It’s been difficult not to view Jack Harlow’s rise with a degree of cynicism. The explosive success the Kentucky born rapper has enjoyed has triggered an online backlash, sparking a riposte with Harlow’s own ‘Industry Baby’. If debut album ‘That’s What They All Say’ revelled in the hype, it certainly didn’t dispel notions that his path had been a little too easy. Fun and frothy, it didn’t connect in a way that some of his more underground peers did, aiming instead for immediacy.
Since then, however, Jack Harlow has started to build outwards. ‘Come Home The Kids Miss You’ contains more meat, more muscle than his debut, with Jack’s penmanship focussing on fame, relationships, and the struggle to survive amid the glare of the spotlight. It’s a step beyond his first LP – sonically, it expands his palette, adding some interesting production aspects in the process. The songwriting, though, doesn’t quite go far enough – the simple TikTok-friendly chorus style becomes repetitive after a while, while the haze of glitz and glamour becomes choking after a while.
Opener ‘Talk Of The Town’ kicks off the album in impressive style. The voice of someone at the centre of the whirlwind, it deals with the intoxicating power of fame, and its dark flipside. Indeed, the album as a whole opens with a flurry of great ideas – the jazz inflections on ‘Young Harleezy’ or the plucked harp that opens ‘I’d Do Anything To Make You Smile’. - Yet the mid-section becomes bogged down in formula. ‘Dua Lipa’ never seems to land, while ‘Side Piece’ is stodgy and repetitive. Indeed, having many, many women is a recurring theme on the record – ‘Lil Secret’ finds Jack Harlow bragging that “I told my therapist about you / She always takes your side…”
But perhaps that’s being overly analytical. Jack Harlow isn’t making underground music, he’s making major league bangers, and this album certainly places him in that hallowed pantheon. Pharrell Williams guests on the slick ‘Movie Star’ while Drake – ubiquitous right now, even by his own standards – stars on ‘Churchill Downs’.
One of the most insightful guest turns is Justin Timberlake on ‘Parent Trap’, an artist who was similarly written off as exiting in a pop sphere before pivoting to something with a little more grit. Can Jack Harlow pull off a similar barrier-leaping triumph as Justin’s early 00s run? ‘Come Home The Kids Miss You’ illustrates that he’s not quite there yet, but he’s certainly Justified.
Words: Robin Murray
- - -
- - -