A 22-year old white rapper from the Highlands area of Louisville, Kentucky is the hottest thing in the rap game right now.
And yes, I realize that’s a hell of a sentence, but it’s true. Jack Harlow, the Atherton High School graduate out of Louisville, released his debut album titled That’s What They All Say this past Friday. From star-studded features that range across several genres of music—including the likes of Lil Baby, Adam Levine, and fellow Louisville native and rapper Bryson Tiller–to a No. 2 hit on the Billboard 100 in “What’s Poppin'” and a cameo with one of the NBA’s most popular rookies in “Tyler Herro”, Harlow’s latest release has been life-changing, but not in the way most people have experienced the year 2020.
Even if he was part of the reason Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams was lambasted on social media for leaving the NBA’s Orlando-based bubble (remember this?), Harlow has put himself on the map as a rap sensation whose newfound fame is reaching well beyond the Bluegrass State.
But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten his roots. Harlow’s debut album, which comes after the release of six mixtapes and two EPs, is a 42-minute ride of storytelling, incredible production, and plenty of references to the state of Kentucky.
Whether it’s Rajon Rondo, hot browns, or the locally famous Baxter Avenue, Harlow leaves no piece of limestone unturned.
His career evolved because of his decision to leave Louisville for Atlanta, where his music and maturity both grew at the same rate, resulting in what will likely be one of the year’s top-performing albums no matter the genre. However, the Kentucky influences are impossible to miss, even if you find yourself lost in his rhythm lyricism.
In an interview with Ross Scarano of GQ that dropped the day of his album, Harlow dives into the messaging behind his album. Tucked alongside the amusing mentions of basketball and Cracker Barrel, he expands upon his previous pieces of work by diving deep into issues of race, love, and mentally dealing with criticism and praise.
— Jack Harlow (@jackharlow) December 11, 2020
Harlow is a white rapper in a field of work that is made up mostly of Black men, something he wouldn’t call a challenge, but an aspect of his journey that has allowed him to understand and learn more about racial relations. Here’s an excerpt from the GQ article:
“I’m signed to the gatekeepers,” Harlow raps on the intro to Thats What They All Say. Often when gatekeepers are invoked in rap, it’s to decry the (white) executives, radio programmers, and members of the Recording Academy who prevent authentic music from truly succeeding, or, conversely, amplify the wrong things. But for Harlow, gatekeepers means Black men with impressive industry bona fides who vouch for him. [DJ] Drama hosted the Gangsta Grillz mixtape series, where Lil Wayne did some of his most sublime work; [Don] Cannon produced a number of the highlights across those mixtapes; [Leighton] Lake [Morrison] managed both Drama and Cannon, along with the aughts R&B star Bobby Valentino for a period.
In the article, Harlow confesses to his try-hard attitude as an early rapper, attributing his recent success to his move to Atlanta where he would meet the likes of Drama, Cannon, and Lake (mentioned above). Even at 22, he’s been able to diversify himself as an artist and acknowledge the changes that need to be made in order to meet the success he seeks.
I’ve been a fan of Harlow’s music ever since I first saw the “SUNDOWN” music video the day after it was released back in August 2018, and you can feel the shift in tone and attitude with his music as he’s dropped new project after new project. His growth is admirable and inspiring to witness first-hand, no matter how old you are. He doesn’t sound like a Louisville rapper or an Atlanta rapper, rather someone who has taken his own path. And yet still, his Kentucky influence always shines through.
Harlow has said time and time again that he hopes this album can go down as a “classic”; for this Kentucky boy with an affinity for hip-hop, it already is.
Make sure to give the entire article a read (while listening to Harlow’s new album) and see what Louisville city landmarks you can point out in the fantastic photos taken by Stacy Kranitz.