Interview: UK Rap Star Aitch Calls In Ahead Of His Debut Australian Tour
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Baby-faced, razor-tongued Manchester rapper Aitch has been posted up on the UK charts for the best part of 12 months. Stepping up with arguably the best verse on the ‘Keisha & Becky’ remix, featuring on Young T and Bugsey’s hit single ‘Strike A Pose’, and iconic Manchester MC Bugzy Malone’s passing-of-the-baton collaborative track, ‘Kilos’, the first half of 2019 was a first taste for many of one of the UK’s most promising and exciting artists. 

Fast forward another few months and Aitch had a UK number one with Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Jaykae, released a critically acclaimed and commercially successful solo project in AitcH20, and sold out his entire UK tour in under seven minutes. From relative obscurity, it’s a combination of Aitch’s infectious energy, playful, tongue-in-cheek and ultra-quotable bars, and savvy beat selection across a diverse mix of production styles that have propelled him into the poster boy role he now occupies. Those that caught on a little earlier probably have ‘Straight Rhymez’ and ‘Daily Duppy’ GRM freestyles to thank for some heavily outdated IYKYK clout, now well and truly out the window following his recent BRIT Awards nomination for best new artist. Whatever the case, Aitch is an undeniable rising talent showing no signs of slowing down. 

Ahead of his sold out debut Australian tour, we caught up with Aitch to hear about his rapid rise, dream collaborations, an Australian remix and learn some Manchester slang. Check it out below:

What’s going on Aitch, how are you? 

What’s going on, bro? You all right, yeah?

Yeah, I’m good. It’s a bit early here – I’m halfway through my morning coffee – but I’m good. Where are you at the moment? 

Right now I am in a hotel room in Amsterdam, halfway through the Europe tour. 

Thanks for taking time out to do this, I appreciate you. How’s the tour going?

It’s sick. I’m enjoying it. It’s a better reception than I expected. I didn’t really know what to expect at first, obviously because it’s outside the UK, but it’s been sick so far.

2019 was a big year for you, and congrats on your BRIT Award nomination for best new artist, how would you describe the last year or so in the life of Aitch?

The last year has been mad, it’s just been nothing but elevations, you get me? I reckon we’ve simply just exceeded all the goals and expectations that we planned to do. At the start of the year we had certain goals and certain heights we wanted to reach, and we just blasted through them before even halfway through the year. So hopefully this year, you know, it’s going to be twice as good.

Everything already seemed to be happening pretty quickly for you and suddenly you were the standout feature on some huge, huge tracks. Before any of that happened, what was life like before ‘Straight Rhymez’ and your ‘Daily Duppy’ blew? 

Before that, I was still spitting. I was quite big in Manchester, but not really anywhere else. So in my eyes and most people in Manchester, I’ve been making the features and that from time, do you get what I mean?

It was a bit weird though. I was just bubbling in Manny for ages and then everywhere else came. But before all of that, I was actually working. I was working on a building site and I was in college doing sport. I dropped out of college because I didn’t like it, and then I dropped out of work because I didn’t like it. And then, literally, I think it was the week I dropped out of work, I blew up. I dropped ‘Straight Rhymez’ and blew up.

I think that’s an interesting point about being big in Manchester but not really anywhere else. A lot of the time I think there is an assumption that London is the centre of culture and music in the UK. What was it like for you coming up in Manny and how do you think that has shaped you as an artist?

I don’t reckon I’d be this successful if it wasn’t for Manchester. I don’t think I’d be where I am right now if I wasn’t from Manchester. Because in a way, it’s like another extension to when people mention you, because they’re like, “Oh yeah, you’re not just Aitch, that rapper. You’re Aitch, that rapper from Manchester.” Do you know what I mean?

So it’s like another point to make, in a way. So when you actually blow up, it’s a bit of an advantage because then you’re like the odd one out straight away, without even trying to be the odd one out. But the hard part is actually blowing up because you’re not there in the centre, you’re not born straight into the centre of where everything’s popping. Which obviously is London in the UK.

That said, you’ve been able to establish yourself and help bring other artists from outside of London into that conversation. 

Yeah, definitely. It’s not really a shock to people anymore when someone is not from somewhere it’s all going down.

You’ve started off this year strongly as well, dropping a tune with DigDat. Tell me a bit about the making of ‘Ei8ht Mile’. 

Yeah, yeah. That was just like, to be honest, I think DigDat and his team had that idea anyway, before they even went to the studio. Not the actual song part, just the whole idea of the ‘Eight Mile’ situation.

We linked up at the studio and before we even started doing the tune, before they even heard the beat, it was like, “Yeah, we want to do this. This thing where it’s like the Eight Mile film and you two are clashing and whatnot.” And then, literally, my guy, YJ made the beat and we just got it cracking. But as we were making it, we didn’t really have that in our mind as we were making it, do you know what I mean? We just went with the flow and just spat bars, and it just ended up working out, really. It was a bit like one of them ones, it was just a bit of a natural one that all seemed to work out, basically.

You also recently teased something with AJ Tracey. I know he’s someone you really look up to and that’s been your dream collaborator for a while. Is that song dropping any time soon? 

That one. That one’s a mad one. Don’t worry, you’ll hear that one. I’m not going to tell you when, but you’ll hear that one. Don’t worry. Listen, this year. That’s what I’ll give you. This year, you’ll be seeing that one at some point.

Now that you’ve got that collab with AJ in the bag, has someone else moved up to that number one spot?

Do you know what it is yeah? I’m just trying to do my thing, I think. I don’t want to get known too much as this feature person. Do you get what I mean? It just happened to look like that towards the end of the year because I felt like I got to a certain point and I was like, “Yeah, my work here is done. It’s just all these things towards the end of the year, and then we’re good.” Do you know what I mean?

And it just happens to be that my first tune this year is a feature. So I’m not really trying to aim to start getting people on my tunes. It will happen if it happens, do you know what I mean? Even that AJ one, like you just said, that wasn’t like ultimately, we need to make a banger and rap it out. It was sort of like we were just jamming. And then, just like, “Yo, what’re you saying? What are you doing?” “Nothing.” “All right, then. Let’s link up.” And then ended up making a tune.

Yeah I get you. And amongst those features and freestyles you obviously also dropped your own project AitcH20.

Yeah, man.

It’s interesting seeing your growth from On Your Marks which had a more grimey feel to everything, and then listening to AitcH2O, which shows you doing pop star bits as well as obviously crisscrossing between rap sub-genres. How do you think your sound has changed and what’s been the catalyst for that?

I don’t know. Obviously I have changed, but also everything else, like my surroundings and that, and just the feel in general, I reckon. At one point, my life was just like, “Yo, we’re going to make a sick grime tune with a sick grime beat. And then, going to put that out and get that wheeled, and just take the piss out of everyone.” Do you get what I mean? Which was all good, but then eventually I feel like there’s a roof over your head when you’ve only got one aim. Like you can only go so far before your head hits the roof and you’ve got to start working out other ways to get out, you know what I mean?

So I don’t really know. I couldn’t really tell you the transition because I was always making a bit of both, like grime and rap. I could always spit on both. Even drill. I didn’t really make AitcH2O thinking, “Yeah, this is how I’ve developed.” It was kind of, “I’m just going to drop grime out because it’s not really getting me nowhere.” To be fair, I did have a grime tune on AitcH2O before it came out, but then ended up swapping it for something else because I just felt like not as many people are interested.

Don’t get it twisted, you will hear grime from me in the future. I did drop grime tunes last year. You will hear grime tunes often, like at least one every year, probably. Do you know what I mean? It’s just not my main aim. And do you know what? If I’m honest, I’m not really fucking with any grime beats at the minute, and I need to hear the right grime beat.

What was the intention behind AitcH20?

The whole aim of AitcH2O, it was just a representation of… How do I put it? Just a representation of my vibe at the time, and I wasn’t really trying to get a certain message across. It was more just like, “Yo, I’ve gone in the studio this many times. I’ve made these tunes. This is obviously what I was feeling each of these days. Here you go, hold that.” It was literally as simple as that, really. It was like, “Yeah, I’ve just put these tunes together.” Basically, I didn’t go in the studio thinking, “Right, I need to make this EP.” It was like, “I’m just going to go to the studio and make whatever.” Yeah? And then, when I feel like I’ve got a bag of tunes, I’ll just pick which ones I want to put on an EP. Do you get what I mean?

And then I just figured that I didn’t want one song, I didn’t want any of the songs to sound like each other. I didn’t want you to flip through it and think, “Oh, this one sounds like that one.” So that’s how I picked out the songs. Even though I don’t want to sound like each of them, I wanted it to flow right. Hence, obviously, AitcH2O. I know that’s in my name and, blah, blah, blah. Something like that. And it’s a little flavour for everyone else. Like I understand that people might not fuck with track one, but they might fuck with track four or whatever. Do you know what I mean? There’s at least one that you’re going to fuck with on the thing.

‘Taste (Make It Shake)’, the lead single from that project, was another massive track but for you, but you’ve also got an Australian remix featuring Hooligan Hefs & Nerve. How did those two artists come into your awareness?

Them man both killed it. Absolutely killed it. They’re both so different but I think it came about – obviously I was with a label at the time – I was with a label called Since ’93, which is within Sony – and basically, we wanted to do a Europe remix to promote it in that side of the world and prepare for the Europe tour. Then we also did an Australia remix and so what we’ve done is, I went and spoke to the label and I said, “Let’s do some research on who’s hot in Australia right now.”

And basically, this came about. They sent me a couple of links and two of the links were Hefs and Nerve. So we got it cracking and I said, “Yo, I need to have it. Let’s see what these two can do.” And it was just perfect straight away. I said. “Yeah, that’s it. Boom, let’s go. Yeah, bite it.”

Where does the name ‘Big Shell’ come from?

So big shell is like… have you ever heard someone say, “I’m going to shell it.” Or, “Yeah, man. You shelled it.” Have you heard that? No?

Honestly never. Is it like saying you’re about to ‘kill it’ or ‘body it’?

Yeah. So it’s like if I go into grimes now, and I’m just spinning everyone, and I’m murking it and I’m getting hundreds of reloads, everyone in the room will go, “Nice. Shelled it. He shelled the the mic. He just shelled it down,” or whatever. Or, “Yo, he’s shelling it.” Do you know what I mean? That’s just what it is. I don’t know where that word comes from. It not even a Manchester thing, it’s like a UK thing. Man shelled it. Whereas, I just believe that I shell it the most, but then I though, “Fuck that. I am the shell.” So it’s Big Shell. You know what I’m saying?

Yeah. 

Man can’t shell me because I am the shell.

I know you just said that it’s not Manchester slang … I was hoping you could teach me some. 

Some Manchester slang? OK. OK. There’s “R kid”, which would be spelled just the letter R, and then kid. That means like, bro. My brother. But if I was to meet you, when I meet you in Australia when you come to the show, I’ll say, “What’s happening, R kid?” Meaning, “What’s happening, bro?”

Ok I’m with you. 

I think it comes from the thing of like… I don’t know, if your mum or dad was speaking to someone, another adult, and they’re with your brother or your sister, it would be like, “Yeah, that’s our kid.” Do you know what I mean? Like you are our kid, so you are R kid. So it’s just like a bump. You could tell your brother or sister, or just when you mind them, “They’re R kid.” That’s it.

There you go. And there’s “scran”.

Sorry say that again. 

Yeah, scran. S-C-R-A-N. Scran. So that’s another word for lunch, so you can go and get a scran, or you can scran it. Or you can say, if you ate your meal rapid, I’ll be like, “Yo, you’re scranning that rapid. Chill out. Slow down.” Or you can say, “Yo, man to man, hunger. Let’s go for a scran.”

Would you scran a nice meal or is it more something takeaway? Can you fine scran?

I don’t know. It does seem a bit like your fast food but no, you can go for a delicate scran. Of course you can have a delicate scran. But you can’t say that. That’s not really scran-like. That is more like, “Let’s go for a scran.” That can mean McDonald’s, or fucking Gauchos or a fucking 10 out of 10 Asian sushi restaurant, whichever. It’s just a scran.

I’ll take ‘scran’ for a test drive in Sydney but I can’t promise it’ll stick. Speaking of, we’re very excited for you to be coming out here in March. What are you expecting and looking forward to on the tour?

I can’t wait. I’ve just been looking forward to all the sun that I’m going to be getting, the sun tan. I’m going to be packing my suitcase with some suncream, obviously.

I mean we have sunscreen here [laughs]. Is there anything else?

That’s very true. I’ve heard from other artists that even though it’s the other side of the world, it’s [Australia is] just as wild as the UK crowd. Like people in Australia are really locked in to our music and that, I’m excited for that. 

Aitch’s sold out Australian tour kicks off Wednesday 18 March in Sydney. Head here to join the re-sale waitlist via Secret Sounds and Tixel and check out his latest release, ‘MICE’, below:

Words by Declan Whelan February 27, 2020
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