UK hip hop artists have never been shy about shouting out their releases, but Aitch has been hyping Close to Home hard even by those standards. The Moston-based rapper has been teasing this thing since at least April 2021, dropping hints that this new body of work would show off a more mature, reflective and grounded side to his personality. In his own words, this is supposed to be a “proper Manchester record”. Shit, it was even supposed to have a Liam Gallagher collaboration on it.
The problem with setting yourself mountains to climb is that eventually, you have to go out and climb them. So hats off to Aitch, because he gives it a bloody good go on Close to Home. Nothing on this record couldn’t be played in the club or dropped at a house party. Special mention goes to the single ‘Baby’, which takes 2003 Ashanti classic ‘Rock Wit U’ and turns it into a sweaty, old-school-style slow jam.
However, I still can’t help but feel like this is a deeply flawed record for all the studio magic and meta-references mainly because it fails at its core premise. It sounds nothing like Manchester. Yes, the gap between songs might feature Manc voices, and yes, ‘1989’ is a banger mainly because it uses a loop of the Stone Roses ‘Fool’s Gold’, but if you took away these accents, then the whole thing sounds like it could be from anywhere. It gives you the impression that Aitch uses his hometown more as a USP than anything else. This isn’t a love letter to Manchester, it’s the city being used as a gimmick.
The problems with this record are the problems with a lot of modern pop music. I’m sure Aitch wanted to make a record that was a tribute to his hometown, but the rough edges have been filed off, and Ed Sheeran has been slapped on, all presumably to make it friendlier to the algorithm. So, no, Close to Home doesn’t live up to the hype; it probably never could.