Search The Line of Best Fit
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Close To Home crystallises Aitch's cheeky charisma

"Close To Home"

Release date: 19 August 2022
Close To Home Artwork
19 August 2022, 00:00 Written by Wepea Buntugu

Harrison James Armstrong is not new to the game.

The Manchester-born rapper first broke onto the scene in 2018 with a freestyle that embodied many of the qualities that have made him a hit on the British rap scene. "Straight Rhymez 1" was laid-back and easy – in the way you would expect from a teenager doing something he loves.

Over the four years since, multiple Brit platinum tracks, a couple of top ten entries and a dedicated fanbase have followed; an impressive start to a career for Armstrong – better known as Aitch – that has been a whirlwind from the moment it began. Aitch2O and Polaris have been fun EP's, packed with character - appetisers that have prepared a hungry fanbase for a larger serving, and with Close to Home, Aitch seeks to provide just that.

Aitch is not your most conscious rapper when it comes to his subject matter. There are a few moments of introspection littered across his catalogue, but he dines mainly on the hip-hop staples. Tracks that let listeners into the life of a rapper on his way up and all the bells and whistles that journey comes along with. The thing that has set him apart, his unique characteristic, has always been his personality. His uber-charismatic cheekiness which he sprinkles in generously with his tales of wild nights out and expensive purchases has helped him stand out from the crowd.

Close To Home is a firm crystallisation of that character; usually mischievous, occasionally raunchy and always down for a good time. This would be a good enough experience for most Aitch fanatics, but there is more. On his debut album, the rapper opens up a window into himself that he has only briefly acknowledged in his earlier work. Aitch, the 22-year-old finding his way around a complicated industry and finding strength by keeping close what he holds dear: his family. A constant theme throughout the project – even from the name – Aitch is showing a personality that is multi-dimensional, a commendable effort from the young MC.

Album opener "Belgrave Road" is a more toned-down effort from the rapper. On the song, his efforts to make sense of the world he now inhabits come through clearly even if these efforts are not very successful – "I might expect too much/Feels like I'm stuck in a maze", he raps over a piano-supported beat. The idea that the life of an artist is perpetually rosy is one that he seeks to dispel on this track, and he comes back to this point, in a number of different ways, throughout the album.

The album is hardly all introspective and sombre. "Baby" – on which Aitch excels with an interpolation of Ashanti's "Rock Wit U" from the early 2000s – and "1989" are bouncy, club-ready tracks. Sound-wise, Aitch doesn't do as much experimentation as he probably could have done on a full-length project like this one. A three-song run in the middle of the album, beginning with the exciting "Cheque", has some fascinating variations of a string-based instrumental that is a shift from the usual Aitch beat ensemble. However, there are a precious few other moments of sound exploration on the album, and that is one of its downsides. In an interview with British GQ, Aitch was clear about his desire to venture out of his comfort zone and dabble in new sounds and even new genres. His ability to excel in that venture will only be proven once we see some more material from him that seeks to expand his musical horizon.

Aitch has always been a strong collaborator, lending features to hits like Russ and Tion Wayne's "Keisha and Becky Remix", Young T and Bugsey's "Strike a Pose", and along with a remix of Ed Sheeran's "Take Me Back to London". Mastermind provides a good foil for Aitch's snappy delivery on "Money Habits" and on "In Disguise" Bakar is smooth with a hook and verse that add some lovely texture to the track. However, it is with old collaborator Ed Sheeran that Aitch produces the highlight track of this album. "My G" is an emotional tribute to his younger sister, one whose emotive power is better experienced first-hand. What it gives up in hyped, bright energy, it makes up for in honest, authentic lyricism. Contemplating this song really brings home the feelings of an older brother, thrust into the limelight at a young age, who just wants to be a good role model for his siblings. It is not your normal Aitch cut, but it is well worth the listen.

There are a number of other high points on the 16-song record, and overall it is a first effort that sets a decent bar for the Manchester rapper's next efforts. It is difficult to shake the feeling that Aitch was rapping within himself during the making of this, and in some ways, this is understandable. It is easy to imagine there are a number of extra levels to reach, and the glimpses he has provided on this album should only serve to increase excitement about what he could do in the near future.

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