interesting stories, but Aitch’s message doesn’t register as well as it should thanks to production akin to a box-ticking exercise.

Aitch :: Close to Home
5.5Overall Score