How a nice Kentucky boy became rap’s brightest rising star
In just 12 months, Jack Harlow has grown from an industry baby to 2 billion streams, 3 Grammy nominations and $ 5 million in earnings in 2021.
For an idea of what fans think of Jack Harlow, Think of Annie Rodgers’ preparations for the rapper’s concert on November 5 in Eugene, Oregon. At around 2 a.m. that day, she walked into a 24-hour Walmart and walked over to the intimate section to toss underwear through the store. After buying the pair that took the farthest, Rodgers, 21, returned home to sport “Mrs. Harlow “on the panties and stick a note inside, inviting her to join her the next day for a milkshake. At 10 a.m., she was camping outside the McDonald Theater, ticket and panties in hand, willing to wait 12 hours just to increase her chances of being in the foreground when Harlow stepped on stage. (She was able to hand the panties over to her idol, who jokingly sniffed it but didn’t show up for the shake.) Why such an effort? “It’s just his general demeanor; he’s got this cool guy demeanor,” says Rodgers. “He’s the guy most guys in their twenties want to be, and most girls in their twenties want to be with. “
Despite this being his first headlining tour, Harlow has grown accustomed to fans like Rodgers throwing panties, bras and proposals at him at every stop. He likes the boy next door, if that boy had 44 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Critics have called him lovable, charming, vulnerable, even emotionally genuine and very talented. Harlow doesn’t care about the panties or the attention. In fact, he’s lounging there, believing it will be the last time he’s played something as intimate as a 2,500-person venue on tour.
That’s because the 23-year-old Louisville, Kentucky native expects to grow up. Really big. It is not pride but rather hunger. He knows he’s not the first rising star to predict greatness, only to fade away. But Harlow has been working for it, practicing hours every day, for over a decade. It pays off with sharp lyrics that mix benign SportsCenter references, fettuccine, and airplane seats with the usual tropes of getting girls and getting rich. “I’m afraid of not reaching my potential. It motivates me all the time, seeing where I might be, but knowing it’s not necessarily written in the stars for me, ”says Harlow. “I’m afraid I’m not getting the most out of this life.”
So far, so good. Over the past two years, he’s gone from empty bars to sold-out venues like The Fillmore in Philadelphia and Portland’s Crystal Ballroom on his Creme de la Creme tour. At the same time, his single “Whats Poppin” and his remix garnered over a billion streams on Spotify. Add nearly a billion more for “Industry Baby,” Harlow’s collaboration with Lil Nas X. It all helped make him the face of the 2022 Forbes Under 30 music listing.
Harlow knows all too well the skepticism that a bourgeois white record artist can greet in the rap world. But he’s already won three Grammy nominations, not to mention respect for icons from Drake to Jay-Z. DJ Drama, who debuted Lil Wayne and Lil Uzi Vert, argues that Harlow is the real deal, with an almost algebraic mastery of the rap game. “He looks at the bigger ones – the Drakes, the Kendricks and the Coles – and he sees them on Mount Rushmore,” Drama explains. “What drew me to him was this hunger to be one of the GOATs.”
But he’s going to do it Jack Harlow’s way. This isn’t some rap artist trying to convince you to buy $ 500 sneakers or a limited edition t-shirt. Instead, he made over a million dollars selling $ 40 screen-printed sweatshirts with a cardinal and $ 30 t-shirts with his curly mop of auburn hair. The most bling-out thing he wears is a necklace with a Kentucky map on it.
And although he already has enough money and weight to retire home as Col. Sanders of rap – bragging about “becoming a millionaire at age 22” in his song “Date” – Harlow is obsessed with success in divine fashion. “Last year it was, ‘Who’s that new white boy on stage that can break his ass? He’s dope, ” Harlow says from his drug-free dressing room at the Detroit Opera House. (Harlow quit drinking in 2021, telling Instagram fans he felt he didn’t need it.) “This year I’m showing the world who I am. I want to be the greatest rapper. I just want everyone to know that I love rap and that I’m about to take over.
Growing up in Louisville with two horses and a brother, Harlow thrived on English lessons, living to write stories. Harlow thinks he learned to be vulnerable – and to throw that emotion behind his accounts – from his father who often said to his son “I love you.” (It was his mother who played him Eminem in utero and encouraged his son to pursue rap with Malcolm Gladwell Outliers-Inspired chutzpah.) And then, through his passion for singing and Slim Shady, Harlow discovered the local rap scene. “The writing, the storytelling, the rhythm, I was so drawn to that,” he says. “It made you move, made you dance, made you feel confident; it made you feel like the man.
After high school, Harlow moved to Atlanta, Georgia to work on his craft. He says he’s “shaken hands” with any newcomer or record company underling. He shut off all open mikes and rapped for the vacant chairs, making a living buttering buns at Chick-Fil-A on the Georgia State campus during the day. At the end of 2017, during a movie date, her phone kept ringing as her song “Dark Knight” (about overcoming writer’s block and going viral) went viral.
It caught the attention of DJ Drama, who said, “Being a white man in black space, Jack wasn’t trying to be what he wasn’t. He seemed very comfortable from the doorway. Drama signed Harlow and produced his first studio record It is What they all say, which peaked at No. 5 on the US charts. Her single “Whats Poppin” has been used in nearly 400,000 TikTok videos. As Harlow notes, “It’s not just that I want to be the best; I want to kill everyone.
Harlow is currently recording his second studio album and predicts that is what will take him to the level of idols such as Jay-Z and Kanye West (whom he mostly wants to “kill”). While he won’t reveal much about the sounds on his next album, he says, “I love the last album, but it won’t even hold a candle to it.”
A little bragging, maybe, but Harlow worries about his job. “From the age of 12, every time I drop a new project, I feel terrified because I think it’s the best I can do,” he says. “I always thought, ‘I can’t get past this shit.’ And again, I got past this shit.
Although Harlow mainly focuses on his music, he is excited to partner with brands and execute collaborations that sound like the quintessential Kentucky. Last year, he teamed up with Tommy Hilfiger, as the star of the brand’s fall / winter 21 season, after learning the designer grew up on the same street as his grandfather. He also collaborated with his favorite shoe company New Balance and Instagram approved wings for his favorite Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant. Other sponsors include Call of Duty, Venmo, and Cheetos. Thanks to all of this, he earned more than $ 5 million in 2021, in Forbes’ estimate. “We’ve done a lot of passing this year because we want to make sure I line up with the mark and don’t get too scattered,” said Harlow. “It’s cool to make a deal with a brand I wore when I was a kid, and now they’re rocking me.”
Harlow knows this is not the usual path to rap stardom. But he is proud to be a hero of his hometown. This month, he’s giving five consecutive shows at five venues in Louisville, donating $ 1 per ticket sold to local charities. As Harlow says, “I can do a million hit songs, but that doesn’t compare to coming home and saying, ‘I want to raise you with me. “”
Additional reports by Lisette Voytko and Abigail Freeman.
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