Jack Harlow is a charming, tall, and increasingly chiseled 24-year-old man who sports a mop of curly hair, impossibly tamed and complemented by a youthful beard, sharp blue eyes, a coy smile, and a honking diamond earring in each lobe . Like any good heartthrob, he loves antics—he’s eager to flirt with women he’s just met and say, I love youor simply act like a goober in public. His second album, Come Home the Kids Miss You, reveals that the showmanship is merely a distraction from some insipid, vacant music. Harlow’s charisma does not translate onto the record, and, instead, we’re left with a one-trick pony without a discernible trick, a competent rapper who does not flow intricately or write impressively, a pop star who struggles to carry a song on his own.
Harlow’s origin story is repeated often: At age 12, he decided he wanted to be a rapper and got to work, practicing, recording, and selling CDs at school. By 19, he made “Dark Knight,” the song that launched a major-label bidding war for his talents and, ultimately, landed him a deal with the once-promising Atlantic imprint Generation Now. Just about two years later, he made his first good song and true hit, “Whats Poppin”; then, after releasing his debut studio album, the Harlow hype machine went into hyperdrive with “Industry Baby,” the Lil Nas X single where Harlow dutifully performed the role of the straight man in the proudly gay music video. Next to Lil Nas X, Harlow delivered one of the best verses of his career, too, his down-the-middle approach an appropriate complement to his co-star’s more fluid delivery.
Stripped of an appropriate foil, however, Harlow’s swagger is muted. Despite an air of pomp, lead single “Nail Tech” is limp, largely due to its chintzy beat and Harlow’s reluctant vocals. He is too casual on the song, as if he’s afraid to veer away from his tried and true flow for something more expressive. In the music video, for example, he stands tall in a tank top holding three dogs, like he’s DMX, and he raps, “You ain’t one of my dogs, why do you hound us?” He winks, sneers, and mockingly snaps his hand as he mouths, “hound,” but any implied aggression or magnetism is lost on the recorded track.
Harlow’s ability to rap well somehow acts as a hindrance to his ability to make good songs. He does not have a definable trait or tick that could be parodied, preferring to keep things tidy and also make terrible allusions. (The worst might be “Can’t lie, I’m on Angus Cloud nine” because “You know I like to dictate things, Kim Jong” is so obviously stupid that it must be a joke.) His straightforward approach is similar to those of fellow Southerners Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby, the sort of bars-first-but-also-make-it-pop throwback rappers who maybe would not have stood out in the commercial landscape of the 2000s, but are anomalies in the day and age of vibes. Unlike them, however, Harlow does not make bright songs on Come Home the Kids Miss You. The album, for the most part, consists of a monochromatic palette of generic “smooth” beats, one just bleeding into the next. Musically, it’s unfulfilling, lacking standout melodies or exciting rhythms. The sound of Come Home the Kids Miss Youin turn, is about as sophisticated and interesting as a Daniel Arsham sculpture, neat at a glance but vapid upon any extended interrogation.