Jack Harlow looks noticeably more buff on the cover of his third album for Generation Now/Atlantic than the skinny teen in his boxers pictured on his mixtape, 18, from seven years previous. Yet, with its directness, concision, and self-analysis, Jackman (2023) feels like a throwback to Harlow’s releases back when he was trying to make a name for himself in Louisville, KY, as opposed to a globe-straddling superstar. Whereas he was happy to share billing with Drake, Pharrell Williams, and Lil Wayne on 2022's Come Home The Kids Miss You, here he prefers to largely stick to himself, performing his raps on his own over tracks by producers such as Hollywood Cole, FNZ, and DJ Dahi. Built from samples of songs by a range of artists, including soul great Bill Withers, '90s R&B act Jade, and even alt-pop cult faves Stereolab, the songs here are richer in sound than the more minimal, trap-influenced breakouts like "Dark Knight." That said, there's still a no-nonsense rigor underlying the deceptively gentle vibes of tracks such as "Denver." Likewise, the lyrics on Jackman. have a tougher edge in direct opposition to the sunny sound of "Ambitious" or the laidback ease of "No Enhancers." The downside of fame is a prevalent theme, as is the hunger that persists even after worldly success has supposedly sated all appetites. Always quick to admit to his uncertainties, Harlow expresses some wariness about his audience, too. As he puts it in "Common Ground," "the festivals are filled with Larry Bird jerseys, college students in a hurry to jump to a four-count and say the n-word." The thorny issue of race surfaces again in "It Can't Be" as Harlow rebuffs the doubters who suggest his skin color is the only reason for his success, not "the tone of my voice" or "the thought I put into every choice." The lesson here is that life just keeps getting more complicated, like when he reckons with the difficult revelations about friends and acquaintances in "Gang Gang Gang." But it's clear in the energy of his performances that his gratitude for being able to do what he does outweighs any gripes or misgivings.

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