The Untold Truth Of Jack Harlow

When Jack Harlow released his single "What's Poppin'" in January 2020, the 22-year-old native of Louisville, Kentucky. was far from a household name. It was this infectious hit, however, that proved to be his breakthrough, the culmination of years spent establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with in the world of rap while developing and ever-growing legion of grassroots fans. 

As Vulture reported, "What's Poppin'" catapulted Harlow to a whole new level of fame thanks to an unlikely source: TikTok. Harlow's uptempo track proved to be the ideal musical accompaniment for users of the lip-syncing app, with "What's Poppin'" appearing in more than 400,000 TikTok videos. The song definitely benefited from all that exposure; by July, "What's Poppin'" had climbed to the top of the Billboard charts, giving Harlow his first-ever No. 1 hit. Meanwhile, by late August the song's music video had exceeded 94 million YouTube views. 

While Harlow's rise to fame may seem meteoric, he's far from an overnight success; in fact, the young rapper's ascension to the upper echelons of the music business follows a solid decade of effort that began when he was still a child. Read on to discover the untold truth of Jack Harlow.

Early ambition propelled Jack Harlow's hip-hop work ethic

At just 12 years old, Jack Harlow decided he wanted to be a rapper — and not just any rapper, mind you, but the greatest rapper ever. There was one problem: Harlow had no idea how to go about accomplishing the lofty goal he'd set for himself. According to a 2017 profile in Louisville Magazine, he turned to his mom for guidance, asking, "how do I become the best rapper in the world?"

At the time, Harlow's mother had been reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, which theorized that the only way anyone could master a particular skill was through 10,000 hours of intense practice. Taking her advice to put in his 10,000 hours, and her quick calculation on the amount of daily time required to achieve Gladwell's recommendation by his 18th birthday, Harlow began devoting four or five hours each day to rapping and writing.

"A lot of people have no idea what they want to do," Harlow said of the single-minded pursuit he'd chased since childhood. "I've been lucky enough to feel like I've had a purpose since I was 12."

Jack Harlow's music career began with a video game microphone

Jack Harlow's recording debut may not have been auspicious, but it was certainly distinctive. As Louisville Magazine recalled in a profile on the young emcee, his first attempt at recording one of his raps came when he was just a sixth-grader. Given that the youngster had no professional equipment on hand, he grabbed "a microphone from [his] 'Guitar Hero" video game," plugged it into his laptop and hit "record."

He and friend Copelan Garvey — who called themselves "Harlow featuring Cope" — released their amateur effort on a CD titled "Rippin' and Rappin'." According to Harlow, they ended up selling 40 copies of the homemade recording at $2/pop. Not a bad bargain for their fellow Highland Middle School classmates, right?

This led Harlow to build a modest fanbase within his school. After obtaining a professional mic, in seventh grade he developed a new rap persona — Mr. Harlow — and "gave away 100 copies" of his next effort, his debut solo mixtape "Extra Credit." "Kids were wanting them as soon as I got in the damn door," he marveled, although admitted reviews from his classmates weren't always stellar. "They were like, 'It's kind of a** and his voice is high-pitched because his b***s haven't dropped, but dude actually made a mixtape.'" 

Why Jack Harlow is glad his first deal fell through

As Jack Harlow's rap skills grew, the industry took notice. Harlow was just 14 when his parents began receiving calls from people who wanted to manage their son, according to Louisville Magazine. One of these people put the family in touch with Scooter Braun (manager of Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande), who flew them to meet him at his Los Angeles home. "Biggest house I've ever been in," Harlow told the magazine.

In an interview with Louisville's Courier-Journal, Harlow's mother, Maggie, recalled "sitting there and my body was vibrating. I realized he was doing this." While nothing came of that meeting, perhaps thankfully considering Braun's arguably dubious track record, they subsequently met with Def Jam president Joie Manda, who invited Harlow to sign. However, as Harlow and his parents were negotiating the deal, Manda quit to join another label, leaving Harlow's future with Def Jam uncertain. 

"At the time, I felt like it was the worst thing that happened," Harlow told Louisville Magazine, realizing in hindsight he would have been treated like a teen novelty act and not the performer he'd envisioned himself becoming. "At 14, I hadn't developed as an artist or a person," he explained. "It would have stunted my growth."

Jack Harlow's food service career didn't last long

Jack Harlow had just graduated high school when he moved to Atlanta to get serious about pursuing a rap career. While he was garnering attention, he told Louisville Magazine in 2017, the money he was bringing in from streaming services such as Spotify and live performing wasn't enough to live on. To make ends meet, he took a job at a cafeteria in Georgia State University. 

As Harlow discussed during an appearance on MTV's "Total Request Live," he only worked there for about a month before he met with DJ Drama, who signed Harlow to his Atlantic Records imprint, Generation Now. However, Harlow admitted he still looked back at that period with fondness. "The nostalgia of it is beautiful for me, because I met a lot of cool people there, and it was humbling, it was good," he said. 

Now that he'd been signed to a major label, Harlow outlined two primary goals for his future. "For one I want to make a living out of it... take care of family and friends and all that good stuff," he told XXL. "Secondly, I just want to push the culture forward. Do things that people haven't done or seen."

Kanye West approves of his work

It's no secret that Jack Harlow has amassed legions of fans since he launched his music career, and some of those fans are even more famous than he is. At the top of the list is Kanye West, generally regarded as one of rap's all-time greats. In February 2022, West shared his thoughts about Harlow in an Instagram post (which was since deleted, but documented by Complex), accompanying a screenshot of Harlow's "Nail Tech" video. According to West, Harlow "can raaaaaaap bro," declaring him to be "Top 5 out right now."

West isn't Harlow's only admirer in the upper echelons of rap. A post on the RapTV Instagram account documents the social media reactions shared by Drake and Kendrick Lamar after watching a vintage video of Harlow rapping when he was just a kid. Lamar tweeted, "What the hell," while Drake wrote "Hardddddddd."

Interestingly, Harlow is friendly with West and his self-proclaimed nemesis Pete Davidson, who is dating West's estranged wife Kim Kardashian. While that may seem to place Harlow in an awkward position given West's history of animosity toward Davidson, the comedian has insisted he has no issue with Harlow working with West. "People are like, 'How does that make you feel? Does that bother you? Does that get under your skin?'" Davidson joked during a standup comedy set, as reported by the Independent. "And I'm like, 'No, he's a rapper. That's his field — that's what they do.'

Jack Harlow's film debut is in White Men Can't Jump

In 2022, Deadline reported that Jack Harlow would be broadening his repertoire, expanding from the world of music into the milieu of Hollywood moviemaking. According to the outlet, Harlow was attached to star in a remake of "White Men Can't Jump," the 1992 basketball comedy starring Woody Harrelson, Wesley Snipes, and Rosie Perez. Harlow, it was revealed, would take on the role that Harrelson played in the original, after he reportedly delivered a knockout audition that earned him his first big acting role.

As TMZ reported subsequently, Harlow was not just working on developing his acting chops, but also on his basketball skills when he was spotted on the set in Venice, California, practicing on the court with a trainer. 

Shifting from music to movies, Harlow told Variety, is part of his longer-term strategy to build an enduring showbiz career that stands the test of time instead of flaming out fast. "Especially now, I work out of fear," he confessed. "I'm terrified to fall off and lose my spot or lose the ground I've covered, or not reach the potential that people see. Every time I sit courtside at these games or go to the Met Gala or maybe the Grammys, what's in my head is 'I've gotta be here next year.' I don't want this to be the last time."

Why humor is an important part of his music

One facet of Jack Harlow's music that sets him apart from many other hip-hop artists is the sense of humor that permeates his songs. As Harlow explained in an interview with Dazed, he finds it "liberating to just be silly." However, he also admitted that bringing humor into his music is not without its hazards. "Any time I am comedic on my songs, I almost always end up regretting it," he said. "I don't think comedy ages that well in rap. I'm a person that has a sense of humor, so every once in a while I want to say some funny s*** in my music. But I always seem to wish I hadn't."

Harlow's comedic flair will be on display when he makes his acting debut in "White Men Can't Jump." As Harlow told Complex, he happened to be chatting with professional basketball player Kawhi Leonard and mentioned his upcoming film role. "Told him about the movie I'm preparing for," said Harlow of Leonard, hilariously sharing the basketball advice he received from the NBA star. "He told me I need to get my layup package together because it's a**," Harlow quipped.

Is Jack Harlow related to Winnie Harlow?

Jack Harlow shares a last name with model Winnie Harlow. This has led to speculation that the two are related, something the "America's Next Top Model" alum has had some fun with when she took to Instagram in 2021 to seemingly confirm the familial relationship by sharing a photo of herself posing with the rapper. "Hey cuz," she wrote in the caption, implying that the two were cousins. In a subsequent post on an Instagram story, as reported by HITC, she wrote to her followers, "I'm sorry wait.. are y'all just finding out that Jack Harlow is my cousin?" She then offered two responses her fans could choose from, one reading "I never knew," the other, "Of course I knew that." One fan summed it up in a tweet, writing, "I was today years old when I found out Winnie harlow and jack Harlow are cousins."

However, the model was just having some fun. Winnie is of Jamaican descent and hails from Toronto, with CNN confirming her real name is Chantelle Brown-Young, while Jack was born in Kentucky (Harlow is his real name) and has no Jamaican ancestry.

As Harlow's Instagram post indicates, the two have crossed paths, including at a 2021 launch event for the Pretty Little Thing fashion line. In a video from the event, Jack is onstage, addressing Winnie, who stands in the audience, recalling the time he met a jeweler who introduced him to someone else as "Winnie Harlow." 

He has high praise for Lil Nas X

While it was his ear-worm hit "What's Poppin'" that made Jack Harlow viral in 2020, it was "Industry Baby," his 2021 collaboration with Lil Nas X, that gave him music-industry credibility (and a Grammy nomination). For some, Harlow's choice to work with the openly gay rapper who's courted controversy with his racy, homoerotic music videos was seen as a political statement. Harlow, however, has contended that was never his intention. "It was a decision I made from my soul," he told Teen Vogue of teaming up with Lil Nas X. "I wasn't thinking, Oh, optically, this will look good. But I do think Lil Nas stands for something really important. I'm gonna be really proud as that ages."

The way Harlow sees it, what Lil Nas X is doing through his music is both groundbreaking and necessary. "I think he's giving a voice to a lot of people and kids who could use one," Harlow said of the rapper's musical activism during an interview with Variety. "I think the community he represents could use someone who's succeeding on a mainstream level — it doesn't have to be a niche thing, it can feel like, Yo, you can be number one, you can be the greatest."

In fact, before Jack Harlow became Lil Nas X's musical collaborator, he was a fan. "I really think he's an icon," admitted Harlow. "I admired him long before we met."

He's in a bromance with Drake

Lil Nas X isn't the only famous rapper to become friends with Jack Harlow; he's also sparked a friendship with Drake. Recounting their "whirlwind bromance," GQ reported that it all began when Drake attended Harlow's concert in Toronto back in November 2021. As a fan-shot video from that show documents, Harlow addressed Drake from the stage. "I was halfway through my performance when I looked up and seen my idol looking at me, man," Harlow says, urging the crowd to "make some noise for the GOAT one time."

Drake apparently returned the favor by inviting Harlow to his Toronto home, with RapTV reposting a photo of Harlow in Drake's kitchen that Champagne Papi shared on social media. The following March, Harlow joined Drake on a tropical vacation in Turks and Caicos. Drake, said Harlow in an interview with SiriusXM's Gray Rizzy, "introduced me to a different type of relaxation because I've never taken a vacation since I got started. I've never been to the islands or anything. That was a first-time experience for me, so I was grateful for that."

The two men apparently bonded during their Caribbean getaway, and traveled together again when they attended the 2022 edition of the Kentucky Derby in Harlow's hometown of Louisville. "And we're drunk. He's sober, I'm drunk," confessed Drake during a joint interview with Harlow. While at the Derby, the pair shot the music video for their single "Churchill Downs," marking their debut musical collaboration.

He collaborated with KFC

Not only has Jack Harlow collaborated with several of his fellow rappers, he's also not averse to teaming up with a fast-food chain. That was the case in summer 2020 when KFC announced that they had partnered with him in order to offer its new Jack Harlow Meal. 

"When KFC asked me to create my own meal, I knew it couldn't be just any meal," Harlow said in a statement, as reported by People, and detailed the elements of his branded Jack Harlow Meal. "My meal brings together my childhood favorites from growing up in Louisville, the KFC Mac and Cheese, with my new go-to Spicy Chicken Sandwich (with plenty of ranch), Secret Recipe Fries, and lemonade — it doesn't get much better." Harlow continued to spread the word on social media. "Growing up I always dreamed of being the biggest artist to come from Kentucky. Now I'm teaming up with @KFC, the biggest brand to come out of Kentucky," Harlow wrote on Instagram. "For the next year, we're gonna do some big things together."

At least one of those "big things" emerged when the chicken chain revealed fans could buy Harlow-branded KFC merch themed to the collaboration. In an Instagram post, KFC shared a video featuring the items that fans could buy, including a $75 hoodie, some t-shirts and a baseball cap. 

Jack Harlow was introduced to hip-hop by his mom

Jack Harlow not only owes his very existence to his mother, he can also credit her with exposing him to the musical art form at which he excels. According to a GQ profile on Harlow, his mom first exposed him to hip-hop when he was about seven years old, playing such rap classics as "The Marshall Mathers LP" while driving in the car. "She introduced me to rap," Harlow declared in an interview with Power 101.5's "The Breakfast Club."  "She was a really big rap fan growing up. She went to Public Enemy concerts and all that s***."

In fact, Harlow recalled during an appearance on "The 85 South Comedy Show," one of his most formative experiences involved his mom and hip-hop. "My earliest memory is my mom buying [Kanye West's] 'Late Registration' and playing it in the car and telling me I can't say the N-word ... 'Hey, you're about to hear a word on here. You can never say it in your life.'"

As he told "The Breakfast Club," his mother is understandably proud of his success in a genre she appreciates. "She loves hip-hop, so I owe her my introduction," Harlow added. "So she loves that I do this."

He's okay with being misunderstood

When it comes to self-promotion, Jack Harlow is something of an evangelist for his own music. "I'm in the business of turning skeptics to believers," he told Complex. However, the audacity of that statement is tempered with the recognition that as his fame has grown, so too have the misconceptions about him. "I think people right now have me boxed in as the white boy who can really rap," he said, insisting that while that is indeed what he's becoming known for, it's far from all he wants to achieve in showbiz. "I think people are unaware of my musical range," he said, adding that he's "excited for more of my music to spread its wings and get credit for that breadth and that range."

In order to achieve that, Harlow is embarking on a simple but effective strategy of demonstrating all that he's capable of. While he admitted he'd "really gotten to a place where it's almost comfortable to be misunderstood a little bit," he also realizes that "authenticity resonates with people."

According to hip-hop DJ and music exec Don Cannon, who signed Harlow to his Generation Now record label, that was a lesson he taught the rapper early on. "Nobody really knows who you are," Cannon told GQ of what he told Harlow when he was first signed. "We have to know who you are, whether we like it or not. Whatever comes out, that's going to be our truth."

Jack Harlow's net worth is on the rise

Jack Harlow is just at the beginning of what he anticipates will be a long and varied career in the entertainment industry, yet he's already started to rake in some serious cash. In fact, Celebrity Net Worth has estimated that Harlow is worth $4 million. As one might expect, his music is the driving force behind those earnings; in summer 2021, Harlow's "What's Poppin'" topped 1 billion streams on Spotify, while Forbes pointed out that every date on his 2021 tour was a sell-out, and led to selling more than $1 million in tour merch. Meanwhile, his music videos are widely watched on YouTube ("Industry Baby," for example, has racked up more than 364 million views and counting), and his partnership with KFC no doubt added a few bucks to his rapidly growing bank account. 

Yet money has not been his biggest motivating factor. "I have a fear of not reaching my potential. It drives me all the time, seeing where I could be, but knowing it's not necessarily written in the stars for me," he explained in an interview with Forbes, "I'm scared not to make the most of this life."

And when it comes to his plans for the future, Harlow is nothing if not ambitious. "I want to be the biggest rapper," he told Forbes. "I just want everybody to know I love rap and I'm about to take over."