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Jack Harlow “Come Home The Kids Miss You” Review • HHL

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Personas in hip-hop can be a double-edged sword. While it’s obviously beneficial to have a fleshed-out sense of self that the public can identify with, the upkeep can sometimes prove taxing. For some MCs, this persona may reinforce the notion that they aren’t to be trifled with. In the case of Louisville’s Jack Harlow, the essence of his public persona comes down to one thing– charm. 

Alongside exuding a breezy affability that has made him into a heartthrob for women around the world, his self-effacing sense of humor and apparent unwillingness to take any media appearance too seriously means that he’s got much of the male listener base of hip-hop on his side too. 

Coupled with his respect and love for the culture of hip-hop and the fact that he has literally been pursuing this dream since his adolescence, the end product is a major-label-backed artist who is unreservedly easy to root for. Thus, the weeks leading up to the release of his sophomore studio project felt like one extended parade for a man who would be king. 

Launched into the stratosphere by his feature on Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby” and a succession of viral moments, the feverish excitement around him had spread to such a degree that even Kanye was anointing him as “top 5 right now” and calling upon his services for DONDA 2. Then, in behind-the-scenes promotional clips that led up to the record’s release, Pharrell spoke of a collaboration between the two as “history.” 

With such a high degree of anticipation behind it, all the pieces were in place for Jack to not only deliver one of the marquee projects of the year, but an album that officially asserted him as the heir to the pop-rap domain. Instead, Come Home The Kids Miss You, while by no means bad, is a far cry from the record that he had to deliver.

Starting off with finesse, the central theme of the entire album is summarized within the piano-inflected intro of “Talk Of The Town,” with Jack proclaiming that he’s

A long way from Bardstown, I’m on the charts now

Used to have the same drive, you in park now

Whip got an upgrade, the tints dark now

The same ones that used to fade, I’m in their hearts now” 

Lamenting over the duality between new levels and new devils, Jack’s understated flow is paired with the first of many throwback samples to iconic tracks of the past in the form of Destiny’s Child with their legendary debut single of “No, No No.”

But where this opening gambit would’ve worked perfectly as the calm before the storm, the expected surge of energy is never really forthcoming. 

Kicking off with jarring percussion, “Young Harleezy” sees Jack sink into the gear that he remains in for the vast majority of the album as he continues to discuss hardship and euphoria with a similar degree of nonchalance. Even as he enquires as to “who out here is passionate as us? I’m the one they trust, we the ones that’s makin’ a big fuss,” or asks the industry and the object of his affections if he “can be enough,” it somehow sounds non-committal. 

Embellished with an unexpected yet not unwelcome spoken word section from Snoop Dogg, it’s one of several instances on the record where his “legends only” approach to features proves to have been more than a marketing ploy. 

Kicked off with his signature four-bar intro, Harlow’s foreshadowed interaction with Pharrell on “Movie Star” somehow feels undercooked and feels like Skateboard P’s attempt to assimilate his sound with the sparse, playlist-friendly beats that Jack and his executive producers of Rogét Chahayed and Angel Lopez had mapped out for the project. And while the beat switch– which is one of numerous on the record– adds a new, engaging dimension to the track, it may be too little too late for modern-day attention spans. 

When he’s not discussing the perils of fame, Jack’s other focus on the record is undoubtedly his romantic life and it’s a lane he’s clearly content in. So, when he pulls from Snoop & Pharrell’s back catalog with an interpolation of “Beautiful” on “Side Piece,” things feel much more organic. 

Undoubtedly capable of floating over the pair of sumptuous beats that the track is composed of, “Side Piece,” while inherently listenable, points to one of the key sticking points across the record in that his pen game often feels complacent, or at the very least, inconsistent, in a way that a vital studio album such as this simply shouldn’t.  

As a result, neatly constructed similes such as “I call my pops and he let his son talk like Mavi” are forced to coexist with instances where he seems to be rhyming unrelated punchlines that have no bearing on the track’s subject like, “somethin’ done made the youth hostile, maybe it’s the fuel from the fossils.”

Paired with the widely-derided “sweet, sweet semen” line from the record’s chart-topping single of “First Class,” Jack’s many moments of lyrical ambivalence on the record leads to frustration.

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Among the highlights of the record, the name-checking “Dua Lipa” attests to what Jack can do when he pairs his charisma with sufficiently urgent production and finely-finessed bars. Likewise, the enveloping, soulful croon of “Lil Secret” sees him acutely explore the complications that stardom brings to a romantic spark in a way that’ll ensure that his swoon-worthy status among the ladies remains intact.

In the same vein, the decision to not only dip into a melodic flow but play both sides of the flirtatious dialogue on “Like A Blade Of Grass” proves that there’s no reason why he can’t take creative gambles. 

Overseen by none other than the former N-Sync’s most reliable producer Timbaland, “Parent Trap” with Justin Timberlake is another moment when that vaguely nostalgic quality present throughout the record is harnessed in a compelling way.

But for every song in which Jack finds his rhythm and alludes to the possibility of him ever becoming hip-hop’s next king of the Billboards, such as on the Lil Wayne-assisted “Poison”— in which Harlow even gets a chance to display his vocal range while Tunechi extrapolates on a theme like only he can— there are others such as the reggae-dabbling “I Got A Shot” that simply feel aimless. 

With so much conjecture around whether he has the capacity to act as Drizzy’s heir apparent, it should come as no surprise that “Churchill Downs” is a portion of the record that feels like a real, tangible moment for hip-hop at large. Invoking the smoky ambiance of those classic Drake offerings which feel as though you’re given a window into his thoughts at a moment of profound reflection, Harlow even holds his own against the 6ix God.  

Closing the project off with “State Fair” in which Jack both surveys his kingdom and pines for times before he had “cameras in his face,” it serves as a rousing, instrumentally rich conclusion to a project that often feels as though it’s on autopilot and was perhaps intended to be fragmented into playlists, rather than listened to as a cohesive statement. 

When the record’s lead single and enduring banger “Nail Tech” emerged, and Jack proclaimed that “I’m not on top of this shit yet, but I’m that guy though,” it felt almost prophetic. But once Come Home, The Kids Miss You reaches its end, it’s hard not to be left underwhelmed. 

Although it’s enough to keep his most devoted fans enthralled and it is by no means travesty, Jack’s latest album ultimately suffers from the weight of expectation. Rather than touching the apparently unassailable heights of his idol and newfound mentor Drake, what should’ve been Harlow’s latest attempt at a breakout album is beset by the lingering feeling that it should have offered something more. 

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