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Jack Harlow throws a big ol' ACL Fest party

Ramon Ramirez
Special to the American-Statesman
Rapper Jack Harlow performs Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, during the second day of Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Is Jack Harlow OK? And what do we make of the kid?

Ultimately, the 23-year-old rapper is capable and charismatic. Big whoop: If you went to a high school where they played radio rap at prom, you know him. He’s earnest, introspective, and has a lane. The best Jack Harlow songs ride workmanlike beats off the strength of smooth flows. They tell their story and don’t linger. They make you bounce. 

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“Oh it’s packed. We gonna have a party tonight,” Harlow said onstage. “I’ve been to Austin a few times, but I’ve never had this many people in front of me.”

Think about Eminem’s “Real Slim Shady”: Every single person is a Jack Harlow lurkin’. Does that make this rapper’s whole situation special? No, but it also makes him a man of the people, a bro built for the challenge — who can relate. At the Miller Lite stage on Saturday, Harlow spoke about previous trips to Austin for South by Southwest in 2017, where the poor guy had only “7,000 followers.” He’s been working on rap mixtapes since he was a 12-year-old in Shelbyville, Kentucky, after all. 

Rapper Jack Harlow performs Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, during the second day of Austin City Limits Music Festival.

Rocking a grey tracksuit and deal-with-it shades, Harlow elaborated at Zilker on his previous Austin ventures for SXSW, where he’d cling to any industry showcase possible in an effort to raise eyebrows: “I just really wanted to get in front of somebody — in front of 12 people sometimes.”

But the post-Drake rap star also broke character to be considerate during ACL. Since landing on “Saturday Night Live” and performing with internet stars like Lil Nas X, the rapper has been riding the fruits of his Spotify drops. It was nice to see him fade the bravado to be a sweet dude. 

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“I got a long time up here,” he said early on as the crowd stuffed up front. “So what do you say we pace ourselves a little bit? There’s a lot of girls in the front row.” 

Later he noticed a fan’s sign and praised its messaging: “‘You belong here,’ what a nice sign,” he remarked. 

He’d don a cowboy hat and do sing-song R&B. He came out to singles from OutKast. 

“You don’t mind if we do the biggest song in the world right now?” Harlow asked before the Lil Nas X collab “Industry Baby.”

He closed with “What’s Poppin,” a passing-grade rap song with 524 million streams alone on Spotify that also went viral on TikTok. Anyone with a Dell notebook could have written it, yes, but the point is that you didn’t — and Jack Harlow did.

If that isn’t lit, fam, I don’t know what it is.