Jack Harlow knows how to have a good time. The blithe energy of his music communicates as much. From 2015’s Handsome Harlow EP to 2019’s Confetti, a focus on youthful candor has risen Harlow’s star and turned him into a self-proclaimed and critically understood hometown hero.
Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, and now based in Atlanta, Georgia, Harlow takes every moment available to him, on and off wax, to rep the ‘Ville. Indebted to his roots, standing up for his city speaks volumes about Harlow as a man: He’s loyal. His music strikes as blissful and playfully soulful while running the gamut of vibey descriptors. Beneath it all, the young man has character.
We hear his character in the pockets of 2018’s Loose, and more directly on Confetti and 2017’s Gazebo. Across tracks like “Eastern Parkway,” “RIVER ROAD,” and “VACATE,” we realize Jack Harlow believes in himself and something greater than himself. He has heart, and though it hasn’t fully worked its way into the music, what is present is a striking display of growing up and breaking out all at once. Homesickness meets hangover sickness. Heartbreak meets the natural ache of being a cad. As Harlow grows into himself and his writing improves, so too does his ego dissolve.
“I was having a conversation with my engineer last night, working on making me shed ego in the studio and losing myself in the music a little more,” Harlow tells me over the phone. “Just being a vessel, instead of trying to control what’s being made.”
Being a vessel for his work allows Confetti to be Harlow’s most concise and focused project to date. It’s loaded with bangers, sure, but it’s also laden with glimpses of who Jack Harlow wants to become.
The tape runs the gamut of danceable tunes and poetics, with wonderful sprigs of melody to give the project added replay value. We get the sense Harlow really wants this. He’s chasing something down all over Confetti, be it through the thump of “GHOST” or the syrupy quality of “WARSAW.” We can hear Harlow trying, and we can hear it working out.
He tells me Bryson Tiller called him recently and told him he believes every bar Harlow spits. Cosigns are one thing, but to have someone’s faith in your words? That’s another level of regard.
The abrupt death of Harlow’s ego brings with it the end of his perfectionism. From our past interviews and Harlow’s press runs, it’s evident that the rapper has a pedantic approach to music he’s desperately trying to escape. “Loose is where I shed a lot of that self-seriousness, and I almost went too far,” he admits. “Confetti had that step-up of ‘I’m back focused.’”
“[Perfectionism]’s like having a chokehold on the art. I was talking to my engineer about it last night, about being so wrapped up in [the music], you think when it comes out fire, you’re the reason. The problem is, when you make something hot, because your ego’s involved, you think you’re the reason it’s hot. You gas yourself up. When it’s not hot? You gon’ fall on your face emotionally. I don’t control what’s hot.”—Jack Harlow
Accepting he is just the vessel of his work is how Jack Harlow ultimately achieves balance. He admits to having a vault full of songs that miss the mark with a little regret in his voice. These are songs that either felt “fraudulent” or were off in terms of tone. Harlow doesn’t seem to mind his mistakes. Instead, they appear to excite him. More than ever, Harlow sounds focused on the process. Likely, this is a byproduct of his journey to an ego-free creative zone.
In that breath, Harlow’s focus directly results from his taking criticism and learning how one grows. Growth does not merely take place over time; it requires effort. Harlow doesn’t see himself as having grown enough, but we can hear it in the music. He still views himself as impatient, perhaps too focused on chasing hits and fire. Even so, Confetti is a culmination of Harlow’s competence as a rapper and writer. The effort is there. Though he’s hyper-critical of himself, beneath that self-awareness, Harlow knows he’s the man.
“When your writing improves, it’s because you’re smarter, but it’s also about an understanding of tone and what’s tasteful,” Harlow tells me. “I think it was your review; you were talking about how there was an ‘aimless braggadocio’ to the older stuff. You can say I’ve made a ‘RIVER ROAD,’ but there’s also a ‘ROTTEN,’ there’s a ‘GHOST.’ I feel like the tone changes. It ain’t aimless.”
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“I just wanted certain things from the music,” Harlow continues about Confetti. “Decent shit wasn’t good enough. We made 150 songs, and I chose the best 12. There were probably 75 good songs. When I made Gazebo, I probably made 20 songs, and the tape has 10. Half the songs made it because it’s like ‘This is good enough.’ This time, I need every song to give me a special feeling.”
That special feeling resulted in some of Harlow’s favorite songs of his career, which sit on opposite sides of the spectrum, showcasing his breadth as a budding star.
“ROTTEN” and “RIVER ROAD” stand as two of Harlow’s best songs to date. The fiendish quality of “ROTTEN” and the heartfelt touch of “RIVER ROAD” remind us Harlow has a sly depth to him. Both songs exemplify the newfound confidence he has leveled into. “ROTTEN” boasts the classic strain of swagger, and “RIVER ROAD” embodies honesty as an extension of confidence often overlooked.
“The first verse of ‘RIVER ROAD’ was one take,” Harlow reveals. “You can hear my voice crack on the verse because I was nervous to rap it in front of people. I was scared to be vulnerable. My voice cracked, but then it came out hard because I meant that shit.”
On top of that, Confetti quietly addresses Jack Harlow’s obsession with mortality. In little spurts on “THRU THE NIGHT,” “ICE,” “RAIN,” “RIVER ROAD,” and elsewhere, he reveals to us a preoccupation with death and legacy.
During our original interview in January 2018, too, he ended it with the notion we’re all going to die, so we might as well try something. This mindset ties back to the ethos of Confetti. Within his fascination with the end, Harlow reveals himself to be the maestro of his present. Without ego to fuel him, it seems his internal clock is the thing keeping him going.
“[Morality]’s something I will be thinking about, especially with these pursuits I have and things I wanna achieve,” Harlow begins. “I spend a lot of time wondering ‘What’s even the point?’ But we need something to care about. As an artist, you experience this hubris of ‘Oh, I’m so special.’ You have these moments of ‘God took extra time on me. Maybe I’m the chosen one.’ That’s something I’m growing out of.”
I ask Harlow if he doesn’t want to be special, to which he replies, he wants to abscond hubris. Everyone is unique is his mind, special in their own way. However, when you start moving as if you’re better than the next person, that’s when feeling “special” devolves into something sinister.
“There’s been kings and queens on this earth,” he continues. “There’s been people that lived these incredible lives and insane experiences. They die and turn to dust, and it means nothing. All these things I’m doing: This glory I’m chasing, these hits I want, these stadiums I wanna perform in… Sometimes I think about how I’m gonna be dust, and it’s not gonna mean shit.”
At 21, Jack Harlow is—hopefully—a long way from turning to dust. In the meantime, he knows his work means something to his fans. We return to “RIVER ROAD,” home to the most real bars he ever wrote. Harlow tells me he had doubts about every single song on Confetti, to the point where he had to be convinced “GHOST” was worthy of the mixtape. But not “RIVER ROAD.” Recorded halfway through the mixtape process and written over two days, he knew the song would resonate with fans.
“That’s the record that ages,” Harlow assures me. “I learned a lot from not putting one on Loose and seeing the power of people still talking about ‘Eastern Parkway.’ My dad still tells me ‘Eastern Parkway’ is his favorite song. It’s so many people's favorite song like I knew it was gonna be. I couldn’t say that about any other song.”
The point of shedding ego is connection. Jack Harlow is an artist. His purpose is to make music. But beyond that, his passion lies in connecting with people. Music is the medium; Harlow is the vessel. Divorcing his ego and reaching out to people through his work; that’s what this is all for. Connection is how Harlow will make sure he doesn’t change too much once his star rises.
“There’s gonna be the natural changes,” Harlow concludes. “I’ve changed in the last two years. But I don’t see drastic changes happening for myself. I come from too grounded of a situation, and I’m too obsessed with other people to change. It’ll never be interesting for me to get to a place where I can’t connect with other people.”