Aitch is a curious artist to evaluate. Bursting out of the traps in 2019, the Manchester rapper demolished the charts, notching up three songs in the Top 10 at the same time. On the brink of cementing his sensational rise, however, he seemed to take a step back; plans for an album were pushed into the long grass, in favour of commercial deals and features. Creativity was hemmed in, while image, and brand management, took priority. Perhaps uniquely, Aitch can be somehow be regarded as both successful – in a commercial sense – and unsuccessful – in a ground-breaking musical sense – at the same time.
‘Close To Home’ ends the long wait for his debut album, and it’s the Manchester rapper’s first project of real note since 2020’s eight track ‘Polaris’. The LP leans on his background and identity, emphasising pride in his Mancunian roots, and his working-class identity. It rarely, if ever, pushes the envelope, though, a project that entertains without ever startling, one that absorbs without throwing in any surprises.
‘Belgrave Road’ is an atmospheric, immersive opener, a cinematic rendering of the streets Aitch grew up on. It then snaps into the ‘luxe glamour of ‘Louis Vuitton’ and the joyous, ‘Fools Gold’ sampling throwback ‘1989’. Moving from style to style, Aitch never sits still; it leads to some vital moments, such as the rolling snares on ‘Fuego’, but it can also go wrong, too – we’re thinking of slick to the point of anonymity ‘Money Habits’, here.
Indeed, there’s nothing truly wrong with ‘Close To Home’ as a project. It’s finessed and carefully managed, built for playlist use and teenage afternoons in shopping centres. That’s exactly why some aspects jar, though – there’s precious little in the way of rebellion or individuality here, as evidenced through a by-rote Ed Sheeran spot, or an anonymous feature from AJ Tracey.
Ultimately, the success or failure of ‘Close To Home’ comes down to how deeply you can immerse yourself in Aitch’s world. It’s difficult, though, to compare the bustling energy of 2019, the kid making up the rules as he goes along, with 2022’s Lynx Sales Person Of The Year. No doubt some reading this review will think, well, it’s not that deep – yet that’s selling UK rap short. With artists like Little Simz, Kojey Radical, Blanco, Manga Saint Hilare, and countless others producing valuable work – on their own terms – it’s difficult to contrast such artistry with an album that is often slight, and occasionally cartoonish. There’s a lingering feeling that not only can UK rap do a lot better, but so can Aitch.
Words: Robin Murray