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Aitch ‘Close to Home’ review: rapper pays tribute to his Manchester roots

The rapper pens honest reflections on fortune and fame while trying to do justice to his home city’s rich musical legacy

3.0 rating

By Hollie Geraghty

Aitch’s ‘Close to Home’ album cover

“I ain’t going nowhere I’m a Manny man,” Aitch raps on the closing lines of ‘Hollinwood to Hollywood’, the final track on his debut album Close to Home. It’s an epilogue that would fade to black if it had a cinematic counterpart, a reminder that you can take the boy out of Manchester, but you can’t — well, you know the rest.

After all, it’s precisely Aitch’s disarming Northern inflection that’s given the 22-year-old such a distinctive edge in the UK rap scene over the last few years, with rounded vowels and a nasally lilt that sounds like he’s always somewhere between spacey bewilderment and the tail end of a cold. 

The rapper pays tribute to the city that made him on Close to Home, reflecting on his humble roots from the other side of riches and fame. It’s an album he was determined would be unapologetically Mancunian, sampling Madchester legends The Stone Roses on the lively ‘1989’ along with a gravelly intro from Happy Mondays’ Shaun Ryder in the music video — homages to the musical backdrop of his childhood and the giants that came before him. He also (perhaps only half-genuinely) proposed £7 million for Liam Gallagher to feature on the album, a ballsy offer that’s telling of where Aitch now sees himself in the city’s vibrant musical lineage (“Took the city and I made it mine”).  

The record also contrasts the nostalgic bleakness of home with industry glamour. “I came from the sewers / Got busy and made me change” he raps on ‘Louis Vuitton’, a backhanded nod to the North Manchester estate where he grew up, adding with swaggering bluster on the funk-indebted ‘Sunshine’: “You think that your city seen it all you ain’t seen mine”. There’s also laddish tales aplenty of sneaky link-ups and fawning women, if not the other way round (“And all the p**** I’ve been eating got me feeling overweight”).

But for all its bravado, the album’s softest moment comes in ‘My G’ featuring Ed Sheeran, the rapper’s sweet tribute to his little sister, who has Down’s Syndrome. He also loosens further when he addresses the disillusionment that comes with rap notoriety. “Right now I’m richer than ever but I can’t lie I’ve felt better,” he admits on the skittering ‘Money Habits’ featuring Mastermind. On ‘Belgrave Road’ he’s wary of who he shares the fruits of his successes with, declaring atop offbeat snares and a heavy rumble that he “don’t wanna pour one up if you won’t catch me when I fall”.

But the soul of Aitch’s hometown’s musical legacy doesn’t really filter through his original melodies, which are often peppered with stock “woos”, “oohs”, “ahhs” and babyish backing vocals. Meanwhile, promising heavy-hitters like ‘R Kid’ with AJ Tracey lack any real collaborative fusion. The record’s production highlights instead come in the impatient drive of ‘Fuego’ or noughties shmooze of ‘Baby’ featuring Ashanti.

Aitch is no doubt putting in the graft in the hopes to one day stand alongside his city’s musical legends, but his debut offers more weight in personal reflections than it does memorable tunes.