In a compact return to form, Kentucky-born artist Jack Harlow unveils his surprise album Jackman.

It’s been an interesting year for the Louisville raised artist since his previous release Come Home the Kids Miss You. Following his feature on Lil Nas X’s 2021 mega-hit ‘INDUSTRY BABY’, the two lead singles ‘Nail Tech’ and ‘First Class’ maintained his status as one of, if not the hottest rapper at the time. Debuting at number three on the US Billboard 200 in its first week, CHTKMY is his best performing project on paper. However, it was met with lacklustre reception by the majority and didn’t receive the critical acclaim that was initially anticipated. 

Back with something to prove and a lot more to say, Jackman marks Harlow’s third full-length studio album and eighth consecutive project since his 2016 debut. The latest body of work arrived only a few days after its announcement, and a week after the trailer premiere for the reboot of White Men Can’t Jump in which Harlow plays the lead role. Subtle flex. While the album is featureless, the production credits of Jackman include (in order of appearance): Angel Lopez, Jaysoul, Mike Wavvs, Niko, Hollywood Cole, Goldy, WallisLane, Mario Luciano, Rashad Thomas, FNZ, Coop The Troop, DJ Dahi, Boi-1da, Gray Hawken and shy.

The concise 24-minute project removes a lot of the pop sensibilities, and any of the elaborate PR roll-outs and big collaborations of his last album. A reference to his lyric on ‘Churchill Downs’ (“Everybody knows Jack but they don’t know Jack, man.”), his first name and perhaps also a basketball reference for the upcoming movie, Jackman spans across 10 tracks of varying sincerity. If there’s one way to make it up to hip-hop heads left with a bad taste in their mouth, it’s to get on a soulful hip-hop instrumental and spit some truth. Harlow sinks his teeth into this sentiment on ‘Common Ground’, where he delivers a cultural commentary on the irony in modern day hip-hop where white people exercise their privilege in a black culture. 

“Recitin’ rap lyrics ’bout murder and cash profit. Get to feel like a thug but don’t have to act on it.”

– Jack Harlow on ‘Common Ground’ (2023).

Maintaining the luxurious production throughout, Harlow raps about his passion for the craft and decade long rise to fame on ‘They Don’t Love it’ and ‘Ambitious’. The watered down and predictably braggadocios bars that overpopulated CHTKMY still make their way here, but Jackman doesn’t overstay its welcome and showcases a step towards maturity both lyrically and sonically. On ‘Gang Gang Gang’, he addresses a unique perspective on shifting friendships and holding people accountable for their problematic actions. It’s a fresh narrative and one that encourages reflection, but ultimately falls short as surface-level self-conscious rap.

Passing the half-way point, ‘Denver’ confirms Harlow’s lacking introspection further with its opening line, “Walkin’ past the homeless in a Rolex.” While the rest of the song is one of the more personal moments of the album, it almost feels too little too late. The same can be said for ‘Questions’ and the standout track ‘Blame On Me’ that showcases his intimate storytelling over one of the nicest beats on the project. These are some of his best songs and precisely convey the album’s essence of maturing as an artist and a man. It’s just a shame that despite the short runtime, moments like them are delayed by filler tracks like ‘No Enhancers’ and ‘It Can’t Be’. 

Jackman is shaped less like an album and more like a mixtape with few and far hooks in between. For the most part, this works in Jack’s favour to highlight his skills as a storyteller and a punchline specialist – two fields in which he’s improved upon since his last two studio albums. While he may spend more time talking about wanting to be the best instead of making music with enough depth to get him there, Jackman is a step in the right direction and proves that Jack Harlow has so much more to offer.

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