Aitch is learning the ropes of the music industry as he goes. On the heels of his debut album, the 22-year-old UK rapper reflects with Boardroom.
In August, Aitch released his debut album, Close to Home, a milestone moment that follows four years after he first broke onto the UK rap scene with “Straight Rhymez.” The 16-track project debuted at No. 2 on the UK albums chart, one slot ahead of Madonna’s Finally Enough Love.
Through it all, Aitch is still just a kid from New Moston in Greater Manchester. As the album’s title suggests, his humble roots are scattered across Close to Home — his priorities are most evident on “My G” featuring Ed Sheeran, an emotional tribute to his younger sister, Gracie, who has Down syndrome.
Music has always been personal for Aitch. His rapid ascension began by accident. He was simply rapping to impress his friends when one of them uploaded a video of his freestyle to YouTube.
“I walked from a place called Newton Heath, which is where [my friend was] from, to Moston. Probably a 20-minute walk home. My phone died on the walk home, so I got in and charged my phone up, and the video was on YouTube,” he recalls of the life-changing night.
Four years on, he is an undeniably successful rapper with the world at his fingertips. The boy who wanted nothing more than to be 50 Cent is becoming a man and realizing the power of being himself. He discussed adjusting to the industry with Boardroom.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
MEGAN ARMSTRONG: Playing off your song “In Disguise,” when did you start to feel like you were losing your anonymity?
AITCH: Around 2019 and 2020, around them times when I started feeling like, Oh yeah, this is happening now. This is working. And not just people from my area who already knew me anyway. Everything has happened so quick. I’m bad at keeping track of time. I look back at some songs that I think were released in 2021 and it was [actually] 2019. Time, for me, has just gone absolutely out the window.
MA: Can you think of a first instance when somebody recognized you outside of your typical circles?
AITCH: I can’t remember the first time anyone asked me for a picture or anything like that, but I can remember the first time I’d done a little show, and I got paid £50. I probably had a couple thousand views on YouTube — 100,000 max — and I’d done someone’s 15th or 14th birthday party. It was just for the kids. I just got on stage and performed the couple songs that I had, and then walked out with £50 in my pocket. I probably spent it all that day.
MA: Staying with “In Disguise” for a second, is there a reason for specifically referencing Casper and Rihanna?
AITCH: There’s not at all, to be honest. Basically, the song is about a girl that pretended that she didn’t know who I was, and she did fool me for a sec. I was with her, spending the night together. My friends and her friends. And then, I finally managed to ask her what her Instagram was. I got her Instagram, followed her, and then pressed message. It turns out, she was messaging me for, like, the past three, four years. She’d blown her cover. I started laughing. I just found it funny the way she lied. So, in the song, I just say, like, “I love the way you lie, Rihanna,” ’cause that’s what [Rihanna] said in her song.
MA: Why wouldn’t she have unsent all those messages when she realized you were hanging out?
AITCH: She didn’t think it through. We were just chilling all day. I finally asked her Instagram, and then that was that. I swear to God this happened. When I seen the messages, she actually got up, grabbed the phone, and then tried to run away. She fell over in the middle of the restaurant. A friend went and picked her up, and then they both ran to the toilet. I think they were in the bathroom for, like, half an hour trying to get their heads together.
MA: How else has your life changed since your career took off?
AITCH: What could I even say? You just have more worries.
I blew up when I was, like, 18. I feel like some of the things naturally would’ve just happened anyway without the fame, [but] it’s hard to trust people — and not because I am that person. Not because I am the type of person that doesn’t want to trust anyone. But [when] you get to a certain level, you gotta understand why certain people are around you and even be okay with the fact that if certain people weren’t getting paid around you, then they wouldn’t care. You have to be okay with that. ‘Cause at the end of the day, everyone’s gotta eat. Everyone’s got a job.
I feel like I’ve had to grow up a little bit fast because I blew up so young. I had to get out [of my neighborhood] fast, when I was 19. And it’s like, ‘Oh, come on. I don’t even know where to start with a mortgage.’ I even had to pay more money on my mortgage deposit at the time because I’m so young, and I’ve never made money before. You just gotta work through certain things, but I wouldn’t change anything. I’m not one to sit here and complain.
MA: At the time you signed your first record deal, before the one you have now with Capitol, why did you choose to you sign it?
AITCH: I literally took a deal because my song was blowing up, and I’d be walking down the street in my work gear and people were recognizing me. I was like, ‘Right, how long is this gonna last? When am I actually going to get paid off all this?’ So I just took the deal that I thought was best. I also definitely looked at the money signs as well.
MA: Now that you’ve “made it” and you’re in a secure situation, do you think you would’ve ended up here if you’d taken the independent route?
AITCH: I really don’t know. I do think I would be here ’cause I still made sick music. However, I’ve made a couple decisions that I definitely needed money for that have put me in a good position today. I spend a lot of money on music videos when I feel like it’s the right time; I personally feel like I’ve got some of the best videos in the UK. Sorry to anyone I’ve just offended, but that’s what a lot of people praise me for when I see people in person. I wouldn’t have been able to do these videos if I didn’t have any money.
MA: What’s your perspective on artists staying independent versus signing with a label?
AITCH: Do what whatever is best for you. I don’t think there’s a wrong or right way to do it.
If you’re starting out, remember [that] a deal can be anything you want it to be as long as you’re both on a mutual understanding. You don’t have to sign your life away for five years. People think all these labels just get you in a headlock, but you don’t have to put that pen to paper if you don’t agree with what they’re saying.
A lot of people come up and they’ve just got their heads set already on ‘I’m gonna be independent, and I’m gonna do it myself,’ but you don’t know why. You just like the thought of saying that. At the end of the day, if you are coming up and you are broke and you release a song that’s doing amazing and it can be pushed further and a label can offer you a certain amount of money to change your financial situation, fuck being independent. Take it. But just make sure you’re not signed for five years. Just sign for the single or for two, three singles, and then you’re out of there and in a better position.
MA: When you signed that first deal and you were able to stop working your labor job, is that when it clicked in your mind that you could really do this?
AITCH: A hundred percent. I was like, ‘Wow, this is the type of money that people could make [in music].’
The money that I did make the first time, I thought it was a lot more than it actually was, of course. But it made me realize, ‘Right, this is it now. I can make a living now.’ It was a good feeling, but also how fast that money went, it taught me a couple things. It taught me how to move, and I know that you don’t get that same paycheck all the time.
MA: What was the first eye-opening experience that made you realize the music industry is really a business and it’s not just about making the music?
AITCH: Just little things. When I got told that I had to go get a lawyer and an accountant. All this random stuff. You realize it’s a business when people start dropping like flies when there’s no money involved for them, which is somewhat understandable because, as we said, it’s a business. Everyone needs to eat. But it would be nice if there were more actual, like, human beings in the industry.
MA: Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
AITCH: I never thought about that. I suppose I am. If you read the actual definition of it, I suppose I’d probably tick a couple of boxes. But to answer your question genuinely, no, I’ve never thought of myself as an entrepreneur.
MA: Well, not many people have gotten Subway to rebrand itself for them, so you have that box ticked.
AITCH: I always forget about these things, to be fair. I need to take things in a bit more. Everything happens so fast. I just take everything in stride. You know, I probably woke up the day after the Subway thing and done something else that took over my memory again. But next time I walk into a room, I’m gonna say, “Hi, Aitch. Entrepreneur.”
MA: In your experience so far, what is the biggest difference between the UK and US regarding the music industry?
AITCH: There’s quite a lot of differences, actually. If I think about it, it’s a lot bigger over there in America in the sense of, it’s a lot more extreme.
Like, you don’t really catch top-tier artists walking around the mall on their own in America. When I say on their own, I mean, there will be a couple of security guards around. Or at least 50 friends. But in the UK, how do I explain it? It’s just not Hollywood. The UK’s just not Hollywood, so it’s not ‘you step out the car and the cameras are on you,’ whereas I could step out now to the shop right now — I’ve got a blue T-shirt on and some random green shorts and no shoes — and probably get away with it. Might have to take one or two pictures.
MA: What do you hope your fans take from Close to Home?
AITCH: I just want people to appreciate the album and keep returning to it. I want it to be an album that gets played all the time. And if you see me in the street, tell me you like it.
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