Jack Harlow has been building a name for himself in the Kentucky hip-hop scene since he was a teenager. However, he is quickly developing to be one of the most promising young talents in the entire industry. The 22-year old has been steadily gaining traction since his debut EP release in 2015, “The Handsome Harlow,” and his breakout mixtape in 2016, “18.”
More recently, he has gone viral with his huge hit single, “What’s Poppin’,” which peaked at the number two spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. He is currently signed to DJ Drama and Don Cannon’s Generation Now record label, as well as Atlantic Records.
Jack Harlow has been able to grab the attention of audiences worldwide, portraying a fairly normal, suburban life that the average fan could relate to. As opposed to a huge percentage of the rap game that is focused on drugs, sex, and guns, Jack Harlow’s music has proven to be much more accessible for fans. His music hits on all facets of his life, including the exorbitant sides of being a celebrity, as well as the less attractive topics like depression and anxiety.
In an interview with DAZED in 2020, he spoke about his transparency as an artist, saying, “I think it’s liberating to show the totality of who I am. It feels good to do that. I think when you show that vulnerability and you show your weaknesses, it makes that strength and those superman qualities feel more believable.”
Jack Harlow was born Jackman Thomas Harlow on March 13th, 1998, in Louisville, Kentucky. His first introduction to hip-hop comes even before his birth when his mother would play Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP” with him in the womb. As a young child, he always had a passion for music. When he was in kindergarten, he suffered from a lazy left eye and had to wear a patch over his right eye to make the left one stronger.
According to Jack Harlow, his classmates would tease him and call him a nerd because of his eye-patch. By third grade, though, he’d decided to learn the words to “White & Nerdy” by Weird Al Yankovic so he could rap them to his classmates and make them laugh.
As a young kid, he was able to embrace his insecurities and respond positively to adversity. “It affects me to this day. Not in a dramatic, been-through-a-lot way, but in how I use humor to interact with people. I grasped the power of speech and words super early, and that’s what got me into music. Writing rap is just expressing myself through language.”
When he turned 10 years old, Jack Harlow asked his mother for permission to listen to the explicit albums in her collection from artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, and N.W.A.. One day, when he was twelve, his parents pulled into the driveway, and Harlow decided to pose a question to them. “Mom, how do I become the best rapper in the world?” His mother had recently read the book “Outliers,” which reinforced the theory that the secret to greatness is through practicing your craft for 10,000 hours.
Using that theory, Jack Harlow’s mother calculated how much he would have to practice to achieve greatness by his 18th birthday. After some quick math, she determined that every day for the next six years, her son would need to practice rapping for four to five hours. Jack simply replied, “Okay.” From that day forward, Jack Harlow strived to reach his dream of becoming a rapper.
That year in sixth grade, Harlow built his first recording setup with a microphone from the Guitar Hero video game and a laptop from his parents. With his makeshift studio, he recorded his first songs ever on a CD called “Rippin’ and Rappin’.” His friend Copelan Garvey also contributed to the CD. When they were finished, they burned 40 copies and sold them at their middle school for two dollars each.
Early in his career, Jack Harlow struggled thinking of things to write about in his music. His mother says, “he was struggling a little bit with the fact that he wasn’t a Black kid from a rough neighborhood. I said, ‘The one thing I know about writing is they say to write what you know.” Taking his mother’s advice, he began to write about the regular experiences in his life as a twelve year old, even if they weren’t particularly fascinating.
In interviews and in his music, he gives considerable credit to his mother for inspiring him as a child to pursue his rap dreams. He even recalls his mother buying him a CD for Kanye West’s Late Registration. In seventh grade, after obtaining a better quality microphone and creating the rap name for himself, “Mr. Harlow,” he made his first solo mixtape called “Extra Credit” and gave away 100 free copies to kids at his school. “Kids were wanting them as soon as I got in the damn door,” he says. “They were like, ‘It’s kind of ass and his voice is high-pitched because his balls haven’t dropped, but dude actually made a mixtape.’”
The last song titled, “The Febreze Song,” is a clear indication that Jack Harlow had taken his mother’s advice to heart. He loved the smell of Febreze in his room after soccer practice. So, he made a song about it. In the song, Jack Harlow raps, “I use F-e-b just to keep my air fresh. If you think it smells bad, I could really care less.” He even filmed a music video for it, featuring him and his friends, the Moose Gang, spraying cans of Febreze behind a CVS by his house. Police even came by because they thought they were using spray paint.
Throughout middle school, Jack Harlow says he had an obsessive tendency to rhyming words. One day he told his father, “Every time I hear anybody say anything, I try to rhyme it.” Apparently, the issue had gone on constantly for ten days straight, and it was actually taking a burden on the young rapper. “That sounds so corny — ‘Ugh, he’s a rapper and can’t stop rhyming’ — but that’s really what it was,” Jack Harlow says. “I’d be at soccer practice, and I’d hear words, anything multi-syllable, and would just start rhyming.”
Coming Up In Kentucky
In middle school and high school, Jack Harlow started to get heavily involved in the city’s underground hip-hop scene, performing at local venues and slowly distinguishing himself as one of the city’s best rappers. As his videos became more popular on YouTube, his parents started receiving calls from potential managers and others who wanted to do business with him.
One of those people was an associate of Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun. This connection resulted in a meeting with Def Jam Recordings in New York and Atlantic Records in Los Angeles during Jack Harlow’s freshman year in high school. Jack Harlow and his family went directly to Scooter Braun’s home in Hollywood Hills. The meeting with Atlantic Records didn’t lead to any offers, but they did receive an offer from Def Jam. Their president at the time, Joie Manda, was a huge advocate of Jack Harlow. But while Jack Harlow and his parents were still negotiating the offer and thinking about taking it, Joie Manda left the label.
With his departure, the record deal fell apart. “At the time, I felt like it was the worst thing that happened,” Harlow says. “But looking back, I would have been a novelty locked into a five-album deal. I was still doing the funny-and-nerdy thing. At 14, I hadn’t developed as an artist or a person. It would have stunted my growth.” Discouraged but not defeated, Jack Harlow continued to work hard on his career for the rest of high school.
During his spring breaks, he would drive six hours from Louisville to Atlanta just to participate in open mics and expanding his network.
In his senior year of high school, he released his first EP, “The Handsome Harlow.” It was his first project that wasn’t comedy or gimmick-based. It was his first serious attempt at infiltrating the rap game. The response to the tape was relatively underwhelming in circles outside of Kentucky, but he would back up that release with his first official mixtape, “18.”
The biggest song on the tape by far was “Got Me Thinking,” which received over 100,000 views on the music video on Youtube. In the song, Jack Harlow speaks about a relationship he has with a girl, which falls through due to their inability to agree on things. After graduating in 2016, Harlow decided not to go to college.
In his first year out of high school, Jack Harlow would travel to Atlanta regularly for recording sessions and perform shows at South by Southwest, Bonnaroo, and Forecastle. He eventually moved to Atlanta full time a year later, influenced by the advice he received from fellow Kentucky native and collaborator, KY Engineering. In late 2017, Jack Harlow released another mixtape called “Gazebo,” which hosted the breakout single, “Dark Night.”
On this project, Jack Harlow stepped away from much of the fun, indulgent topics that were present in his last two projects and dove deep into his psyche with issues of sexuality, depression, and self-hate. Up until this point, the content in Jack Harlow’s music largely consisted of party talk, popping bottles of champagne, courting beautiful women, and overall, having fun.
However, he showed significant growth and depth in this new album. “Gazebo” served as a stepping stone for Jack Harlow, showing his versatility and growth as an artist. The successful release of “Gazebo” led to a record deal with DJ Drama and Don Cannon’s record label, Generation Now. The label is a subsidiary label of Atlantic Records.
Rising to Stardom
In 2018, Jack Harlow released his first full-length project as a signed artist, “Loose,” which included features from K Camp, CyHi the Prynce, and others. The tape has thirteen tracks, with the most successful song being track one, “SUNDOWN.” Jack Harlow dropped another mixtape under Generation Now a year later with “Confetti.”The project has twelve tracks, with the best performing song being “THRU THE NIGHT” with Bryson Tiller.
In 2020, Jack Harlow would make his biggest splash yet with the release of his EP, “Sweet Action,” featuring production from CuBeatz, Jetsonmade, Pooh Beatz. The EP contains seven tracks, with the biggest song in Jack Harlow’s entire career, “WHAT’S POPPIN’.” The song hit number one on the Billboard “Hot R&B Songs” chart and number two on the Billboard “Hot 100” chart.
He would later drop the remix to the song featuring Lil Wayne, Tory Lanez, and DaBaby. Both the original music video for “WHAT’S POPPIN’” and the video for the remix have amassed over 120 million views on Youtube. The song has gone four times platinum since its release and is Jack Harlow’s first platinum record in his career. It was even nominated for a Grammy that year for “Best Rap Performance.”
The Future For Jack Harlow
In August of 2020, Jack Harlow was inducted into the XXL Freshman Class, sharing the stage with Polo G and Lil Keed in the cypher. To end the year, he released two singles, “Tyler Herro” and “Way Out” with Big Sean, both of which were placed on his debut studio album, “That’s What They All Say.” The album boasts features from Lil Baby, Bryson Tiller, and Lil Wayne. It debuted at number five on the US charts.
The album, indicative of the rapper’s recent success, is high-energy, braggadocious, and in typical Jack Harlow fashion, fun. On the new project, Harlow primarily speaks about his newfound stardom and riches, as well as the response he’s had from his fans. Since his recent ascension, Jack Harlow has even made his first TV appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” At 22 years old, the Louisville star still has a ton of room for growth and will likely be a relevant name in the hip-hop industry for years to come.