Seemingly overnight, throwing an inordinate amount of hate in the direction of Jack Harlow became the cool thing to do. While Harlow’s singles and features have certainly reached a level much higher than his full projects up to this point in his career, doing what he usually does and releasing an average rap album where he coasts on charisma proved too much for many listeners after his new level of fame allowed him to set expectations high through interviews. Truthfully, Jack Harlow still hasn’t released a great album – but this one is easily his best so far. While his obvious idolization of Drake’s formulae does put a cap on just how high things can go and some truly distasteful bars are scattered throughout, Harlow has never sounded quite so confident. He’s also received new access to some legendary guests and improved production. Still, would it have killed him to put in a little more effort?
After “Talk of the Town,” a brief intro that essentially serves as a preview of most of the project when Harlow sounds a little annoyed that he had to wake up and record a song over an engaging and jazzy piano hook that another rapper would have taken and ran with, “Young Harleezy” kicks things off about as strong as Harlow can. Harlow is mirroring Drake’s flows and “too-cool-to-care” approach, sure, but at least he’s still young, hungry and funny instead of toxic, insecure and out of touch. Every bar is an Instagram caption or a quotable punchline, so even if he’s not the greatest rapper alive, it’s still highly entertaining. When you combine a nerdy guy with a mountain of charisma with a well-executed funk groove and old-school hip-hop energy, sometimes it’s enough. “I’d Do Anything to Make You Smile” keeps it up – at least in its first half. In a department that Harlow lacks himself, his beats are often genuinely innovative. The little cricket chirp in the mix and the sparkling Disney-style intro combine with bars that are simply fun to rap along to. Of course, there’s also a heap of bars that I’d prefer never to hear again, which start coming in the track’s second half. Harlow already sounded a little dazed in the first half, so when he actually lowers the energy level, rhymes “you” with “you” and starts mumbling about Ed Sheeran, it makes you wonder what you were enjoying so much a minute ago. This leads into “First Class,” a number one single so blatantly built for TikTok that Harlow evidently figured he barely even had to rhyme or have rhythm on the rest and it’d still take off. If you have to make one of your most nauseating lines quieter in the mix as if you’re ashamed to say it, why do it at all?
While it’s somewhat unfortunate that the track’s namesake seems a little uncomfortable by its existence, “Dua Lipa” is the most engaging banger on the tracklist. The instrumental carries things quite a bit once again with a variety of experimental quirks – the harpsichord hits in the chorus do a lot to elevate Harlow’s laid-back persona to larger-than-life status, while the second verse continues to introduce new motifs throughout as Harlow shoots his shot at a fellow superstar. The track does feel too short, but Harlow’s confidence and personality-filled vocal inflections will keep this one on repeat all year. “Lil Secret” is another one where Harlow’s flirtatious demeanor comes through strong, and hearing him talk about just about everything but her physical attributes is genuinely refreshing as he rhymes over a chipmunk-soul beat. “Side Piece” is essentially about the same thing, but the track is somehow much worse. Something about the sleepy acoustics in the back put a glaring spotlight on Harlow’s oddly monotoned delivery, while a couple moments resemble lyrical miracle rappers with nothing to say rhyming things for no reason. Harlow also says what might be the most stomach-churning thing I’ve ever heard a rapper say, which I won’t repeat, but it has to do with delicious pastries.
When asked about his album’s guest list before it was public knowledge, Harlow said that it was “only legends.” He certainly followed through on that claim, but their contributions are pretty mixed. “Movie Star” finds Harlow rhyming over an industrial Pharrell beat, but heating Skateboard P’s weak falsetto and Harlow’s typical flows on a beat built for someone with a deep and menacing voice is a little strange. The beat switch into a digital and futuristic territory is a lot better, but I still don’t want to hear Harlow talk about toes overtop. The track contains some of Harlow’s laziest lines across the board. “Parent Trap,” on the other hand, pulls off nostalgia better than “First Class” ever could with Timbaland production and the return of Justin Timberlake’s classic harmonies on the hook, while Harlow pulls off some surprisingly impressive extended rhyme schemes. Harlow’s crooned singing on “Poison” is another nice surprise before Lil Wayne speeds up the tempo and takes his bizarre shtick a little too far, and “Churchill Downs” sees Harlow finally link up with his idol over the kind of downtempo chopped-up vocal sample he loves to ramble for far too long over. Harlow drops some bars about his admiration for Drake while the 6 God ignores it and simply whines about nothing, sends some immature and petty shots at some much better artists, and does his tired “rich and lonely” routine, continuing to be one of the most unlikeable musicians out there.
The back half of the project contains a couple more tracks where Harlow gets to show off his charismatic nature, but it’s ultimately bogged down by just how little Harlow seems to care about the music over his skyrocketing level of fame. Harlow’s foray into a reggae-tinged atmosphere on “I Got A Shot” works much better than you’d expect it to, and he proves once again that a more melodic approach might actually work better for him in order to override the potential snoozefest of his straight bars. Still, “Like A Blade Of Grass” and single “Nail Tech” feel very low-impact, the latter essentially sounding like “Industry Baby” lite with its background horn section. The project closes with “State Fair,” which does have a couple more fun flows as Harlow provides an update on his lifestyle, but the fact that the very last thing we hear is Harlow awkwardly adding a final word to complete a thought that didn’t fit the rhyme scheme is a little too on-the-nose and hilarious to sum it all up.
This album is going to prove to be a pivotal point in Jack Harlow’s career, and the direction that he goes next is going to determine whether he maintains his superstar status or fades away as a flash in the pan. While there’s genuinely a solid level of talent there to work with, it remains to be seen if Harlow will be the trendsetter or the one following them.
Favourite Tracks: Dua Lipa, I Got A Shot, Young Harleezy, Parent Trap
Least Favourite Track: Movie Star