Jack Harlow’s problem is not black or white

In 2010, deep in its full debut thank me later and on the precipice of life-changing pop superstardom, artist born Aubrey Drake Graham found himself in dire need of some good advice, or so Jay-Z thought.

Drake, this is how they’ll come to you
With stupid rap feuds, trying to distract you
Disguised, in the form of a favor
Barzini’s meetingwatch out for traitors

It came amid the melancholy bombshell of “Light Up,” in which Drake reflected, “I keep thinking, at what age can you die of old age?” before Jay added, “I used to be / Cool like the Fonz was / But them bright lights turned me into a freak.” (Later in 2010, Jay-Z would helpfully list all the monsters those bright lights had turned into him, and everyone would love it.) Life-Changing Pop Superstar: Wow, that really sucks! Occasionally. Perhaps. Not really. But it’s terribly fun to whine, and if you’re good enough at whining about fame, it’ll make you even more famous.

Drake’s first official album wasn’t even finished yet, but he had already mastered that kind of self-pity, though he later proved less adept at avoiding stupid rap feuds. But on first contact, I still remember sitting a little straighter Drake, this is how they’ll come to you, which then seemed to me like a sort of formal crowning achievement, less a passing of the torch than the lighting of a new one. A rap god blessing the birth of another rap god. Jay-Z puts some holy water on Drake’s forehead. (You have to admit, Jay loves being a godfather.) Was the pompous pessimist in “Light Up” a little corny? Absolutely. But the bombast, for a fleeting but thrilling moment, overpowered the corniness, not to mention the self-pity.

Friday, deep in his second album Go home, you miss the kids and approaching at least the same area code as the life-changing pop superstar’s precipice, Jackman-born artist Thomas Harlow asked Drake for some good advice in the most explicit terms possible.

Before I met Drizzy, I knew he and I would get along
But it’s hard to make jokes when you really want advice
I mean, how does it feel to touch gold every time you touch a mic
Touching the heights, no one touches life

This amidst the slightly less pompous melancholy of “Churchill Downs”, and first of all, Before I met Drizzy, I knew he and I would get along That might be the most arrogant thing this guy has ever said, even though he meant it, even though he was right. (Drake and Jack did indeed have a primo Dudes Rock experience together at the Kentucky Derby last weekend; if this video is gone by the time you get there, please look for it elsewhere, if only for delivery by Drake from “What’re You Gonna Cut To?”) Jack Harlow, the affable pride of Louisville, Kentucky, has spent the past six months or so hitting the I Am The New Person You Have To Know About Now level of Rapper-turned-popstar ubiquity: He featured on Lil Nas X’s No. 1 hit “Industry Baby,” hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 himself in April with the sweet debut Come to the house single “First Class”, made the cover of rolling stoneand will most likely have the #1 album in America by this time next week. Go home, you miss the kids is better than its detractors suggest, but not as good as its fans will insist, if you know what I mean. “Churchill Downs” is a strong but compelling moment, even if our hero doesn’t get exactly the advice he asked for.

Jack Harlow sounds best on upbeat horns, suave pianos, and luxury suburban beats that sound like they’re playing softly in the background, even at full volume; his light drawl is more Midwestern Kentucky than Southern Kentucky, but it helps sell even his grumpiest under-Big Sean sexual swagger. (“Like a blade of grass wants sunlight, I just want that ass,” one song begins; “Gonna cream you on donut shit,” another song ends effectively, in this which concerns me.)

He exploded with the flippant/sweet/luxuriously suburban single “Whats Poppin,” which ultimately anchored his debut album of 2020. That’s what they all say and culminates, as far as I’m concerned, with the first line “I got options / I could pass that female dog like Stockton.” (I’d rather my white rappers limit their NBA references to white players, like Harlow did with his other 2020 hit “Tyler Herro”; I hope his rap career lasts at least long enough for him to dedicate songs to Rik Smits, Matthew Dellavedova, and Gheorghe Muresan.) But Harlow ended that rap career for a decade, as he observes early Come to the house track titled (oh, Jesus) “Young Harleezy”:

But I’m 10 years old
It took me eight to start eating
Six to start drinking
Nine to give it up

Big line. Lots of useful information. I’m serious. The man who can now credibly rap, “But they call me Young Pitino ’cause I’m good in both cities” isn’t an overnight success. Harlow’s slow evolution from a goofy-looking rap nerd – his string of mixtapes from the late 10s are worth exploring for the emotional arc of his haircut alone, and yes this includes the one called Belvedere– to A-list goofball heartthrob is as compelling as it is vexing, and as white rappers go, he has more raw skill than, say, G-Eazy and causes less raw irritation than, say, Logic. Come to the house isn’t a pop blockbuster: Fergie’s “first class” sampling and TikTok bait is easily her catchiest moment, and Harlow lacks the catchy melody of, well, Drake. (Although Lil Wayne’s charmingly obnoxious “Poison” team comes closest.) There’s something slightly gritty yet hugely seductive about this person, even when he rhymes. Margot Robbie with Abu Dhabi on a song called “Side Piece”; even when he raps, “I need that peanut butter / Yeah, that shit Jif”; even when he announces, “I’m going to screw your earrings” and then tweets it too.

Attractive. Grid. Harlow is ambitious (“I wanna be the face of my shit, like the face of my generation, for the next 10 years,” he said rolling stone) but charmingly understated, though that also makes him extremely focused on his own dizzying rise to stardom to the exclusion of anything else that agitates hip-hop or society in general. If this guy has something more compelling to say than, Wow, I wasn’t famous, but now I’m famous: weird, huh? so I strongly suspect that I don’t want to hear him say it. The closest it comes to social commentary here is when it rhymes Aeropostale with coke in the nostrils, which is quite close; his cap as a full fledged love type is quite low, based on annihilating japes like

“You know I like to dictate things, Kim Jong / I know I drink hard / You know we pull that bourbon out of the barrel, Diddy Kong.” The only thing that can maintain, let alone increase, Jack Harlow’s current fame level is his ability to rap about his current + old + hypothetical-future fame level. I’m a little worried he’ll never rap about anything else, let alone try.

Which brings us back to “Churchill Downs,” which begins with Young Harleezy marveling at the sight:

Sometimes when I sit down and really let it register
I did everything I said I would do, and I said it first
I mean the world is in denial, but they all know where I’m headed

And then he says he always knew Drake would really like him, then he asks Drake for advice, then Drake shows up and raps perfectly for several minutes but barely mentions or acknowledges Jack Harlow. “Therapy sessions, I’m in the waiting room, reading ForbesDrake raps. And: “How much water can I put under the bridge before it overflows?” And: “I have my realtor here playing Monopoly.” And: “I’m getting so rich, my music isn’t even relatable.” And, finally, almost reluctantly: “And little like, ‘You know that boy Jack goes places.’ / I know.” That’s it for this advice. Or perhaps, as skillfully as Drake’s verse is rapped, the endless rambling solipsism with which he now skillfully raps everything. is The Council, a cautionary tale for Jack about a superstar rapper so obsessed with avoiding traitors and Barzini meetings that he won’t really meet anyone anymore.

The fact that Jack (sober) and Drake (not sober) nevertheless had a splendid time at the Kentucky Derby this weekend suggests Harlow has the charisma to break the get-famous-rap-on-fame cycle, eventually. The fact that there’s also video of two bodyguards carrying him around so his shoes don’t get dirty suggests he’s not immune to the clueless white rapper’s trappings. The fact that Go home, you miss the kids is about to be a big deal means that Jack Harlow is, de facto, about to be a big deal. The fact that it’s a half-decent mainstream rap album at best means it’s either another sign of the apocalypse or a young star with room for improvement, depending on your mood. The fact that the nicest thing he can think of to say to a woman is, “You’re the kind of girl I want to bring to Thanksgiving” is really, really nice. The fact that I’ll probably only remember the donut line in two weeks is my problem, OK, of course. But this guy is about to be everyone’s.


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