Aitch: Hits, Heart, and New Horizons
Ahead of his Splendour slot and his long-delayed Australia tour, Manchester emcee Aitch talks about his new single “Baby,” his love for the camera, and what we can expect from 2022.
Photo by Kelvin Jones
If there’s one thing you get from a conversation with Aitch, it’s conviction.
They’re minor markers that scatter throughout the back-and-forth, reflections of an artist going from strength to strength. In figures, there’s never anything less than “hundred percent”; in situations, things tend to play out “obviously”; and unlike certain other Mancunians, Aitch is all “definitely” and never “maybe.” If you’ve been keeping pace with the popping 22-year-old artist, you’d know that this isn’t just idle talk — it’s the attitude that’s propelled him to the international stage; the very same that’s sending him to Splendour in the Grass this July.
“I'm in the studio right now, just chilling,” he tells me on a mid-March ZOOM call. It’s exactly where you’d expect to find the prolific Manchester emcee, who seems to split his time between busy recording sessions, bombastic live shows, and any one of his many fan-facing habits. It’s an always-on approach that’s finally recouping in 2022. “I got more singles dropping, the album's dropping, more videos,” he tells me excitedly. “Tour! I'm coming to Australia, New Zealand. I got the America tour, I got the UK tour.” He takes a breath, leans back into his hoodie. “Yeah, it's a full year in the calendar.”
It’s a long-awaited boom — Aitch’s debut Australian tour was originally planned for March 2020, rescheduled to October that same year, and finally scrapped in the first wave of COVID cancellations. In the wake of his most recent LP, 2020’s Polaris, he’s let loose a string of features alongside Morrisson, A1 x J1, Pa Salieu and Arrdee, and dropped a couple of solo tracks, Learning Curve and GSD. Few could call that a break, but Aitch promises that 2022 is “definitely gonna be the biggest year so far.” His recent single, Baby, is proof enough.
“Wow, I've had that song for quite a bit,” he says, explaining the tracks unseasonably sunny hues. “It's been sitting there for ages. I was gonna put it out quite a few months ago, but there were a couple of complications with it that we had to deal with first.” If hurdles and clearances run the risk of ruining a release, they also deepen convictions and harden beliefs. Aitch can attest, the silky Ashanti sample an instant earworm, destined for single consideration even before he’d taken to the booth. “It just felt like it straight away, even when I heard the beat at first. It's just one of them ones, innit?”
“It just ended up landing now, which is kind of a blessing in disguise,” says Aitch, positivity catching. “The sun's about to come out in England. It's perfect timing really, so I'm glad all that happened.” As he continues, it’s clear that it’s not just the music he’s appreciating.“Videos are just good to do,” he explains, enthusiastic. “I would do a video for every song I make if I could, but yeah, we'd be here all year trying to shoot videos!” That’s not to say Aitch doesn’t take his cinematic eye on tour — for Baby, he put together a video while on a short trip to Los Angeles. “Malibu,” he says fondly. “I went out there to watch the Super Bowl, and while we was out there we just decided that obviously LA would be the perfect place to shoot a video. We're just driving in the car in LA with the song on the radio — well, not on the radio — and it just sounded right. It just felt right to shoot the video out there.”
Aitch’s fondness for videography is reflected in his easygoing screen presence. He’s endearingly clumsy, mugging the camera with a touch of self-awareness and playing up the bars with pointed finger-pistols, Snoop-style steering and Birdman hand-rubs. There’s a propensity for performance at play, but Aitch makes it seem that there’s something in exposure therapy too: “everywhere we go we've got the camera, so anything can happen.”
He’s not lying: he runs an occasional Twitch stream, where Aitch and a few friends kick back before an eager audience; produces a intermittent vlog series, Life of Aitch, which tails him through his globe-trotting misadventures; and curates his candid TikTok presence, which focuses on behind-the-scenes glimpses, short-form irreverence, and often, the inside of his car. “I suppose I left college and then near enough just went straight into the cameras,” he recalls, casting his mind back to those foundational freestyles. “I don't really know much else, anyway.”
That Aitch pivots straight from videography to his Australian tour speaks to the sun-kissed potential of that four-date sideshow spate. He’s quick to want for “a lot of sun, which us British people love,” even as he thinks on the tour itself. “I've heard the music crowd, the listeners, go crazy for UK music, so I'm excited to see the reception that I'm going to get when I perform out there.”
In the same positive spirit he brought to the Baby holdup, he muses on the advantages of his long live delay. “It just always gets bigger and better,” he says of his show, the string of upgraded venues proof enough. “I can't even put it into detail, other than saying just bigger, better, and more of an actual show over, 'let me just come and grab the mic and spit some bars’.” Channeling that extra experience into entertainment, Aitch is taking his Australia arrival as a point of pride. “First impressions count, you know what I'm saying? I'm trying to come over there and make people beg for me back… I'm gonna have to make a good first impression into Australia.”
It’s not all business, as Aitch is quick to point out. “Music aside, just literally I'm just looking forward to going out and chilling, and just spending some time out there.” In a January tweet, Aitch admitted to “feeling a bit down the past couple months,” thanking fans for their support and teasing a swathe of new music coming “straight from the heart.” “You can expect more mature Aitch, more honesty, more vulnerability,” he says of the upcoming record. “You grow up when you go through more, and then that makes you able to rap about more things.”
“When I was blowing up and I was making all this music, it was all sick, but it got to a point where I didn't actually have anything to rap about,” he says, explaining his need to reconnect with himself. “All I was doing was studio five days a week, two shows a weekend, drinking alcohol, getting girls, and that's that. My whole life was just that, every single week.”
“It becomes a point where it's like, I’m not actually rapping about anything but music and girls and being in the club,” he waxes. “When I did make songs about other things, it wasn't coming from the heart. Now that I've gotten older and I've done more things, or gone through more things, I can now speak about these things.” The unexamined life is not worth living, but as far as Aitch is concerned, it’s the uninvolved life that’s the bane of his bars. “When it comes from your heart instead of your brain, it's always better.”
It’s blink-and-you-miss-it, but therein lies the key to Aitch’s steadfast conviction. It’s passion that comes through as certainty; an unassailable self-belief that works as a personal guarantee. “I'm definitely gonna work my magic,” he says, pondering his Australia shows. He’s mulling over guests — “I keep in touch with Nerve, I keep in touch with Chillinit, and I keep in touch with Hefs,” he ponders, “so hopefully, if they're free around them times, they can pull up at whatever show they want to and do their thing” — but he hasn’t settled on a support act.
He thinks out loud for a minute, admits as much, and kicks it down the line: “I'm definitely going to look to see who I can bring to the table.” He’s not worried. Why should he be? If anything’s for sure, it’s that Aitch will figure it out.
Aitch's new single Baby is out now via Virgin Music Australia.
AITCH AUS SHOWS
Friday 22 July 2022 - Metro City – Perth
Sun 24 July 2022 - Splendour In The Grass
Tuesday 26 July 2022 - Enmore Theatre - Sydney
Wednesday 27 July 2022 – Forum - Melbourne
Thursday 28 July 2022 - The Gov - Adelaide