Jack Harlow – Jackman.

His best project to date...

For all his success, Jack Harlow moves like an artist with everything to prove. In spite of his colossal success – and a citation in 2020’s XXL Freshman Class – the Louisville rapper is often tagged as too pop, too safe. 2022 sophomore set ‘Come Home The Kids Miss You’ pushed back against this, a soulful, often revealing project that hinged on his innate rap abilities. Comparisons – often lazy – were made with Mac Miller, but in truth Jack Harlow is walking in his own lane.

New album ‘Jackman.’ continues this journey of individuality. 25 minutes, 10 tracks, and with no features, it’s often bracingly autobiographical, a true act of soul-sharing. The production often hinges on 90s hip-hop aspects, but its overhauled from a fresh perspective. Opener ‘Common Ground’ is fantastic – a ruthless meditation on authenticity that finds Jack Harlow spitting his truth for 100 seconds flat before tapping out.

Opting for precision and unity, ‘Jackman.’ cuts away all the fat, removing anything unnecessary. As a result, it can be an intense experience – ‘They Don’t Love It’ bursts out of the traps, the high-pitched vocal distortions aligned to free-flowing rhymes from the Kentucky artist. ‘Ambitious’ has a soulful, Dilla-esque feel, while ‘Is That Ight?’ demands independence on his own terms.

Yet he’s not afraid to disrupt this. ‘Gang Gang Gang’ is disturbing and dark, a tale of how the best people in your life can grow up to become the worst people possible. Illustrating a landscape of child abusers, rapists, and villains, it contrasts steady society – the sons of Reverends, the quiet kids in school – with a litany of awful crimes. “Truthfully,” he says, “it’s family until it can be… Years of camaraderie suddenly disappear / Almost like you was never here.”

Switching it up once more, the palatial acoustic on ‘Denver’ adds a different aspect to the record, and highlights the aesthetic confidence Jack Harlow is displaying – he sits back, lets the song evolve on its own terms, before punching in with a flow of effortless dexterity. ‘No Enhancers’ is a journey of introspection, while the one-two of ‘It Can’t Be’ and ‘Blame On Me’ returns Harlow to his soulful roots.

Closing with the meditative ‘Questions’ – “Why am I so flawed?” – it’s daring, almost shocking to see someone in the public eye open up like that. A barrage of questions, it finds Jack Harlow chastening against demands and expectations, attempting to find a space he can call his own. A project that stands on its own, a work of engaging individuality, ‘Jackman.’ is his best, most in-depth album yet. Literate, experimental, and emphatically rebellious, it’s the sound of Jack Harlow operating on his own glorious terms.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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