In a year to be dominated by UK rap, Aitch is ready to take the crown
With every release he puts out, it's clear that 2020's biggest star in UK rap doesn't come from the central, London rap hub.
You'd have to be daft to under-estimate the UK's rap scene going into the new decade. In the last ten years, the dominative control of North America within the rap ecosystem has begun to loosen its grip, and while artists from Latin America, Europe and Australia are emerging as to-watch forces as we enter a new time for global hip-hop, a large reason for this disturbance - and the parallel exponential rise in versatility and diversity within modern-day hip-hop - has come from the UK, and they're not afraid to make it known.
Rappers including Stormzy, JME and Skepta immediately come to mind as the names behind this grime globalisation, building on the foundations underlayed by rappers including Wiley and Dizzee Rascal. However, where the UK is really blossoming and making their presence known, is in the genre's next generation, and the versatility that underpins it. No matter where you look, it's clear that rap's increasing chokehold on popular music is making itself known in the UK's next-up, whether it's rappers like Jay1 and AJ Tracey - who are both streaming and, in the case of the latter, ticket-selling forces even out in Australia - or musicians like Dave and Slowthai, whose imprint of international hip-hop is already well-recognised.
Going into 2020, it's uncertain which of these rappers exactly will break from the pack, and emerge a highlight of the year. Skepta collaborator Headie One has a release on the way featuring Jamie XX, FKA Twigs and Sampha - a wet dream of a trio regardless if the listener is into emotive R&B or dancing, percussion-heavy electronica - and someone like Stefflon Don, who as another example, certainly has a place riding the wave of female talent in hip-hop being led by rappers including Megan Thee Stallion and newfound charting success Doja Cat.
However, a dark horse that may be overlooked amongst the current climate - but someone who may very well grab the crown - is Manchester rapper Aitch.
In the past, so much of the UK's rap world has been centralised in London and its surrounds. Aitch, however, comes from Manchester. It's not a small city by any means, but in a time where hip-hop fans are constantly in search of something new and unique to everyone else, someone like Aitch - who joins other rappers in Coventry's Jay1, for example - could have the differing factor needed to burst into the forefront of UK hip-hop, taking notes from the localised, homegrown rap scene and the facets of brilliance that lay within Manchester and amplifying it on a worldwide, international scale.
Aitch has always been regarded as a rapper on the come-up. In headlines, his name is often attached to tags such as "rap's next big force" and "the one to watch", and over the last twelve months particularly, it's clear these headlines will soon come to fruition. His 2019 EP AitcH20 was a quick-firing burst of energy that immediately made an impression - it peaked at number three on the official UK album charts, despite only being 25-minutes-long - and collaborations alongside Ed Sheeran and Stormzy have thrown him into the contemporary mainstream, a level of success unbeknownst to many other names in UK rap.
However, his single Taste (Make It Rain) really helped Aitch stand-out, and across last year, a series of remixes of the track gave Aitch the first hint at full-frontal globalisation that makes his forthcoming success so obvious. On one remix, he enlisted Steffon Don - capturing the audience her cult-following brings to every release - and on another, welcomed Australian heavyweights that would prelude a tour later this year, with Hooligan Hefs and Nerve capturing the energy and strength underneath Australia's next generation too. Another saw him team up with Shiva, a teenage Italian rapper that further solidifies Aitch's global impact, while a fourth remix with Sevn Alias deepened his ties to European hip-hop, the Dutch rapper being a captivating force of the country's overlooked rap world.
It's difficult to find a rapper whose collaborations and accompanying impact are so widespread as Aitch, but that's exactly why he's one capable of taking the crown. In 2020, success comes with international success away from home countries and known markets. In Australia, The Kid LAROI. is one of the country's most promising hip-hop stars thanks to his increasing presence in the US and Canada, despite being a constantly overlooked name in his home country. In the US, a fiery next generation feels as strong as ever, but much of its impact fails to hit elsewhere - Roddy Ricch being an example of the contrary.
In saying that, the thing that's most important in ensuring international acclaim is good music, and Aitch has plenty in the pipeline. Across 2020, he's already shared a string of singles that showcase his consistency and craft, largely bein stand-alone tracks to keep people fed in a time where social media encourages rappers to release, and release and release. There's no time for breaks in a streaming age, and Aitch is aware of that - Ei8ht Mile, 12:12 AM / PATIENTS (a collaboration with UK darling Everything Is Recorded) and MICE being examples of that.
Rain, however, is a level-up moment that solidifies Aitch's trajectory into cement. Featuring AJ Tracey and US super-producer Tay Keith, the track is Aitch's strongest suggestion of his crown-taking abilities in 2020. It's already a top-three hit in the UK (and his fifth top ten hit in the space of the last year) and is quickly becoming a favourite both in Australia and the US, with Tay Keith's snapping production forming the perfect underlay for both Aitch and AJ Tracey to showcase their respective strengths in their craft; the former perfectly in-line with AJ Tracey's already-demonstrated prowess.
Throughout the rest of the year, Aitch is going to keep it coming. Yet to release an official debut album, Rain comes with a near-certain assurance that it's on the way, and with its release (whenever that may be), Aitch is sure to be elevated to a new level within UK hip-hop. It's clear that Aitch has what it takes - in the UK, he's become an unstoppable charting force, and international waters he's quickly getting there - and with people demanding more, his exponential rise isn't so much a question of when or why. It's already happening.
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