Jack Harlow’s new album is painfully indistinct

The Louisville rapper’s second album, Come Home the Kids Miss You, is a hollow Drake imitation.

SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 09: Jack Harlow sings onstage during the 2022 Nickelodeon Kid's Cho...
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Almost a month ago — several weeks before Jack Harlow’s second album, Come Home the Kids Miss You, was scheduled to come out — one of its songs leaked online. “Have a Turn,” as it was originally known, is a somber midtempo notable not for its headliner, but for the two-and-a-half-minute Drake verse that closes it out. This is the kind of thing Drake does every 18 months or so, emptying his notes app of petty grievances and thoughts about his realtor, delivered in the sort of quippy complete sentences meant to remind that the biggest pop star in the world can rap, too. Harlow said he was disappointed that the song, which was officially called “Churchill Downs,” got out before the album; keen-eyed observers will note that it did so mere days before Pusha T, presumably one of the “middlemen” Drake scoffs at in his verse, was set to drop It’s Almost Dry.

At his worst, Drake is a numbingly boring rapper, his verses clots of Instagram aphorism and defensive posturing. But when he’s engaged, he raps in amusingly specific terms, stoking the rudest caricatures of his star persona with a wink. When, on “Churchill Downs,” he goes on about reading Forbes in the waiting room of his therapist’s office, where he’s “being treated” for “abandonment issues,” you’re supposed to roll your eyes — then give in to the solipsism, which has made its author a fortune that even he concedes is “sickening.”

Come Home reveals Harlow as a Drake obsessive. The 24-year-old rapper, who grew up in Louisville, fills the album with verses about how fame is materially great, but also kind of lonely? He likes that his tours give him access to countless, faceless women, but not that it drags him away from their hometowns. Desperate as Harlow is to mimic Drake on a topical and syntactical level, his music is scrubbed of all the detail that makes the Canadian’s verses memorable, the musical instincts that help them stick, the messiness that makes them feel less market-tested than they surely are. On Come Home, the women have no defining traits, the luxury car interiors no texture, the private jets no altitude. It is a shockingly anonymous record, devoid of any ingenuity, idiosyncrasy, or feeling.

It would be difficult to overstate just how rote and passionless Harlow’s writing is across this LP. There are few true, room-clearing groaners (though the excruciatingly deliberate “Pineapple juice/I give her sweet… sweet… sweet semen” comes close), but he is constantly operating on a level just short of this, trying to turn money trees into a forest, wondering if he should pick up hobbies because he spends so much time in hotel lobbies, lamenting that his side girl’s ex-man was “no poor guy — in fact, he was one of them sports guys.” Harlow delivers these lines in a voice that is more consistent and comfortable than the ones he slipped into on his debut, 2020’s Thats What They All Say, where he frequently seemed as if he was chasing whichever vocal styles popped up on Billboard the days of his studio sessions. Here, he prefers to give a blank vocal canvas and leave the chart-watching to the people behind the boards.

There are a number of mid-song beat changes on Come Home, which unfortunately has the effect of further obscuring the shifts between songs, which are already hard to detect. Only one of 15 tracks, which are uniformly soft as a baby’s hair, has fewer than five credited producers, and the sound is appropriately, devastatingly nonspecific. At its most exhausting — the Justin Timberlake-featuring “Parent Trap,” the treacly, overdetermined “personal” closer “State Fair” — the album sounds more like the soundtrack to a Disney movie about a young rap star than it does the genuine article.

Then there is the matter of Harlow’s whiteness. He does not wield it provocatively, like Eminem, or self-pityingly, like Macklemore; he hasn’t courted, or found, a uniquely white audience. He seldom seems to be acting in bad faith with respect to his place in a Black genre. (He does occasionally put his foot in his mouth: In a recent Rolling Stone cover story, Harlow says he has to “search for a feeling that’s real” as opposed to Black street rappers, who have the advantage of rapping about guns, which he believes is inherently interesting.) But Harlow styles himself as a populist, an unebbing spigot of Spotify Rap Caviar filler. None of this comes from whiteness, or youth, or Louisville, at least not really — it comes from the algorithm.

One of Come Home’s interchangeably insipid songs is called “Dua Lipa,” after the English singer, whose name is made to rhyme with “chewin’ me up.” Harlow recently went on the Breakfast Club to talk about how Lipa received the song and its inherent come-on. “She was like, ‘Oh, I mean, it’s not my song,’” he recalls her saying. “‘I suppose it’s OK,’” she apparently went on. This is funny, and a little embarrassing, and led to the sort of light online teasing that burnishes Harlow’s reputation as a charming flirt. After all, there’s no accounting for how famous strangers will react in such situations. What’s more telling is how the women behave in his wildest fantasies. At the end of “First Class,” his Fergie-sampling No. 1 hit, he raps: “Every time I speak, she say, ‘Yeah — that sounds fine.’” Je suis flyout.

More than anything, Harlow betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes his biggest influence interesting. Drake’s music is always abutting the borders of good taste; it’s more interesting to hear his stylistic descendants push that into the genuinely, misanthropically lewd (think Nav rapping “I don't like taking chances/I like fucking hoes I already know”) than to hear Harlow’s tidy reprisals of an already tired celebrity origin story. It would seem, today, that he’s likely to become a true superstar, the kind of artist who will be inescapable for the next decade. But things that are designed for ubiquity usually collapse when expanded to scale.