Jack Harlow’s Cinematic Approach to Hip-Hop 

Jack Harlow’s Cinematic Approach to Hip-Hop 

The rapper talks about Sweet Action EP, true passions and new paths in an exclusive interview with VMAN.

The rapper talks about Sweet Action EP, true passions and new paths in an exclusive interview with VMAN.

Photography: Urban Wyatt

Text: Dania Curvy

With over 50 million streams, Jack Harlow’s single, “WHAT’S POPPIN,” was his first to hit Billboard charts and catapulted the Louisville-born rapper onto the world’s stage. 

Although he took precautionary measures to postpone his Roaring 20s Tour due to COVID-19, VMAN is here to confirm in an exclusive interview, there’s indeed still a lot poppin’ with him now and in the foreseeable future. The rapper talks about the release of his new EP on his 22nd birthday, how he’s gearing up to drop a musical collab with Pharrell Williams and possibly even spearheading an acting career.

On Friday, March 13th, the day he was actually born, the romantic dropped Sweet Action EP, a tracklist inspired by different experiences with women in his life. Aiming for his songs to unfold like stories, the lyrical genius intentionally displays intricate storytelling details embedded in each song.

“I like the songs to be like short films. I feel like my writing is intentionally kind of cinematic. I want to paint a picture and give somebody a chance to say, ‘I see what he's dealing with,’” he told VMAN.

Harlow’s goal is to make music for every emotion. Experiencing highs and lows, listeners can anticipate being transported from a strip club party with “I Wanna See Some Ass” to a comfortable albeit casual hook up at a college girl’s dorm room in “Smells Like Incense.” Unafraid, he invites his audience into a vulnerable space “Out Front” ...of a special girl’s house, that is. And, of course, goes hard as hell with what Jack describes as his “shit-talking” record, “Hey Big Head.” 

Known for hitting upbeat bops to smooth RnB ballads, Jack confessed his preference for more of his smooth-like “ear candy” tracks. “If I had it my way like ‘Hey Big Head’ wouldn't even come out. It's not enough replay value,” he said while comparing his favored velvety tracks to the likes of “Ninth Grade” (off his third EP) or from Sweet Action’s, “Out Front”. “Like shit can be on repeat for hours and it's not bothersome. That's the type of music I like to make. But you got to give them that other shit too.”

For the most part, Harlow is lucky enough to control most of his music, but often feels obliged to appease others’ tastes. “It's just some shit is so undeniable to people that I feel like I'm doing myself a disservice if I don't give it [to them], cause I'll tease it or play it in the studio. People react to it so crazy. Then I'm like, this ain't about me. It's about them. I'm a people pleaser.”

The expert freestyle rapper goes on to tell us, “I like singing more than rapping. I'm just better at rapping. [But with singing,] you get to be an instrument.”  And lowkey does not enjoy freestyling, but will continue to do it.

Despite describing himself as “people-pleaser,” Harlow makes it known through his music and media he feels the need to relentlessly improve as an artist but is finally feeling like his work is starting to benchmark success. 

“To be honest, now I have moments where like this validation hits; ones that I didn't have in the past, like on tour and in Seattle, I filled a room of 700 people [and they] were rapping every word back to me. Then I had a moment in my head like, this is it. You got there,” he said.

While Harlow now experiences that progress, that wasn’t always the case for the budding rap mogul. He grew up in rural Shelbyville, Kentucky on a horse farm with his mother, father, and brother (who now tours with him, selling merch) before moving 30 minutes west to Louisville. With no electronics until the age of 10, you could often find the young poet reading and writing as well as rapping on his mother’s laptop with his childhood friend.

“Louisville is really where I grew up, I got to meet a lot of diverse people and kicked it with kids from all parts of town. It gave me a wide scope — just that experience was a big, a big thing for me — being able to move to the city really introduced me to hip-hop,” he emphasized.

Aside from his city, his affinity for music and hip-hop especially was derived from within his own household. His father, a true country fan, often listened to legends like Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck and Johnny Cash. On the other hand, his mother’s palette, as a hip-hop fanatic, consisted of groovier tastes like OutKast, A Tribe Called Quest, Eminem, and Gwen Stefani. 

Similar to his parents’ musical influences, Harlow seems to secure the same quality of cultivating his creative ability through undeniable authentic sound within the hip-hop community. 

“The beats I choose are different — the flows, the melodies [too]. My sound is just different. Like it's a breath of fresh air right now... That's how I feel — it’s pretty minimal.” But, nonetheless rich with impact and fervor. 

Seemingly rare, but when his life isn’t consumed by music, one can catch him cracking jokes and exploring new cities on Byrd scooters with his 7-person-tour-crew or even doing a bit of hot yoga. Although, the 22-year-old shocked VMAN when he disclosed his true love...

“I like movies more than music. Movies are like my passion,” he said. The rapper has had a few TV show auditions come his way, so don’t be surprised to see the rapper-turned-actor transition happen before our eyes. Except you won’t see him in any Spiderman or Fast and Furious action-type blockbusters. Appropriately, Harlow craves something more...substantial. “I like Scorsese, Tarantino, Hitchcock type stuff, [with a] great plotline and good character development.” But Jack isn’t pressed to jump into any new roles just yet, and is still, for the sake of his music fans, going to keep cranking out the melodic hits he’s known for. 

The show must go on — but, after a slight intermission, of course. Despite the postponement of his tour, fans can still expect some new music on the way, but Jack isn’t rushing; especially when it comes to working with his dream collaborator, world-renowned artist and producer, Pharrell Williams. “He’s a special guy,” Harlow nods. “His energy is no joke. [He’s] exactly how you think he is — cool as a fan.”

As his success continues to grow, a humbled Jack Harlow remains grounded, present and hopeful for the future. “At least for me, I haven't reached this insane point of isolation where I'm like, this is so surreal because it's just what I'm experiencing. And after 10 or 15 seconds, no matter what it is, it's like we're here. What's next?”

Harlow may not be touring right now, but we continue to anticipate his new stories—in whatever capacity—to come.

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