During last month’s BET Awards, some fans on Twitter expressed confusion at the presence of Jack Harlow at the ceremony and his nominations, as Harlow isn’t Black despite his participation in what he acknowledges is a traditionally Black genre. He addressed the debate in a new interview with Yahoo!, saying, “I feel blessed to have a voice in this period because, one, I’m not a street artist, and two, I’m not Black. The only thing keeping me here right now is that level of authenticity, of being myself.”
Harlow, who was nominated for Best New Artist, Best Male Hip-Hop Artist, and Best Song for his “What’s Poppin” remix featuring DaBaby, Tory Lanez, and Lil Wayne, appears to take in stride both the light backlash against him and the cultural shift that led up to it. He compared the modern era to the blog rap era when artists like Mac Miller and Asher Roth were seemingly being accepted into hip-hop spaces more readily than some of their predecessors. Although white rappers have always flourished economically, not all of them appeared at the BET Awards or received nominations.
“All of this stuff was coming into the fold and it had this energy surrounding it of, ‘We’re letting the white kids come to the party. We’re all in this together,’” Harlow said. However, in conversations with his fellow Kentuckian Nemo Achida, he notes that since the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, some Black folks have expressed a desire to close ranks. “He feels like the country going into these new civil rights moments almost shifted away from, ‘Let’s have the white boy at the party,’” he noted of his friend’s observation. “It became less about let’s all be diverse together and turned back into hip-hop being, ‘It needs to be a Black genre.’”
He accepts this new state of affairs philosophically, saying, “That’s just been the natural transformation of things, I think,” and even agrees that as a participant in a Black genre, he has a responsibility to show up for Black people. “The things I was doing last summer, any fans who didn’t feel like criticizing the police or were on the other side of things, I was going to weed them out. That could have been a moment for them to no longer be fans. But what is important is that I lead by example for all the white kids looking at me. This is what you do. You don’t just enjoy Black culture. You stand up next to Black people in a time of need.”
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Jack Harlow is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.