Chart-topper: Why British rapper Aitch turned to the blockchain to build the next chapter of his music

Clovis McEvoy
August 19, 2022
Aitch is bringing his debut album to web3 via LimeWire. “The whole point is to give back to those same fans who have been with me from the start.”

One of the UK's most exciting musical talents, Aitch tells Culture3 why NFTs were “an obvious step” and how he is leaning into the blockchain to build a stronger relationship with his fans. Clovis McEvoy explains what makes this is a big step for web3, Aitch, and LimeWire — and why it is one to watch.

“The NFT space seemed like the obvious step for me,” Harrison Armstrong tells me. Better known to the world as Aitch, the 22 year old rapper and songwriter has already become a frequent resident in the UK Top 10, racked up tens of millions of YouTube views, and attained platinum-selling status all without having released a full-length album. Given his breakout success in traditional media, it seems only logical that the artist is setting his sights on the new web3 frontier for his highly anticipated debut album, Close to Home.

Like many musicians who got their start in web2, the musical potential of blockchain technology has increasingly been on Aitch’s radar. “NFTs have seen massive growth in the art space,” he notes. “Recently the music industry has also started to explore the space — there were some really cool projects in the last year.”

The British rapper rose to prominence with his singles Straight Rhymez (2018) and Rain (2019, ft. AJ Tracey). The 22 year old has notched seven Top 10 singles in the UK charts.

Partnering with the newly launched LimeWire platform to release his genesis NFT collection alongside his debut album, Aitch says what drew him to the space was the versatility that blockchain offers artists to promote their work in new and exciting ways: “Crypto allows you to play around with creative ideas, images, and a whole range of mixed media.”

Featuring collaborations with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Ashanti, Close to Home is a surprisingly deep and personal album from the young artist, exploring themes of family, friends, his home turf in Manchester (UK), and what it is like to come of age in the spotlight. Each of the album’s 16 tracks is paired with an original artwork by UK artist FunnyTummy, whose distinctive mix of graffiti, animation, anime, and attitude play perfectly against the album’s lyrics.

“I'm absolutely thrilled with the artwork. They truly capture the essence of the songs, the subjects, and what it's all about,” says Aitch. “We closely collaborated on the graphics for the collections, and I shared the story behind all the songs so that FunnyTummy could really work his magic, while staying close to the background of each track.”

Close to Home might be Aitch’s first move in the NFT space, but this is far from amateur hour. Working with creative agency Soga World, the artist has taken full advantage of the LimeWire ecosystem to deliver a hybrid release that pairs physical audio formats and merchandise with digital assets and IRL experiences.

NFT artwork by FunnyTummy for three songs in Close to Home: 1989, My G (ft. Ed Sheeran), and Baby (ft. Ashanti).

The basic premise is to give fans two distinct offerings. Option one is a limited run of 250 CDs and 250 vinyls featuring unique album artwork. Purchasing one of these nets you the album, a poster signed by Aitch, and a digital art NFT. All sales count towards the UK charts as well, a first in the industry. (Muse's ninth studio album, Will of the People, will also be chart eligible, and is scheduled for release next week on August 26th.)

Option two engages more with what makes web3 special. In this ‘Mystery Box’ collection, fans can blind mint one of the album’s unique NFTs (there are 100 available for each of the 16 songs), which includes a chance to attain one of 46 NFTs that come with a range of further IRL benefits. Amongst other things, these perks include lifetime concert tickets, an original fan portrait by FunnyTummy, or a behind the scenes experience on the set of Aitch’s next music video shoot.

In this way, Aitch is embracing the potential of NFTs to strengthen the community amongst his most committed fans. “The whole point of the Mystery Box NFT collection is to give back to those same fans who have been with me from the start,” says Aitch. “It’s not the first time I’ve tried to give back to my fans and with this collection, especially the lifetime VIP tickets, it's going to be a gift that keeps on giving,” hinting at further projects in the roadmap.

Aitch released the Close to Home collection on Limewire just over a week ahead of the album itself, which came out on August 19th.

Taken together, Close to Home is a thoughtfully balanced, and slickly executed release that is tailored to appeal both to web3 natives and to fans who have never bought a digital collectible before. Note the language used: instead of web3 jargon like ‘blind mint’, we have a ‘Mystery Box’; instead of an ‘NFT’, we have a ‘digital trading card’. Whether you are primarily interested in limited edition vinyl or are eager to try your luck at a variety of possible perks, there is something here for everyone and all of it can be purchased using a regular old credit card — no crypto required.

While this first release may walk a careful middle ground between web3 innovation and web2 familiarity, Aitch does not hold back regarding the future potential he sees for the space. “Web3 and NFTs allow us to share our art and music directly to our fans on our own terms,” he says. “Die-hard fans can now invest in songs, videos, and digital artwork in the same way they would invest in physical art. This opens up a whole new market for artists — but also a new space for fans to connect with us and get a little something special.”

“Web3 and NFTs allow us to share our art and music directly to our fans on our own terms.”

— Aitch

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Clovis McEvoy
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Clovis is a New Zealand born writer, journalist, and educator working at the meeting point between music and technological innovation. He is also an active composer and sound artist, and his virtual reality and live-electronic works have been shown in over fifteen countries around the world.

The Close to Home collections can be found on LimeWire: the Vinyl collection costs $50, the CD collection costs $25, and the Mystery Box costs $15. The album is on Spotify.