How Jack Harlow’s Manager Helped Launch the Year’s Biggest Debut
"Even UPS was calling my phone after hearing their company name dropped in ['First Class']," says Chris Thomas.
When Jack Harlow exploded onto the scene with his breakout single, “Whats Poppin,” in 2020, few could predict that a new superstar had arrived. But all the Louisville, Kentucky, native did next was deliver hit after hit: After “Whats Poppin” reached No. 2 on the Hot 100, Harlow earned his first No. 1 record (and a slew of Grammy nominations) with a feature on Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby.” That was followed by “Nail Tech,” a single Harlow released to critical acclaim in February that reached No. 18 on the Hot 100.
This week, Harlow crossed another milestone off the list: his latest single, “First Class,” debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100, his first-ever solo No. 1 on the chart, which came in with the biggest streaming week of the year so far, besting the previous record held by Harry Styles’ “As It Was” last week with 54.6 million streams, according to Luminate, formerly MRC Data. And the huge success of that single has helped his manager, Range Media Partners managing partner Chris Thomas, earn the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
“First Class” received a helpful assist from TikTok, where it was going viral even before its official release, but that’s not the only boost that helped it debut as the biggest song in the country this week. Here, Thomas explains how they set up this song for its big debut, the knock on effect for Harlow’s upcoming album campaign and maintaining the momentum from “Whats Poppin” through this milestone moment. “We have empowered Jack to make the art he wants to make and to show the world who he is — and apparently, the world really likes both of those things.”
“First Class” became Jack Harlow’s first No. 1 single as a solo artist this week, with 54.6 million streams. What key decisions did you make to help make that happen?
As the label — Generation Now/Atlantic Records — and I started to hear more songs from Jack’s upcoming album as they were being created, the amazing music caused ideas to rapidly begin percolating. There was a moment where we had a different song penciled in to come out next, but after being blown away by “First Class,” we huddled with Jack — the massive potential of “First Class” became clear to all of us, and we switched. Starting at midnight, I was watching the stream numbers start moving. Our marketing and radio teams were on call to kick into gear to support the song as it grew day one, despite no radio plan being 100% confirmed prior. A full circle approach coalesced behind the incredible streaming numbers throughout that first week to solidify that No. 1.
The song follows “Nail Tech,” which was very well-received but peaked at No. 18 on the Hot 100. How did you set this one up differently, and why did it break through the way it did?
“Nail Tech” came out of the gate super strong. It got all the amazing marketing/DSPs looks you hope for — playlist covers, billboards, you name it — and the numbers reflected that. Aside from his feature on “Industry Baby,” the song had the biggest first-day streams for any Jack track in his career.
For “First Class,” we utilized something Jack had not done in the past. We purposefully teased the song on socials with a strong snippet. While a snippet of a song is not the way any artist intends for their audience to experience a song, as the goal is to present the art in its full form, we knew this could help the song gain traction prior to release. And that is exactly what happened. The snippet went viral on all social platforms, and people were clamoring to hear the full thing. That’s how, on day one, “First Class” blew every song in the world out of the water.
The song got a huge boost from TikTok. How did you use the platform to help promote the song?
TikTok creators started using the snippet rampantly immediately after Jack posted it. His rapping combined with the sample had folks sharing the song’s hook left and right. Even UPS was calling my phone after hearing their company name dropped in it. This continued on all social platforms, and we fanned the flames with Jack joining in on the posting.
How can you use a big No. 1 like this to help set up the rest of this album campaign?
Having a Hot 100 No. 1 is great at any point in an album cycle, but to have one weeks before the full album drops is ideal. We will continue to push both tracks that are already out while we prepare the world for what is to come with release week. In today’s age, most of an album’s consumption is based on the streaming of individual tracks, and not on full album sales. Having multiple hit singles going into week one never hurts.
“Whats Poppin” was such a big song, and you guys have managed to continue the momentum in a way that not many others have been able to. How have you done that?
“Whats Poppin” was a watershed moment for Jack. We started working together in 2016, and every year we made forward progress. We spent a few years going from 0–60 mph. “Whats Poppin” took us from 60–100 mph. And since then, with his debut album That’s What They All Say, “Industry Baby,” and now the singles from Come Home The Kids Miss You, we have empowered Jack to make the art he wants to make and to show the world who he is – and apparently, the world really likes both of those things.
How has management changed over the years you’ve been in the business?
When I first started managing musicians in 2012, neither Instagram nor Spotify were really here yet, let alone TikTok. That sentence alone speaks a lot to what has changed since I started in management. On a more detailed note, I have been fortunate enough to have been at great management companies over the last decade who have pushed the envelope. At Range, my new company where I am a managing partner, we believe we are building a better platform for both artists and managers to take control of every element of their career and maximize it for long term value. While other firms stay within their departments, we work together to create opportunities for our talent and each other — that’s how artists like Jack learn how to navigate the intricacies of the film and TV business for his upcoming starring role in White Men Can’t Jump.
My partners and I have compiled a team full of advocates and agents of change in the business across many disciplines, taking a proactive approach where our clients need it the most. There is an ecosystem at Range where we work together to offer resources beyond what traditional management firms can provide for their talent, and that gives us a [different] value proposition in the ever-evolving industry landscape. The results we are seeing are not just theoretical. We are putting musicians into movies and TV, helping film/TV talent with music, helping music producers become film composers, launching Web3 initiatives in the metaverse and showing brands how to be better storytellers. The possibilities are endless given the company structure, relationships and, most importantly, the ethos.