Jack Harlow review: charismatic rapper uses his skills

Posted by Mike Schuck

Handsome and #relatable … Jack Harlow at the O2 Academy, Birmingham. Photograph: Sachin Jethwa/REX/Shutterstock

 

O2 Academy, Birmingham

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The Kentucky native may have been a bit perplexed by his welcome to Brum, but the city expressed its gratitude for his brutally powerful hits.

 

The first night of Jack Harlow's first headline European tour is upon us, and the 24-year-old American rapper feels compelled to mark the occasion with nostalgic flair. He sighs, "I never could have dreamed of going to Birmingham, England, and selling out a place like this. 3,000 individuals. Given the scale of the arenas he recently filled in the US—he comes in Birmingham straight from the State Farm Arena, Atlanta, which is six times as big—and the fact that he's scheduled to play Wembley Arena tomorrow, you could argue that this act of humility amounts to putting it on a little thick. What rapper from Louisville, Kentucky could possibly envision performing at a location in Digbeth where the Twang have their renowned annual Twangmas shows? On the other hand, maybe it has the ring of truth about it.

 

Whatever the case may be, the O2 Academy is practically bursting at the seams with a distinctively feminine and late-teen crowd. When Harlow inquires about any females there with their best friend (i.e., "the girl who would never fuck your boyfriend," he adds for clarity), they create the greatest ruckus of the whole evening. Even Harlow seems a bit taken away by the reaction since it is so loud and lasts for so long. He is more attractive and relatable than his critics would have you think. On stage tonight, he is bespectacled and dressed casually in a long-sleeve T-shirt and cargo trousers. He is also a better rapper than his critics would have you believe. He's huge on performing a cappella and turning off the background music to do it.

 

‘A very modern kind of success.’

‘A very modern kind of success.’ Photograph: Sachin Jethwa/REX/Shutterstock

 

His is a very contemporary kind of success, supported by TikTok, which alighted with delight on both his 2020 breakthrough hit What's Poppin' and this year's global smash First Class. Occasionally, his success is also attributed to his endearing, humorous online presence as much as it is to his music. Tonight's performance, which was framed by appearances by Dua Lipa and First Class, demonstrated that his songs are more brutally effective than before. Although there isn't much of a song associated to the former's chorus, it is loosely based on wanting to have sex with the vocalist who is the subject of the song—exactly the kind of meme-friendly material that garners attention online. It's almost churlish to point out that the latter song's hook was also wonderful when it served as the chorus of Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie's 2007 single Glamorous; it's not quite obvious what Harlow is adding to the table beyond deftly capitalizing on Gen Z's continuous adoration of 2000s music.

 

However, seeing Jack Harlow live could be the greatest way to do so. He performs tracks quickly, completing 24 songs in under an hour, including a medley of his early successes. The type of longueurs seen on his lackluster second album, Come Home the Kids Miss You, are conspicuously absent thanks to this cleverly relentless approach. On stage, his charisma, which he finds difficult to convey in recordings, is also far more apparent. In fact, it is clear enough to carry a performance without much in the way of visual stimulation beyond a screen behind him that displays amorphous blobs of color as he performs.

 

Although he plainly doesn't know the names of any local teams, his between-song patter is just on the right side of slick, altered to mention going to "the pub" and debate what Americans call soccer with the audience: In response to a chorus of jeers, he says, "Who here supports Manchester City?" “Chelsea? Wigan Sports?" He informs the audience that he has been exploring Birmingham today as they applaud in expectation of a glowing tribute to the city's many attractions. It was undoubtedly fascinating. We could have arrived on a strange day or something.

 

If their sense of civic pride has been damaged, it isn't evident since they continue to yell and sing along when Harlow begins to play I Wanna See Some Ass. He exclaims joyfully, "I'm coming the fuck back! You don't doubt it for a second, even though there's an arena a few miles up the road, so it's probably not here precisely.

 

Thanks to at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story. 

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