Every few years, we get an artist that completely dominates the rap game for an obscenely long time compared to others within their same class. During this time, they achieve the “G.O.A.T” (Greatest Of All-Time) status. It happened with Jay-Z in the late 1990s, Eminem in the early 2000s, Lil’ Wayne in the mid-2000s, and Drake for the past nine years. Most people’s G.O.A.T period lasts for no more than a few years until their popularity and/or quality of music begins to drop. Drake is different, he’s has had the rap industry in a proverbial chokehold since his sophomore album “Take Care.” Many emerging artists have been inspired by these hip-hop giants’ historic runs. Drake, on the other hand, has not had nearly as many. That is where Jack Harlow comes into play.
Under the Influence
Jack Harlow is a 22-year-old Louisville rapper who just so happens to have had a much better 2020 than most of us. Coming off the monumental success of his hit single, ‘What’s Poppin,’ Harlow released his debut album “That’s What They All Say.” When first listening to the album, it is very apparent that Drake had a huge influence on him musically. Think of a Drake, but with less melanin. Harlow has even said he was his favorite rapper, so the comparisons make sense. “That’s What They All Say” is full of the pitfalls of success, the failings experienced in relationships, hazy beats, and above all, melodies that any rapper would wish they thought of first.
I may be a year older than Harlow, but I know what it feels like to be a Drake fan in the 2010s. As a hormone-filled teenager, every Drake song just hit me on a deeper level than anything I had felt before. Harlow would’ve been 13-years-old when “Take Care” was released. I can’t speak for Harlow, but as a 14-year-old at the time, that album was scripture for me.
Jack Harlow’s Self-Awareness
A difference between Harlow and Drake is that Harlow seems to be more self-aware at this stage of his career. In the superb track ‘Same Guy,’ he reckons with the mistakes he made in his past relationships. He and Adam Levine sing “I can’t keep lettin’ things slide, thought that I would change, but I’m the same guy, blamed it on my youth, but I know I’ve had time.” This level of emotional maturity is seldomly heard in Drake’s music.
On the two-part track ‘21C/Delta,’ he raps about the women he’s involved with signing NDAs, sensual massages, and rendezvousing on the plane. But when the song seamlessly transitions to ‘Delta,’ he says something that stands out for a 22-year-old rapper to be able to admit to themselves. “I say I’m in love when I fall for appearances — Last one I did; I caught a vibe with the bottle girl.” It is a funny line where Harlow notices his immature tendencies.
Hip-hop is a predominantly black genre. But generally, when a white rapper comes on the scene, they get a lot of opportunities and praise that their black constituents may not receive. We’ve seen it with Eminem, Macklemore, Post Malone, and pretty much any other white rapper you can think of. This isn’t an attack on the white rappers out there, it’s just a matter of fact.
Harlow gets ahead of it and speaks on his privilege now, rather than waiting for an album or two. In his song, ‘Baxter Avenue,’ he raps “Always wondered to myself if I could really be the leader, Of a group of brown-skinned boys when I’m not brown-skinned, Certain things they grew up on that they get but I don’t get.” This line didn’t solve inequality within the industry, but it was nice to see Harlow felt it was necessary to point out his privilege.
I hate to continue the comparisons, but it is fun to see how clear the influence is on this album. Songs like ‘21C/Delta’, ‘Funny Seeing You Here’, ‘Keep It Light’, and ‘Baxter Avenue’ all show that Harlow is not afraid to wear his influence on his sleeve. Lines like “My dad built houses, my mom painted pictures. They both gave it up once I came into the picture,” are eerily similar to some famous Drake lines. Even the start of their careers seems to be quite similar. As Harlow says ‘I’m signed to the gatekeepers.” He is signed to two of hip-hop’s most well-known producers, Don Cannon and DJ Drama. Similarly, Drake was signed to Birdman and Lil Wayne’s labels. Honestly, the only thing missing from this album is a voicemail from a scorned ex.
Even with all the Drake comparisons, by no means am I saying that Jack Harlow will have a Drake-like trajectory during his career. Few people will be able to match the level of popularity Drake has been able to obtain. Either Harlow is a kid from Kentucky that listened to Drake in the early 2010s as religiously as we all did. Or he is Drake’s son, Adonis from the year 2040 that traveled back in time to become a famous rapper (probably not). No matter who he is, Jack Harlow is simply the first rapper I’ve seen that is without a doubt, influenced by Drake, and can be heard through his music. Excluding the absolute hit that is ‘A Way Out’, the best tracks on the album all sound like something on featured past Drake album.
Yet, Harlow is his own artist and will continue to grow into his own. As a fellow Drake fan, it is cool to see an artist use the music we both grew up with to make great art from musical experiences we both share. Jack Harlow is one of the first artists I feel is truly apart of the next generation of hip-hop. Not just because of his age, but with his influences. If this is Jack Harlow’s “Thank Me Later”, I can’t wait to hear his follow up.