Photo Credit: Urban Wyatt
“Industry Baby” – the collaboration between Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow – felt like it might be a turning point in Harlow’s career, and not just because of its huge commercial success. While the majority of creative credit goes to Nas himself, it remains true that the song offered a bold new blueprint of what Harlow’s music could be. Over a triumphant full-band, horn-heavy sound, Harlow delivered one of the best verses of his career; filled with chest-pumping confidence and swagger and devoid of the awkwardness that typically plagues his music.
Hopes that Harlow had learned the right lessons from “Industry Baby” were diminished by his following single “Nail Tech” – which didn’t learn from “Industry Baby”, so much as it blatantly ripped off that song’s formula, albeit to a lesser effect. If Harlow’s next single – the anodyne viral hit “First Class” – didn’t fully crush these hopes, his new album, Come Home The Kids Miss You certainly does.
Panned by critics and listeners alike, Come Home The Kids Miss You has gotten the sort of reception that has the potential not just to damage careers but destroy them. Pitchfork – once infamous for its scathing reviews, but has since softened its image in recent years – awarded the album a 2.9/10, describing it as “among the most insipid, vacuous statements in recent pop history,” while even the more favorable of reviewers couldn’t help but admit it was often “repetitious” and “formulaic.” And, while I’m sure there are such examples, I personally can’t remember the last time social media had such a viscerally negative reaction to a piece of music as they have to Come Home The Kids Miss You.
Come Home definitely has a few big misses, and anyone who’s spent any time on rap Twitter in the last few days has been reminded of them time and time again. There are more than a few questionable sexual innuendoes – references to the taste of his semen, and of course, the deeply unsexy line, “I’ma have you cream-filled on some donut shit” – whose implication is obvious, yet the line itself makes less and less sense the more you think about it. There’s also the song “Dua Lipa”, which has nothing to do with the pop star beyond one line about Jack wanting to have sex with her. Harlow says Lipa signed off on the line, though his recounting of their conversation suggests unease on her part. The whole thing is deeply regrettable, though not as regrettable as the lines “Baby, is your passport valid? // Tell me are you down for a challenge? // It don’t matter to me if you vaxxed or not” – which aside from Harlow’s ambivalence towards the virus that has killed 1,000,000 of his country’s citizens, is made particularly grotesque by the referencing of R.Kelly’s “Do You Have Your Passport? Did You Get Your Shots?”
Despite this, anyone going into Come Home, knowing the reception it has gotten, might be surprised to find that by and large, the album isn’t that bad. Harlow is a competent, if not always particularly compelling, rapper. For his second album, the Kentuckian employed a list of producers and writers as long as your arm to ensure Come Home was at a very minimum, polished. But, while Harlow may initially benefit from low expectations going into his latest LP, this wears off by the album’s end. Around the midpoint of “Churchill Downs”, Harlow introduces Drake for the pair’s first collaboration together, and while Drake hasn’t been on top form for some time, on “Churchill Downs” he overshadows Harlow within seconds of his verse. It’s a reminder of what good rap music is – and that Come Home The Kids Miss You isn’t that.