“Who’s Jack Harlow?” NBA referee Scott Fester asks as he glances over courtside in a Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks game on May 1. The song playing loudly over the stadium is “First Class,” the lead single from his latest album, Come Home the Kids Miss You, out today via Generation Now/Atlantic Records.

The Fergie-sampling track debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and continues to dominate the charts since Harlow first teased it on Instagram in March. Despite the song’s massive success and eventual ubiquity, Jack Harlow himself maintains an aspirational outlook while bringing his roots to everything he does (as he reflects on “State Fair” from his new album).

“It’s always been a mission for me,” he tells HipHopDX Asia over a Zoom video call. “I’ve always been inspired by my hometown. Rest in peace, Static Major, and [shoutout to] Bryson [Tiller] who came out when I was in high school. So with Louis[ville] I gotta take it there, that’s still an ongoing thing for me: If I could put my city on a pedestal or shine a light on it, it’s wonderful.”

Louisville pride

Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Jack Thomas Harlow first dabbled in music in middle school. “I was burning CDs… passing them out and once I got signed, we put out a few official mixtapes on [digital streaming platforms] and everything,” he recalls.

Harlow also got candid about how his rise to fame affected how the public, including his fans, receives his music over the years, something he acknowledges is not uncommon for many artists. “I think that was a chance for me to build my core audience,” he refers to his mixtape days. “I mean, I have people that are, or my fans [rather], that would probably never change their minds about some of my mixtapes being better than my newer work, or maybe they would think that, or maybe they would identify as being [early]. He adds, “It was me establishing myself and it was also cool because you can hear me finding myself through those mixtapes.”

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Through his collective Private Garden (which he co-founded), Harlow continued to release music independently until the late 2010s when he was eventually discovered and signed by legendary DJ and record producer DJ Drama to his Generation Now label.

“Strictly legends”

In his new album, the follow-up to 2020’s Thats What They All Say, Jack Harlow is determined to claim his stake in the hip hop throne and become the “face of [his] generation.”

On Come Home the Kids Miss You, the Louisville rapper enlists many of his heroes—“strictly legends,” he says—including Drake, Pharrell Williams, Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, and Justin Timberlake.

At one point during the interview, we asked if the music video for “Nail Tech” (cheekily) referenced the airport X-ray machine scene from Kanye West’s “All Falls Down,” Harlow exclaimed: “100 percent!”

While Harlow’s early career is largely inspired by the cloud rap- and 808s-era Kanye West, some of his biggest hits to date, including “Nail Tech,” was more informed by the braggadocio and bravado and trap. On Come Home the Kids Miss You, however, the 24-year-old rapper prioritizes lyrical heft and substance as much as a meticulous production blueprint.

“Thinking worldwide”

Prior to the release of his smash single, “WHATS POPPIN” in 2020, Jack Harlow appeared in Korean-American rapper Audrey Nuna’s “Comic Sans.” Both had a modest audience base at the time. Of the collaboration, Harlow remarked, “I was in the space where I think I was open-minded at the time. I recorded the verse pretty quickly after I got it. I just felt the energy of the song, I didn’t overthink it.”

The two-time Grammy nominee also doesn’t think a lot about competition with his peers, in the States or beyond. “[Hip hop] is such a big genre at this point, it’s larger than life,” Harlow states. “Look at this community, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. I’m actually into geography and I care about hitting every market and I’m aware of what’s going on around me. We’re shooting for the moon. Even when I was on a local level, we were always thinking worldwide.”

See the full tracklist of Come Home the Kids Miss You:

  1. Talk Of The Town
  2. Young Harleezy
  3. I’d Do Anything To Make You Smile
  4. First Class
  5. Dua Lipa
  6. Side Piece
  7. Movie Star (feat. Pharrell)
  8. Lil Secret
  9. I Got A Shot
  10. Churchill Downs (feat. Drake)
  11. Like A Blade Of Grass
  12. Parent Trap (feat. Justin Timberlake)
  13. Poison (feat. Lil Wayne)
  14. Nail Tech
  15. State Fair

Stream the album via Spotify:

MC Galang contributed to this feature