“Growing up where I’m from, not many people make much of themselves,” Harrison Armstrong—better known as Aitch—tells Apple Music. “You get one shot, that’s if you’re lucky. And you need to take it. Everything that’s happened has come from me having an opportunity and taking it, straight away. If I didn’t, then 100% I wouldn’t be here.” The Mancunian MC is in a philosophical mood as he releases his third EP. A UK rap powerhouse before exiting his teens, Aitch and his detailed, scattergun flows have meant chart hits and respect from within the ultra-competitive UK rap scene. Here, we get a confident snapshot of his appeal: He spars ably with AJ Tracey (“Rain”), grabs a UK drill smash of his own (“Raw”) and takes his sound from the streets of Moston to Los Angeles with Kenny Beats (“Zombie”). His father also gets an assist: for naming the EP. “It’s a star,” Aitch says. “It’s also called the North Star. So it was perfect, because I consider myself to be the star from the north in everyone else’s eyes.” Read on for his track-by-track guide.
Safe to Say
“This was made in LA—I linked up with Kenny Beats. The opening line, 'so many shows last year'—honestly, I don't know how many I did, but it was probably over 100. Some people love to record music when they're on the move. I don't really. I like to be comfortable and I like to have my mind on one thing. I want to be the best performer and not the best studio rat at that time, you know what I'm saying? So I tend to only record when I'm back. I still write music every now and again, but usually when it comes to recording I usually prefer to be home."
“Kenny Beats once again. He’s fully tapped into the UK scene, he knows what’s going on. We recorded this that same week in LA. We had a chat first—nothing to do with music, just chatting. And then it got to a point where he was like, ‘Right, what are we making then?’ I said, ‘To be honest, I don't think I have a particular sound. We could do a drill song, we could do a rap song. Whatever.’ I showed him what I'd been doing recently at the time, he came up with this, and we went from there. It’s about me being a little bit drunk. I wasn't drunk when I made this, but I got into that zone. I was speaking my mind. Recording in LA can be hard because when you get there, you wanna do everything else other than work. LA is a vibe, and Kenny's just cold, man, he goes in and he's a proper guy. So we linked up more than once, and it worked every time. It’s one for the car. I love playing this when I’m driving.”
“Moston is the area in Manchester I'm from, of course. This is so I could properly represent. Because I represent Manchester all the time, but I never actually go into detail of where I'm from. Not necessarily lyrically—like, I'm not telling you every road in Manchester and Moston—but the sound of the song represents the area so much in my ears. I know when I go to shoot the video and I play that song, the mandem will be skanking all over, and it's just going to make the whole feeling of it 10 times better. This is for the people of Manchester. But then it's also for people outside of Manchester to get a taste of where I'm from.”
“It’s a big bouncy vibe, this one. It’s one for the shows. Obviously that can’t happen right now, but this is the one to bounce around on. Just go crazy. I think I freestyled the first four bars, and it worked—it sounded sick. I got gassed and I carried on writing the song. With my writing, I feel like there shouldn't be any gaps left on the beat. I think it's a subconscious thing. I don't think I actually sit there and think about how my flow's going to be, but it just comes out.”
“I came in there, and [London producers] Nastylgia and Sykes had that beat. I didn't even realise that they sampled a Destiny's Child song [1999 single ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’]. I loved what we did, got home and played it to my mum and she told me it was a Destiny's Child song! That got me gassed too, because it'll just bring another type of audience to it. I love this song, it's low-key one of my favourites. I'm going to have to do a video for this, 100%, because a lot of people have been telling me it's a banger.”
“I like spitting on drill beats, but I've not done a drill song by myself—it's always been features. So I decided to drop one. Whyjay and Sangy went in with the production, then something just touched me when I heard the beat and I went from there. The video too: [UK director] KC [Locke] went in with that. It's so cold, but I don't like the fact that people are calling it a diss track. It's not a diss track. It's a 'if the shoe fits' situation. I don't hate anyone, I don't have a problem with anyone, but I've got a problem with the way certain people go about things. I don't like the fact that my kindness gets taken for weakness, and I get singled out sometimes. So I just thought I'd address that situation. I thought I'd address my feelings, not a person.”
“I made this the day I handed in my EP. I was two and a half hours late to hand in because of this song, but I knew something was missing. I heard that beat, and I was like, ‘Right, it’s this.’ I feel like if you take this off the EP, something's missing. I flung some bars on, put it on there and, 'Boom! That's it, the EP's done. Send it.' And that was it, never looked back.”
Aitch & AJ Tracey – Rain (feat. Tay Keith)
“We were writing our verses together for this and I think AJ wrote his faster. I would say me personally, as a listener, I think AJ goes in harder. It's like a Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen situation. AJ wouldn't have got the dunk if I hadn’t thrown it up to him like that. So I'll happily take the assist on “Rain”. My man went too hard. That's all I can say about this one—it's crazy.”