When Jack Harlow first emerged on the rap scene in 2015, his intangible qualities such as his swagger and Southern twang helped set him apart from the rest of the burgeoning wordsmith generation. Harlow and his Louisville-based collective, Private Garden, were truly strangers. As a curly-haired, goofy-looking white kid from Kentucky, Harlow was often not taken seriously in rap, and he had to earn all the respect he has since earned. Music videos and songs of his teenage years show how much he has devoted himself to rapping as a profession since he was a young boy. His first mixtape on a major label, 2018 Cowardly, and its subsequent project, 2019 Confetti, show that hunger. In these first two albums, Harlow sounds raw, composed and in touch with Louisville underestimated hip hop scene. His beats lean towards the eclectic and psychedelic, and his natural swagger in both bands is obvious to listeners, as his cadence and delivery were remarkably advanced for a rapper as young as he was then.
In 2020, Harlow released the single that made him a household name, “WHATS POPPIN”. Harlow fans rejoiced that Louisville’s favorite son was finally being recognized by a more mainstream audience, but the song itself signified a shift in Harlow’s sonic profile from complex, lush instrumentals to trap beats. basic.
This change is quite apparent in its most recent release: the highly anticipated Go home, you miss the kids. The two singles that preceded the album, “Nail Tech” and “First Class”, sampled by Fergie, were catchy, if a bit boring. The hunger you could hear in Harlow’s voice on Cowardly and Confetti is almost gone, and it seems the pitfalls of life as a mega-star have reduced his creativity and drive. His intent now appears to be harmless radio-rap fodder – a major departure from his previous work. While he previously made melodic rap tracks, this aspect of his repertoire was definitely emphasized as Harlow’s business focus shifted towards stream hunting. Where Harlow’s whiteness previously served as a detriment to his career on the local scene, the national PR push he has benefited since the release of “WHATS POPPIN” is largely due to its “marketing” (to see: white privilege).
This negative transformation isn’t just a product of his goal to add more melody to his albums, like previous R&B-influenced tracks like Confetti “THRU THE NIGHT”, works brilliantly. Harlow still has a ton of natural talent; sometimes on this new project, his swagger and flow dampen his poor writing and basic production choices. He also has a good sense of humor and a boldness and confidence rare for a rapper of his stature. When these intangibles come to the fore, the album is at its best, as on the shameless DM slide of “Dua Lipa” and the breezy “Lil Secret”, which has the best beat on the project – soft vocals – centered instrumental . “Like a Blade of Grass” also sounds like something that could have been on Cowardly or Confetti, with its bouncy drums reminiscent of early Harlow gems like “SUNDOWN”, although it would have been better if he hadn’t tried to sing along to it. He’s not fake or anything, but his singing lacks the Kentucky signature that makes his rapping so endearing.
In general, Harlow spends way too much time on the album trying to be what he isn’t. He gives a halfhearted impression of Drake on “Churchill Downs,” a track that also features the Canadian rapper. Drake sounds more natural than Harlow on the song, but he’s still not great. Harlow has shown that his collaborations with talented singers can be brilliant, like Confetti stellar 2forwOyNE collaboration, “WARSAW”, but its own crooning tends to fall flat Go home, you miss the kids. Although his career may be better than three years ago, his music has deteriorated. Without the example of his early work, Harlow looks alarmingly like industry factories in other genres, like Billie Eilish, GAYLE or Iann Dior. At least Eilish can still lean on her unique voice and a brother’s world-class songwriter; Harlow just seems uninspired.
Daily Arts writer Ryan Brace can be reached at [email protected].