Welcome to “New Music with Nick.” In this column, I will be reviewing some of the most notable new album releases across various genres, focusing on hip-hop, R&B and pop music. Join me in exploring the ever-shifting landscape of the streaming era.
Jack Harlow: “Jackman.” (April 28, 2023)
I had little to no expectations for Jack Harlow’s “Jackman.” Harlow’s terrible 2022 album “Come Home The Kids Miss You” left my expectations for the future of his career virtually nonexistent. The music was truly awful, and it stands as one of the worst mainstream rap albums I’ve heard in years.
In fact, there has never been a point in Jack Harlow’s career where he was one of the best or most talented rappers. He has shown solid skills, some slick flows and a smooth persona to match, but the music has never really stood out. Whether it’s poor beat selection, his inability to craft and structure full songs or the inability to execute beyond pretty simple rapping, Harlow has never been a “great artist.”
The rollout of “Jackman.” gave me hope because it was the exact opposite of his first album rollout in every regard. The album was announced as a surprise just a couple of days before its April 28th release. There were no structured releases, no lead single, no gimmicks — no overtly commercially-driven moves.
The album cover, with Harlow standing shirtless against the background of old garages and trash cans, also sent a different message than the polished look that would be expected from a superstar. It felt like he was finally more focused on the music than on growing his superstar status. I appreciated just how different the arrival of this album felt from his previous one.
The music certainly delivered, proving that Harlow is taking his music much more seriously than he was last year. The writing was thoughtful, the beat selection was solid, the structure of the album was refreshing and the content was captivating. From start to finish, there is not a bad song. Although it did lack any truly great or iconic moments artistically, it provided a great deal of consistency. The album is an incredibly cohesive listen, and most importantly, it saved Jack Harlow from the falling trajectory that he has been on for the past years.
Right away, the album got off to a strong start with “Common Ground,” one of the best songs I’ve ever heard from Harlow. The two verses on the intro are two of his best. Addressing cultural appropriation, white privilege, race disparities in America and hypocrisy in music journalism, the intro is heavy and topical. This attempt could have easily gone wrong or come off as insensitive and out of touch, but the thoughtfulness behind it led to an impressive execution.
“Common Ground” was immediately followed up with two more impressive tracks: “They Don’t Love It” and “Ambitious.” Both were soulful and triumphant songs that convinced me of Harlow’s passion, which I had been questioning over the last few years. “Denver” and “It Can’t Be” are two more cuts that added to the cohesiveness of the project and provided an unexpected level of depth and quality.
However, none of the songs stand out as masterpieces. Although I enjoyed the beat selection and soul samples, I don’t think any of the production choices go beyond “good.” None of the beats really blew me away; none of it felt massive.
The flows and deliveries across the entire project were really smooth and enjoyable. Still, there were moments where more dynamic or impressive technical rapping could have boosted the album with energy and excitement. There were also moments where the songs felt lacking in structure. It seems like Harlow is still learning how to craft complete songs.
After the artistic flop of “Come Home The Kids Miss You,” Harlow’s newest release “Jackman.” was such a refreshing return and a clear indicator that he wants to make serious and thoughtful music. I believe that Jack Harlow really does want to be a great rapper, and although this is not quite a great rap album, it is a good one. Most importantly, it shows he still has the potential to be great.
Favorite Songs: “Common Ground,” “They Don’t Love It,” “Denver,” “It Can’t Be,” “Ambitious”
Album Score: 71/100
Check out this Spotify Playlist and like it to follow along with some of my favorite songs of 2023 so far.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.