Having gunned for the mainstream and thoroughly succeeded with Baby, the UK rapper sets about proving his staying power
Perhaps it was the lush instrumentation filling out the intro, fit for a Maybach Music record, or the appealing fragments of golden age R&B cutting through the mix. Whatever it was, Baby (with the legally required Ashanti co-credit) gave a slight indication that Aitch was gunning for the mainstream, and he thoroughly succeeded. The accompanying album hopes to pull off the balancing act that sold Stormzy so many records, as well as giving us an insight into the man behind the boyish grin.
Most of Close To Home focuses on the high life of fame, money and girls, though the album opens and closes with more introspection and frustration (“brothers hate when you’re paid, girls as fake as their lips / everybody turns salty, gotta take you a pinch”). Tracks like Mastermind collaboration Money Habits and the lively Bring It Back are prime examples of the UK’s flourishing drill scene, and mid-tempo bangers such as Baby and The Palm see Aitch in his comfort zone. Meanwhile Fuego is an album highlight with versatile flows and a banging trap beat, the joyous sound of a young rapper showing off and hitting all the right notes.
And as for the more mainstream fare? 1989’s Fool’s Gold sample is enjoyable enough but the track feels redundant, while In Disguise fuses guest vocalist Bakar’s soulful delivery with charmingly clunky production. My G has a sweet concept but the less said about Ed Sheeran’s anodyne hook the better – unfortunately the type of people who never understood the UK rap scene still call too many shots at this level, and at times on Close To Home it shows.
Aitch clearly approached this record wanting to prove his staying power, and while he delivers some quality verses (and roughly an EP worth of great music) the fog of compromise hangs that bit too heavily.