22-year-old rapper Jack Harlow seemingly burst into our lives overnight with the unavoidable and hella-catchy WHATS POPPIN, a song that became a raging hit on TikTok for its tinkling piano line and sassy chorus.
The man behind WHATS POPPIN and the Sweet Action EP has been working hard behind the scenes since he was 12, hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, and finding his voice with his collective of fellow creatives, Private Garden. But regrettably, the city has been front and centre this month not for their creation of Jack, but for the high profile police brutality case involving black woman Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead in her home by police officers, who have still not been charged for the murder. Protests have been daily, with millions calling for justice.
It's been a humbling time for Jack, who says he's feeling "hopeless" by everything going on as part of the Black Lives Matter protests. As he told Louisville Magazine this February, he's used to being the only white guy in the room when he's working with his "Homies" in Private Garden, consisting of Lucci, 2fo, Shloob and Ace Pro. On his song Hitchcock, he raps, “I’m just a guest inside the house of a culture that ain’t mine and I’m just blessed to be around", so it's an interesting time to be Jack right now - a white kid from Kentucky, growing up in and benefiting off the world of hip hop.
We caught up with the rapper at home in Atlanta, Georgia to talk about how he's feeling about the state of the world right now, how he started in hip hop, as well as working with Tory Lanez, DaBaby and Lil Wayne on a brand new remix of WHATS POPPIN.
Sorry for jumping into something so heavy straight off the bat, but it’s so impossible to ignore what’s happening in the US right now with the Black Lives Matter marches, on top of coronavirus. It really feels like change is coming finally. How are you feeling about everything?
Well, there's a big part of me is disheartened, but also I feel like there's part of me that's at peace because I feel like this is what's necessary for a necessary shift to happen. So yeah, I'm kind of half and half – there are moments where I feel a little hopeless. But then there's other moments where I'm like, this is the path the universe has chosen and it needs to happen so there's change.
Have you been to any protests in Atlanta?
No, I haven't been in Atlanta, but I'm going home to Louisville, Kentucky tomorrow for one this weekend.
From what I read, you were one of the only white kids in your group of black mates that made music right? Do you feel like you’ve had to call out and educate some of the white people around you who haven’t been vocal about racism, and who have been, as you were saying on your Instagram, absorbing black culture but not standing up for black people themselves?
Well, luckily, all my immediate white mates are respectable, respectful, on the same page as me, so I don't have to do too much correction, but I definitely have some extended family I don't agree with. And I have acquaintances that I don't agree with, but the people I surround myself with believe what I believe and they have the same respect as me. I kind of distanced myself from anyone that hasn't long before this happened.
Heavy stuff aside, we are here to talk about your music, congrats on WHATS POPPIN! It’s still going off here in Australia. Did you think that song would pop off when you wrote it?
Yeah, it’s crazy. I thought it was gonna be special for sure. I didn't know it was gonna be going off in Australia, but I knew it was a great record.
Have you ever been to Australia?
No, I haven’t. End of this year we're planning on it. We'll see what God allows but I definitely want to go over there. I've heard a lot of good things.
A lot of artists now are writing for TikTok, something with a hook or a really interesting sound that is something TikTokers will resonate with. Is that something you thought about when writing WHATS POPPIN?
Definitely not. That's the one thing about it, but I'm happy to appreciate it. But there's so many other things that I'm balancing when I'm writing, you know, things I want out of the music that I just haven’t thrown TikTok success in the mix. You know what I mean? There's so many other things that I want out of music, but I mean, ideally, TikTok keeps embracing because it’s obviously powerful.
What are the other things you focus on when you're writing, just something creating something different or writing a dope line or something else?
I read a songwriting quote once that said, “the best songs start with truth.” Because if it's not true, you have to spend the rest of the song kind of covering up your tracks. So if you start with something simple and true at the beginning, it really can inspire the rest of the song. So the main thing I think is important for me, music is truth. And then secondly, I just love ear candy. I want it to be true. But I want it to sound good. I want my voice to sound good. I want there to be a beautiful melody. I want it to be musical. So those are the two big things for me, but then when I try to throw TikTok in there, it's like damn.
I was reading a big feature on you in the Louisville Magazine, I can’t believe you knew you wanted to be a rapper at 12. Is that when you wrote your first song or was that even earlier?
Yeah, I was writing when I was 12. I was writing little raps here and there, and I was listening to music. I was studying it – I just love rap, I thought ‘this is what I wanna do, I wanna be a rapper.’
Did you focus much in school or were you busy writing rap instead?
No, I cheated through school. I forged my entire education. But I was focused on this, I knew what I wanted to do.
I loved reading that you were obsessed with rhyming words together and it was constant freestyle practice. How much of your music now is written as a freestyle first?
I’d say like, 30-35%? I do some freestyling here and there. I like to write though, I like to sit back. I like to sit back and get surgical.
Do you still write in the basement back home in Kentucky?
Nah, that was in Kentucky, now I’m writing in lavish palaces! Just joking, I've been writing in my room in Atlanta ever since quarantine began.
You just dropped a remix of WHATS POPPIN with DaBaby, Tory Lanez and Lil Wayne, did you guys all get in a room together for that one?
Totally remote. Pretty sure every verse was recorded in a different city if I had to guess, I received them one by one. So no unfortunately, we weren't in the same room, but I look forward to the day we will be.
Lil Wayne is the real veteran in that mix. What did you learn from his verse?
Well, there's one line in there where he asks the girl to not use her teeth when she's sucking him off. It’s like, ‘she said, does it hurt when I deep dove? He says, ‘I just better not feel your teeth, ho.’
Hopefully see you as soon as we can down in Australia!
Yeah, hopefully the end of the year. Pulling up and hitting the Gold Coast, I'm hitting Sydney, I'm hitting Melbourne.