Jack Harlow stars on the cover of Footwear News, where he talked about the privilege he has in being a white man at the forefront of today’s hip-hop scene.
Harlow received three nominations at the 2021 BET Awards for best male hip-hop artist, best new artist and best collaboration for the “Whats Poppin” remix, featuring DaBaby, Tory Lanez and Lil Wayne. He faced a lot of online criticism for receiving nods over certain Black artists at a show that calls itself “Culture’s Biggest Night” and celebrates Black culture in entertainment. The 23-year-old rapper also received flak for the artwork of his debut album That’s What They All Say, which depicts a Black woman’s legs next to him in the backseat of a limousine that people argued was sexualizing and objectifying the woman.
But as an artist who’s had multiple opportunities to collaborate with Black artists, from Big Sean to Bryson Tiller, Harlow understands his privilege in the genre and is appreciative of those who have accepted him.
“I feel blessed to have a voice in this period because, one, I’m not a street artist, and two, I’m not Black,” the Louisville, Ky.-based MC told Footwear News. “The only thing keeping me here right now is that level of authenticity, of being myself.”
He recalled his previous conversations with his friend and fellow Kentucky rapper Nemo Achida, who is Black, about the state of hip-hop following the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement last summer. Harlow has joked about the white kids being invited to the party before in his single “Tyler Herro,” when he raps, “I brought a gang to the party with me/ Five white boys, but they not *NSYNC.” But he believes the genre is now headed toward a direction that brings the focus back to the Black community.
“All of this stuff was coming into the fold and it had this energy surrounding it of, ‘We’re letting the white kids come to the party. We’re all in this together,'” Harlow said. “He feels like the country going into these new civil rights moments almost shifted away from, ‘Let’s have the white boy at the party.’ It became less about let’s all be diverse together and turned back into hip-hop being, ‘It needs to be a Black genre.’ That’s just been the natural transformation of things, I think.”
One of the “new civil rights moments” Harlow is referring to is the uproar following the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT who was fatally shot by Louisville police while she was sleeping in her apartment on March 13, 2020. While reflecting on Taylor’s tragic death in his Louisville hometown that sparked nationwide protests, which Harlow participated in, the “Whats Poppin” artist said, “It was a no-brainer for me in terms of where I stood on the topic. There was a moment last summer when we were all marching through the city and there was this feeling that this is historic. This isn’t a viral moment, this is going to be in textbooks and is something I’m going to be able to tell my grandkids about. There was a gravity to what was going on where you felt like you had a responsibility. Where are you going to fall? You can’t be on the fence for this.”
He won’t allow his fans to be on the fence about this, either. The hip-hop rookie-turned-star set the standard for being a Jack Harlow fan as someone who supports the Black community that birthed the very music he makes.
“The things I was doing last summer, any fans who didn’t feel like criticizing the police or were on the other side of things, I was going to weed them out. That could have been a moment for them to no longer be fans,” he said. “But what is important is that I lead by example for all the white kids looking at me. This is what you do. You don’t just enjoy Black culture. You stand up next to Black people in a time of need.”