“I’ve always had the gift of the gab and been a bit cheeky – and getting into rap has lifted the gift.”
Aitch is discussing the past five years and his rise to the top with his punchy freestyle tunes and big personality.
Manchester rapper Aitch discusses the past five years and his rise to the top with his punchy freestyle tunes and big personalityCredit: Kelvin Jones
Today he releases his debut album, Close To Home, which features legends such as Shaun Ryder and AJ TraceyCredit: Kelvin Jones
“I used to write rhymes on my phone and now it’s just crazy,” he adds.
“When I go out in Manchester, it’s sick. I feel like I am a king. And hopefully it’s gonna get bigger and bigger each time.”
The 22-year-old, born Harrison Armstrong, is one of the UK’s hottest rappers, with his distinctive, laid-back style and Top 10 hits including Taste (Make It Shake), Rain and Baby.
Today he releases his debut album, Close To Home, a collection of stories about growing up, his love for his family and why home is where his heart is.
“I’m excited,” says Aitch, with a huge smile on his face. “I’m also a bit relieved, just because I’ve been sitting on it for ages.
“I am excited to get it out there for people to hear. Albums ARE important. I can’t wait to perform songs like Fuego because it will just go crazy.”
Aitch is taking a break from his rehearsals to chat. Our first interview at his NQ label headquarters in Manchester was postponed last week when he tested positive for Covid, but now he has recovered and is ready to get the album out, and get back on stage to perform.
‘I’m still a bit of a child’
“The album is definitely more personal,” he says. “It comes more from the heart than other songs I’ve put out.
“When I was younger my music didn’t mean as much to me. I just wanted to be a sick rapper, but now I want to get certain messages across too.”
There’s been lots of growing up for the young man from New Moston, Manchester, who first broke out on YouTube in 2018 with his track Straight Rhymez.
“I’ve matured 100 per cent,” he says, adding with a laugh: “Well, maybe just a bit as I’m still a bit of a child. Although I’ve never been disrespectful.
“Maybe I’ve said certain things out of being ignorant. And then not realised what I’ve actually said, then held my hands up and apologised straight after. But I’ve never been a bad person.”
Aitch has made the news as we chat. A mural in Manchester of the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis — a landmark in the city — has been painted over with an advert for Aitch’s album.
Aitch has vowed to get this fixed. He tells me: “It’s something that was out of my control and I’ve done what we can to help fix it. I’m trying to get the original painting back up.
“I apologise to anyone I offended. It wasn’t my fault as I don’t choose where the ads go. I understand why people are mad. It’s so annoying, especially because the album campaign has been going so well.”
Aitch, who still lives around the area where he grew up, says he “stumbled” upon music as a career.
That was one of the most important things, to get approval from people you’ve grow up on.
“I actually don’t even know how it happened,” he says. “I used to write rhymes on my phone. I must’ve had a hidden talent and it was just a matter of time before I found it. Then it all happened and getting approval off the likes of Stormzy and AJ Tracey shows I am good now.
“That was one of the most important things, to get approval from people you’ve grow up on.”
Aitch reveals ‘When I was younger my music didn’t mean as much to me. I just wanted to be a sick rapper, but now I want to get certain messages across’
A mural in Manchester of the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis — a landmark in the city — has been painted over with an advert for Aitch’s albumCredit: Ryan Jenkinson/ Story Picture Agency
He says ‘I’m trying to get the original painting back up’Credit: Alamy
Tracey appears on the album track R Kid with Aitch, who adds: “Me and AJ have got countless songs and the reason that song is on the album is because it’s a song with a message.
“When it comes to collaborations I feel I work with people for the right reasons.”
Aitch is full of praise for his recent collab artists, Bakar, New Machine and Ashanti.
He says: “Bakar really suited the song In Disguise, while New Machine’s voice on Sunshine is amazing, and getting Ashanti on Baby was just crazy.
He revealed he’d had “knock-backs” for being a white rapper in a genre of black origin but has worked hard to be accepted.
‘Shaun proved to be a cheap date’
“White people didn’t start rap so it’s understandable that I get criticism,” he says. “But don’t turn your head away because I’m white — listen to what I’m saying.”
Aitch says the poignant track My G is his favourite on the album. It’s a moving tribute to his sister Gracie, who has Down’s syndrome, and Ed Sheeran sings the chorus.
“It was my dad’s idea to include that song,” says Aitch. “I’ve always been protective of her.
“But it was the right time. I sent it to Ed and he loved it. I met Ed after I guested on Take Me Back To London, a song he remixed. He’s my sister’s favourite and she’s not heard the song yet. It’s going to be emotional.”
Happy Mondays legend Shaun Ryder also appears on the track 1989, which has Aitch rapping over The Stone Roses’ Fools Gold.
The excuse is that I’m a United fan and he’s a City fan but I don’t know. Maybe he’ll change his mind once my album is out.
Aitch says: “I asked Shaun to be on my album and he said he would do it if I got him four cans of Guinness, so we did.
“And he came over, drank his cans back to back and turned the mic on. I asked him about 1,000 questions and we took a four-second snippet out of his answers. So it was a cheap date. Shaun can come round any time!”
Another Manchester legend who Aitch wasn’t able to get involved was Liam Gallagher. Aitch says he’s a huge fan and contacted the former Oasis singer. “We tried but he just doesn’t want to do anything at the end of the day,” says Aitch.
Aitch says he has a lot of respect for Manchester’s musical heritage and, as well as Oasis, Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, he is a huge fan of Mancunian rapper Bugzy Malone.
He adds: “He was the first person from Manchester that I took notice of. But there’s been so much great music from Manchester.
“Then there was the Hacienda club. My mum and dad talk about it all. I feel a bit jealous not to have been there but maybe they’re making it sound better than it was.”
The song Close To Home is a standout track on the album, and it is about his friendships and how his life has changed.
‘People think I’m big-headed’
“I’ve left Manchester before but it’s like an addiction. I always end up coming back,” says Aitch.
“When I’ve been away I can’t wait to go back home. We’re a proper tight-knit family and I feel like the world is just at peace when I am at home.
“With friends it can be hard. It’s a weird one. You can’t expect people to understand how my life has changed as they haven’t been in my shoes.
“Then the more you try to explain, it just looks like you are bragging. And I’m the same about money.”
Aitch, who’s rumoured to be worth £1.5million, adds: “When I’m rapping about money, I do it in a ballsy way. Sometimes people think I’m big-headed but I’m not, I’m saying be sensible with money.”
What about his beloved Manchester United — would he be tempted to buy the football club if he had the money?
“They don’t need me, they need Jesus,” he says with a smile. “It’s just our time to be in the gutter for a bit and it will all work itself out. We’ve got to keep our heads high but if Marcus Rashford does go to PSG (Paris Saint-Germain), I might support them!”
Drugs are everywhere right now, especially for my generation. You’ve just got to be sensible, and not be influenced too easily.
On the subject of drugs and sex, which are also mentioned on his album, Aitch says: “Drugs are everywhere right now, especially for my generation. You’ve just got to be sensible, and not be influenced too easily.
“And sex, I don’t like my mum listening to those lyrics when I am sat there listening with her. However, there’s only one way that I got on this Earth — it happens.”
Being a role model to his younger fans is something Aitch takes seriously but he also wants to give an honest picture of his life.
He says: “I’ve come on this scene as a rapper. Everyone knows what rap is — there’s no rules. I also make pop hits. I’ve just got to find the right balance. But you’re always gonna have people who have a negative thing to say.
“When I make a pop song, my rap fans are like, ‘What are you doing?’. But I do appeal to that pop market.
“But at the same time I do need to watch my mouth. Because I do say certain things I wouldn’t necessarily want kids to hear. And in the past rap has been derogatory to women and it is important to set a good example personally, having two little sisters.”
When it comes to romance, Aitch remains tight-lipped about his recent relationship with Chicken Shop Date star Amelia Dimoldenberg, 28.
He doesn’t worry about fame getting in the way of meeting the right person, however. “I’m just going to wait until that day and see what happens. I feel I will meet someone no matter what the situation is. Fame doesn’t come into it.”
With a big year ahead, Aitch outlines his ambitions.
“I want a platinum album, to sell out the Manchester Arena and just keep doing what I’m doing and be respected. I’m always working, so don’t expect me to drop the album then go missing for years.
“There’ll be more music, shows and festivals to come. Just watch out.”
- Close To Home is out today.
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