Jack Harlow – Jackman | Album Review

Last year it seemed like Jack Harlow simultaneously hit his peak and his rock bottom. His sophomore album Come Home the Kids Miss You was by any observable metric a massive success. It had multiple hit songs, including the chart topper “First Class,” sold decently well, and went on to earn Harlow a few Grammy nominations. On the other hand, the album was borderline unlistenable. All the potential that people had for Harlow was thrown away by uninspired bars, tedious production and wasted features. As far as major label releases go, it was easily one of the worst I heard in 2022.

Now, less than a year later, Jack Harlow is back and ready to prove all the haters wrong. With nearly no promo he dropped Jackman, a 10-track, 24-minute album that is clearly meant as a response to anyone who said he couldn’t rap anymore. And if you don’t think too hard about this, he accomplishes what he sets out to do. The production is simple and smooth, using soulful samples instead of phoned in features, and Harlow’s rapping is technically proficient. He sounds relaxed and invested in the bars he’s delivering. You almost hear that charisma everyone has been talking about for years.

The real discussion comes when you take even a passive look at the lyrics. Harlow’s writing is certainly not bad but it also rarely fails to be great. The main issue comes with nearly all of these songs clocking in at under 3 minutes and Harlow not using that limited time to do anything interesting. The first song “Common Ground” is a perfect example of this. On it, Harlow raps about white kids appropriating hip-hop culture, using the N-word, etc. On its face there is a completely fine message, especially coming one of the biggest white rappers out right now. But in just 80 seconds all Harlow does is bring these issues up and move on. He does not reflect deeper on the problem, speak deeper to the community, or even reflect on his own culpability. 

The same issue comes with the track “Gang Gang Gang” which is clearly meant to be the show-stopping thematic center of the album. Harlow tells stories of guys who grew up with and the unspeakable crimes they have gone on to commit. It paints this vivid image of people from your childhood growing into monsters, leaving scarred victims along the way. Harlow makes a bizarre choice to frame this from the perspective of these criminals’ friends who have to make the decision to disassociate with the scum in their life. It is not the wrong message, but it is an obvious one and probably the least compelling way to tell this story.  

At Jackman’s best, Harlow is either using his effortless flows to his advantage or telling more isolated personal stories. The latter is best seen on “Denver,” probably the best track here. The Douglas Penn sample is incorporated incredibly well and adds emotional weight to Harlow’s bars about dealing with fame. It is a played out trope, but one that works well in this context. And while Jack has become famous for his relaxed delivery, he does add more emotion to the second verse, really helping to sell his anguish further.

And in smaller doses, Harlow’s braggadocios delivery can work for him. The track “Ambitious” works better than it has any right to. It is a simple song describing Jack’s rise to stardom. It gives the usually bland artist a splash of color, something this project definitely needed. And while a bit goofy, “It Can’t Be” is a decently fun song where Harlow fires back at criticisms that he’s only popular because he’s white. Like before, he does little interesting with this idea, but it is so energetic that it does not matter nearly as much. 

Fans of Jack Harlow are already going to be loving this. It is everything you want from him in a small dose and I’m sure it will have you reflecting back on his older mixtapes. For anyone else, this does not have the kind of appeal to expand his audience much. Sure, it is a step in the right direction but it feels like he is avoiding making a bad album by making a safe album. There is still potential for Jack, he has proven he can put together some compelling tracks but to really improve there needs to be some more risks. Maybe the confidence boost he gets from this project will help fuel him towards something greater. For now, he is still in the shadows of his contemporaries and offering little new to that table.

Rating: C

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