I’m never actually that close to home. I’m always on the other side of the world, but I always feel close to home,” the Manchester-born rapper laughs. For Aitch, home is a mindset. Instead of a physical location, he thinks of it more as a “vibe,” or something that he can bring with him everywhere he goes. And for the artist, that definition is important, considering he’s been to a whole lot of places. As he first burst onto the rap scene when he was 18 (he’s 22 now), Aitch has been spitting bars and making beats across the world for years now. 

“I’m never really in Manchester but always end up coming back,” he elaborates. “It’s like I bring Manchester with me to places.” The rapper comes to us from his car, where he was in between promoting his album, out today via Capitol Records. Inspired by his love of his hometown and the stories he made in it, Aitch titled the project, Close to Home. And with each of the 16 tracks, the artist provides an intimate glimpse into roots. And if you’ve been following the rapper since his viral 2018 freestyle, “Straight Rhymez,” you’re already familiar with the rapper’s ability to turn heads and command a room. To tease the debut, Aitch first released “Baby”–which immediately shot up the charts, representing the seemingly insatiable appetite for the artist and his music. 

And when asked why he decided to release “Baby” first, he laughs, saying, “A couple of reasons. I just wanted to start with a banger. Also, I think it was time for me to make a song that is what I’m all about.”

For the album’s explosive production, the breakout rapper enlisted the help from–no other than–his hometown homies. Together with WhyJay and other notable Manchester-based producers, Aitch embarks on his debut pièce de résistance. Complete with his experiences with girls, love of weed, and really everything else you can expect from a twentysomething rapper, it doesn’t fail to surprise, delight, charm.

But that doesn’t mean the project lacks maturity either. Deeper personal reflection and unprecedented vulnerability are evident in the rapper’s heartfelt lyrics–showcasing the growth required for a successful debut. Perhaps, this revelation is most seen in “My G,” a song dedicated to his 12-year-old-sister Gracie, who lives with Down syndrome. Featuring a smooth hook from Ed Sheeran, the track explores the all-important notion of family: “There’s not really anything more important on the album or on the world than my sister, so that has to be the most important track.”

The album sees the young rapper pushing at his musical boundaries and subverting traditional hip-hop narratives while bringing it all home. Aitch makes sure his Moston roots are the focal point of the project with musical nods and references. There are samples from The Stone Roses’ iconic “Fool’s Gold” and features from the Manchester legend himself, Shaun Ryder. 

“It’s literally just what it says on the title,” he concludes. “It’s close to home. It’s close to the heart. Home is where the heart is.” And as the rapper returns to the city where he first fell in love with music, he shares his most triumphant successes and favorite memories. And if one thing is for sure, it’s a welcome homecoming, indeed. 

Ahead of the release of Close to Home, Aitch sits down with VMAN for an intimate look into his creative processes. Expect personal anecdotes, funny memories, and a good laugh as the rapper bears all. 

VMAN: Excited to share with readers your debut album, Close to Home. How are you feeling about the release?

AITCH: I’m excited, man. I’m just excited for people actually to hear it, to be honest. I just want to get it out there and keep it moving. I’m very excited. I’m sure people will love it, definitely.

VMAN: Where did you start with the project? 

A: That’s a really good question. The first song I made off the album was “The Palm,” which I made in Dubai. I first started working on the album in Dubai without knowing that I was working on the album. That was when I started making songs, and then album time came. “The Palm” is probably the oldest song on there.

Photo by Kelvin Jones.

VMAN: How long has the album been in the works? 

A: Probably a little bit over a year. We went all over the place. We made a lot in Manchester, London, Dubai, of course, Toronto, and LA. We’ve made it all over the place. Some of the songs I made quite a while ago before I actually was in album mode. Then when I started to complete the album.

VMAN: Dubai is a very unique place. Why did you decide to make some of the album there?

A: I can’t lie. I went there to do a writing camp and get some headspace, get away from everything and get some work done. I was probably there for about three weeks, and I made about two songs. I spent the rest of the time partying. However, the two songs that I did make, one of them’s on the album, so it was definitely worth it. But yeah, it was just to get away from everything and get some new scenery, because obviously I was in the same old studio all the time so just wanted something different.

VMAN: I love that. So what it’s like in the studio with you? Do you like to be surrounded by a lot of people? Or is it just you and some collaborators?

A: Most of the time, it’s just me, my producer, and some of my friends. Most of the time, I don’t mind people being in there, but the more people in there, the longer the process is going to take because I’m more inclined to be talking to people and not concentrating on doing stuff. But I don’t mind if people are in there.

VMAN: I also want to talk about some of the themes that you go into on the album and some main influences that you’re pulling from because I know the album documents your life growing up in Manchester, so just wanted to ask you a little bit about that.

A: I’m never really in Manchester but always end up coming back. It’s like of like I bring Manchester with me to places. I’m bringing that vibe. The title, Close to Home, just makes sense because, ironically, I’m never actually that close to home. I’m always on the other side of the world but still also feel close to home, if that makes sense. So yeah, that’s how it happened. And then all the songs on there are stories of something that’s happened or based on a certain situation that’s happened over the past couple of years. It’s literally just what it says on the title. It’s close to home. It’s close to the heart. Home is where the heart is.

VMAN: Yeah, I feel like it’s a metaphorical state of mind. You’re always going to be close to your roots and to your home. Can you also take us back to the first time that you fell in love with making music? 

A: Yeah, I always used to write lyrics and rap to a random beat. I think the first time I fell in love with making music was probably the first couple of times I started going to an actual studio and making actual songs instead of just spitting hella bars. So yeah, probably 2017, I’d say. Maybe even 2018. That’s when I started falling in love with it.

VMAN: Where was the studio?

A: The first studio that I went to was in a place called Ancoats in Manchester, and I went there for years. That was the first and only studio I went to for years. And WhyJay, my guy, he still produces all my records today. He executive produced the album. I just stuck to my roots. WhyJay is always with me. That’s another reason it’s close to home. He made probably 95% of the music on there.

VMAN: I read that the song “Sunshine” sounds a lot like Manchester, if Manchester was a song. Can you kind of elaborate for those who’ve never been to Manchester and don’t understand the vibe?

A: Yes, it sounds like Manchester because it’s a very happy, sad song. And why I say that is because Manchester is, nine times out of 10, very gray when it comes to the weather. However, everyone in Manchester is such a vibe and a ray of sunshine. I feel like the song feels like Manchester and represents it well. We’re always waiting for that bit of sunshine, and when we do get that sunshine, you should see Manchester because every single person is sat in their back garden or trying to party because we only get it once in a while. So yeah, it’s the perfect vibe.

VMAN: How do you think the city of Manchester has influenced your sound?

A: Yeah, definitely. I don’t think I’d be in the same position I am now if I wasn’t for Manchester. I think my accent plays a part in it a lot. And I think my way of doing things is slightly different from everyone else’s because I’m from here. We’ve got our own vibe.

VMAN: Cool, and I want to ask you about a couple more songs on the album. The first song you released was “Baby,” and it’s killing it on the charts. Why did you feel like that one was the right one to kick off the whole project? What do you especially love about it?

A: A couple of reasons. One straight-to-the-point reason is that it’s a straight banger. I just wanted to start with a banger. Also, I think it was time for me to make a song that is what I’m all about. Usually, nine times out of 10, rappers rap about all the girls he’s got. And how he’s got options and stuff like that, which I am guilty of as well. But it was time for me to put myself on the other end of the stick and talk about a relationship thing and how you want it to work, but it doesn’t work out and how you feel about it. So yeah, it was a perfect time. I feel like I got it right.

VMAN: Yeah, it’s definitely an intimate look at your artistry. I also want to talk about the song “My G,” which features a line from Ed Sheeran. Can you tell us how that collaboration came to be?

A: Well, that’s just my friend. I’ve collabed with him a couple of times. We’ve known each other ever since then. So when I made the song, me and Fraser T. Smith, who also is a friend of Ed’s, he was the first person we both said to get on the song. So it just made sense. I’ve sent him live videos of my sister before, singing his songs, so he was familiar with her. 

VMAN: That’s so cute. And what do you love especially about that song?

A: It’s probably the most personal song I’ve made. And it means the most. It kind of goes without saying at the end of the day, it’s just about my sister. There’s not really anything more important on the album or on the world than my sister, so that has to be the most important track.

VMAN: I’m sure she’s going to love it. Can you tell us where the drawing of the house came from? The one on your album art?

A: It’s literally so random. It was my birthday in December last year, and I was in the middle of working on the album. We knew we had the name for it, Close to Home, but we didn’t have any art or anything like that for it. And my producer, WhyJay, literally just made me a tracksuit for my birthday. And it said “Close to Home” on the front, and he literally just drew a house on the back. He just took a blank picture on Snapchat and drew it with his finger. I don’t know how he did the rest. And then I just had that tracksuit since my birthday, and then when it came to shooting the cover, I thought it was only right that I wear that tracksuit. We took millions of pictures all over the ends, all over my area–all sick pictures, but I ended up using the one with my back turned. 

VMAN: So besides this album, what’s next for you? What else are you looking to pursue with your career? 

A: I’m just looking forward to making the music and keeping active. Personally, I want to get fit. I’m not fit anymore. I used to be quite fit, so I want to get back in the gym. And just take more opportunities and see what else I can do. Hopefully, see me in a couple of movies and whatnot. You know, just random. I want to keep it moving and see where it takes me.

VMAN: Yeah, why limit yourself? What type of movies are you a fan of?

A: Oh, this is such a boring answer, but I do love a comedy movie. You can’t go wrong. 

VMAN: Those are good ones. As to pivot a little–I know Jack Harlow recently brought you onstage during one of his sets. What was that like? 

A: Yeah, it was sick. It was crazy. I didn’t expect it because I wasn’t actually on the festival lineup. So it was crazy when I came out. They all went mad. Jack’s my guy man. That’s my good friend. I’ve brought him out a couple of times. He’s brought me out a couple of times. I’m pretty sure you’ll see more of it.

VMAN: I love the friendship, it’s great. And then the last question for you is–what are you trying to the table with this album?

A: I just want to share my story and for people to hear it. That’s all, that’s my message. Everything I said on the album came from the heart. It’s something where you can hear how I was feeling in the studio that day. Hopefully, everyone just respects it. Whether you like it or you dislike it, you want to play it or you don’t want to play it, as long as everyone respects it, I’m happy.

VMAN: And I’m sure they will. Is there anything else that we didn’t cover that you want to share?

A: I don’t think so. Just keep your eye out, and you might see me in a movie soon.

Stream Close to Home below.

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