Tentatively strays outside the parameters of contemporary hip-hop
Philip Logan
11:50 10th May 2022

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As a sea of emerging new talent continues to dominate the pop landscape, few can say they’ve made the same impact as Jack Harlow, the laidback, charismatic American rapper whose flirtatious personality and quirky sense of style has won the hearts of millions of fans around the world. 

Having recently enjoyed an explosive run of global chart success, thanks in part to his groundbreaking duet with Lil Nas X on 'INDUSTRY BABY', Harlow has managed to stay above the fray to become the most in-demand talent of the last two years. Now armed with an insatiable hunger to become the greatest artist of his generation, Jack casts his musical net further afield with the unveiling of his second studio album, Come Home The Kids Miss You. 

Spanning 15 original tracks, the record finds the rapper in a state of deep reflection, cutting ties with the past to create a new, more potent style and vibe that looks set to go down a storm with fans both old and new. Noticeably bolder in attitude, and appearing more self-assured on the mic than ever before, Harlow steps out of his comfort zone to incorporate more diverse production styles and sonic flavours — with varying degrees of success — across a consort of songs that chronicle the 24-year-olds ascent to the top echelons of pops premier league. 

Album opener ‘Talk Of The Town’ is indicative of this new sound; its nuanced looped piano sequence and sparse, robotic beat providing a moody and atmospheric backdrop for the tracks autobiographical lyrics, that find Jack caught up in the whirlwind of his new reality, dealing with the intoxicating allure of fame whilst still trying to hold onto the version of the person he used to be before his world got turned upside down.

Understandably the concept of stardom, and all of its trappings, appears as a recurring theme throughout, with Harlow pondering the pitfalls of being on the receiving end of such intense scrutiny, and the toll that level of judgement can take on a persons soul. Having rightly or wrongly faced a degree of cynicism from various sectors of society since the beginning of his career, for an artist of Harlow’s ilk, finding success in a space that is notoriously hard for others to break into, a backlash of sorts has seemed increasingly likely, with some naysayers challenging his authenticity and credentials as a musician in his chosen genre, and some critics calling him out for failing to create rhymes similar to that of his peers, who in the early stages of their careers, spoke openly and passionately about the personal struggles they faced in their quest to become the artists they are today. 

Indeed there is truth to the fact that a large majority of the lyrical focus on 2020’s Thats What They All Say centred around more playful, frivolous subject matters. However, there can be no denying that Harlow broadens his horizons on its follow up, addressing the pressures and pitfalls of fame, relationships and the struggle to survive in a world that can often be cruel and unkind, most notably on the record's most introspective tracks ‘Young Harleezy’ (featuring Snoop Dogg), ’State Fair’ and the Techno-infused ‘I’d Do Anything To Make You Smile’.

As a charismatic young performer, who’s witty soundbites and snappy melodic hooks have captured the imagination of Gen-Z in a way that feels indicative of the times in which we’re living, despite the more serious tone of his sophomore album, glimmers of Jack’s wry sense of humour remain ever-present. Perhaps in a bid to keep the mood light, cleverly-executed pop culture references are interwoven sporadically throughout, providing a rush of excitement for listeners as the 24-year-old nonchalantly name checks fellow pop contemporaries Destiny’s Child, Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande and Dua Lipa in the most unique and unexpected ways. The latter having an entire song dedicated to her, in the form of the slightly cheeky ‘Dua Lipa’, a thirsty, yet bold synth-ladened, trap-inspired bop that highlights both Harlow’s crush on, and desire to work with, the ‘Levitating’ singer.

Mischievous lyrics and jovial song concepts aside, few can dismiss the serious list of musical heavyweights drafted in to help further elevate the production of Harlow’s original compositions. Whether it be the experimental, trip-hop style of ‘Movie Star’ featuring Pharrell Williams, Drake’s cutting, razor sharp verse on ‘Churchill Downs’ or the melodic rise and fall of Justin Timberlake’s falsetto vocals interwoven between a brooding, electro-beat on ‘Parent Trap’, each artist makes a substantial contribution to the project, that not only provides an added layer of credibility to Harlow’s unique sound, but also serves as another reminder that the ‘First Class’ rapper is indeed worthy of the hype currently bestowed upon him.

Whilst the overall concept of the record feels to have more direction and artistic integrity than Jack’s previous offering, a handful of tracks do run the risk of appearing somewhat throwaway, and forgettable, their message and intention, at times, lost in the haze of Harlow’s laid-back, nonchalant delivery. That’s not to say the Kentucky rappers vocal choices and style of phrasing don’t captivate the listener, with his free-flowing clipped diction and and innate ability to frame a lyric, often creating an unusual, but unique, sub-rhythm of sorts, that pops in tandem with beats created by a plethora of producers including Rogét Chahayed, Bobby Kritical, JetsonMade, and Tobias Wincorn.

By seeking to expand both his sonic palette and penmanship, Jack Harlow manages to avoid the often feared sophomore slump on Come Home The Kids Miss You, creating a controlled and focused collection of songs that provide insight into the mind of one of todays most intriguing, and promising news talents.

Though somewhat repetitious, and slightly formulaic in places, on balance Harlow doesn’t rest on his laurels; rising above the noise of his critics and digging deeper, to produce a more cohesive sound, that tentatively strays outside the parameters of contemporary hip-hop to offer up an exciting glimpse of what he’s perhaps about to do next… 

Come Home The Kids Miss You is out now. 

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