What’s Poppin’ with Jack Harlow? It’s Time to Get to Know the Kentucky Rapper

Jack Harlow in the music video for his latest song, “WHATS POPPIN,” Dir. Cole Bennett of Lyrical Lemonade.

If you listen to rap and haven’t heard the name Jack Harlow yet, get ready. With the success of the rapper’s most recent single, “WHATS POPPIN,” we’re bound to be hearing more from him than just his name. 2020 is the perfect time to get acquainted with the Louisville, Kentucky native—he’s not yet done riding the high of his most recent album, Confetti, the project that’s best showcased his range, flow, confidence, and charm. In March he embarks on The Roaring 20’s Tour with Guapdad 400, touring throughout the United States through May. After streaming Harlow’s new single—and watching the accompanying, energetic music video directed by Lyrical Lemonade’s Cole Bennet—the best way to get to know the “Hometown Hero” is to jump right in: whether you start with his recent work or his older tracks, you’re guaranteed a good time.

Harlow at Louisville, KY’s Forecastle Festival in 2017. Image courtesy of Urban Wyatt.

Harlow rapped throughout adolescence, selling CDs of he and his friends’ tracks at their middle school before posting his work on YouTube and Soundcloud in his early high school years. In 2015 he released The Handsome Harlow EP, followed by an album in 2016 entitled 18. It became the album of the summer for countless Louisvillian teenagers, especially my sister and I, who hailed from the same neighborhood as Harlow. That summer the air was humid and the music was hot. The bubbly track “Ice Cream” was blasted in my house, in my car, and with my friends constantly. Harlow’s music felt, to me, like a simultaneous celebration of living in and experiencing Louisville while optimistically looking and working forward to getting out. Harlow’s work, his older and newer stuff alike, perfectly captures the angst, energy, and ambition of living in a world somewhere between suburbia and the city. Though the sentiment I gather from his music—specifically the songs “Eastern Parkway” and “RIVER ROAD”—is one tied both physically and emotionally to my experiences in my hometown, overall his work is appealing and fresh. There’s something there for everyone.

Jack Harlow. Image courtesy of Urban Wyatt.

Harlow’s music ranges from bouncy bops perfect for pre-games to slower, poignant reflections on struggles and successes—in his work you’re bound to find something to fit every mood. Harlow has a pretty impressive catalogue—every year since The Handsome Harlow EP and 18 Harlow has consistently released new music, singles and full projects alike. Around 2016 he co-created an independent record label and music collective called Private Garden. He constantly surrounds himself with other creatives—notably his longtime friends—including photographer Urban Wyatt whose work on film is featured in nearly every Jack Harlow project. He’s also influenced and mentored by well-known Louisvillian rapper Bryson Tiller, who joined Harlow for some bars on the 2019 single “THRU THE NIGHT.” The appreciation for culture, music, and art within Harlow’s collective is clear. It’s both strong in his music and energizing in his performances.

Most recently, Harlow and his friends can be seen in the music video for his latest single, “WHATS POPPIN,” hanging around at a diner—and for lack of a better phrase—basically just vibing. The energy in the video is as hot as Harlow’s lyrics. Most to all of the comments littered under the video on YouTube are positive—one person writes “Won’t lie, I came to judge, I left impressed,” another, “How tf did I never hear this guy? Fire,” while an older fan notes (in all-caps for emphasis) “My boy Jack Harlow on the map now.” The new single is currently featured on Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist and is steadily climbing the streaming platform’s charts, recently cracking the United States Top 50 at number 49. From here Harlow only intends to go up. It’s safe to say one can expect some fresh Harlow on the horizon in 2020 with his expressed plans for another full-length album and some more, new collaborations. Harlow won’t be stopping any time soon, making now the best time to get to know the Handsome, New-Balance-clad Harlow before everyone else does.


This article was written for and originally appeared in the Feb. 7th, 2020 Vol. 50, No. 15 issue of The Catalyst: The Independent Student Newspaper of Colorado College.

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