Even the most curious and open-minded music listeners may have trouble identifying a percentage of new acts who crop up, seemingly out of nowhere, on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. TikTok is probably to blame for that. Careers are made overnight, record deals are signed nearly as fast, and so, these days, it can feel impossible to keep up. (There’s that, and the fact that ya ass is old.) In honor of that harrowing feeling, today’s installment of For Ya Old Ass is all about Jack Harlow.
Glad you asked. Jack Harlow (real name Jackman Thomas Harlow) is a 22-year-old rapper from Louisville, Kentucky who looks exactly like someone’s nephew. He got into hip-hop through his mom, who introduced him to A Tribe Called Quest and Eminem in childhood, according to DJ Booth. He released his first EP in 2015, when he was an infant, followed by a steady stream of self-released mixtapes, and in 2018, signed with DJ Drama and Don Cannon’s Generation Now record label, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. There, he released two celebrated mixtapes: 2018's Loose, which scored him a nomination at the 2019 BET Hip Hop Awards, and 2019's Confetti, which features a Bryson Tiller collab—as well as an inspired sample of Usher’s “U Don’t Have to Call”—called “THRU THE NIGHT.” I’m not immune to its pleasures, or the cute roller rink music video.
It’s okay to be confused! Jack Harlow’s true claim to fame is “WHATS POPPIN,” his biggest hit to date. It dropped in January 2020, was played all over TikTok but really blew up in the summer when DaBaby, Tory Lanez, and Lil Wayne hopped on the remix, causing the mostly-unknown MC to hit No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. You could also argue that the success of Harlow’s first full-length album, Thats What They All Say (no apostrophe), which debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 in December 2020, is reliant on the IRL ubiquity of “WHATS POPPIN,” and you’d be correct.
Look, I know. Jack Harlow is a child rapper from Louisville—a town not really known as a hip-hop hub—currently located in Atlanta, who has studied the book of Drake: each track on Thats What They All Say is moody, melodic, and melodramatic. The album is stacked with A-list features, too, a surefire path to success: Lil Baby on “Face of My City,” Big Sean on “Way Out,” Adam Levine, “Same Guy,” Static Major and Bryson Tiller on “Luv Is Dro.” Also, Chris Brown is on “Already Best Friends,” but fuck that guy.
So, clearly, Jack Harlow is big, and only getting bigger: in August, he was included in XXL’s esteemed Freshman Class, alongside actual talents like Mulatto, Lil Keed, and Top 40 radio staple 24kGoldn.
I am invested in one-hit wonders and nascent talent in equal parts, despite the quality of the artistry. Also, there’s an energizing sensation, call it a temporary feeling of superiority, in being an old person who knows young person things. But more realistically, I am simply the aforementioned curious and open-minded music listener, and some of these songs bang. Sue me.
Like any installment of “For Ya Old Ass,” none of this knowledge is particularly revelatory, but isn’t it nice to know a little bit about a contemporary pop culture phenomenon? Or maybe there’s someone in your life who is interested in this music, and you would like to connect with them on a deeper level? Perhaps this is a fun tidbit to break out during the Friday night Zoom hang? After all, a pandemic wages on—having a young white boy baby rapper to either hate on or exalt (or both, two things can be true at once) is better than nothing, am I right?