“Can I tell you one of my favourite things in the world?,” Jack Harlow asks, straight-faced with his brow furrowed. “Proving people wrong.” He gestures at the scale of London’s 12,500-capacity OVO Arena Wembley. “This is what matters to me!” Standing behind plumes of candy-scented vape that rise from the crowd before him, the Louisville rapper is deadly – and endearingly – serious, even if a large black curtain towards the rear of the venue suggests a few blocks of unsold seats.
Yet Harlow refuses to rest on his laurels. The 24-year-old has found rapid fame over the last two years, stacking a series of collaborations with his heroes Lil Wayne and Drake, plus his own global hits after 2020’s sprightly ‘What’s Poppin’’ blazed into US Top Ten and racked up a Grammy nomination. Tonight marks his first-ever arena show outside of the US, and after Harlow’s eleventh-hour cancellation of his main stage Reading & Leeds festival appearance in August, it also makes for his biggest international crowd to date. From both artist and audience, there’s a distinct sense of release, which starts at fever pitch and ramps up as the gig goes on.
With a setlist drawing largely from May’s middling ‘Come Home The Kids Miss You’, album tracks are greeted like greatest hits, with fans word-perfect not just on the obvious smashes – the chart-topping ‘First Class’, a fiery, braggadocio rendition of ‘Nail Tech’, replete with blazing horns – but the softer cuts too, such as the downtempo ‘Like A Blade Of Grass’. In the background, neon LED visuals duke it out for everyone’s attention, while Harlow is a blur of movement, offering up dozens of poses as if he’s working out on an arcade dance machine. “I sold them basements out, let’s do arenas,” he repeats on ‘Dua Lipa’, reinforcing this evening’s mission statement. Any objections you could raise melt away amid all the lights and booming bass reloads, both cranked up to 11.
Sometimes, it all feels a bit rushed, as he spits through 25 tracks in little over an hour, cramming the most immediate bits – anthemic melodies, pounding rhythms, bars with charisma to spare – into tiny spaces, with some of these live renditions around a minute long. When Harlow gives himself space to breathe, however, he truly shines: an a capella ‘Side Piece’ sees him play up his underdog status to sterling effect, rapping closer to the mic, as though to prove to any naysayers that he can underscore his proud, gleaming confidence with a level of sincerity.
A surprise guest appearance from Dave is met with shrieks of delight – to the point you worry for some audience members’ tonsils – before the set finishes with a speed-run through Harlow’s biggest tracks, including his commanding verse on Lil Nas X team-up ‘Industry Baby’. “One day, you will see me play the fucking O2 [arena]. Watch me,” he says, pausing to let the inevitable roars drag out longer. How long it’ll take him to get there is anyone’s guess, but only a fool wouldn’t believe him.
Jack Harlow played:
‘Sundown’ / ‘Warsaw’ / ‘Thru The Night’ / ‘Ghost’
‘Like A Blade Of Grass’
‘Love Is Dro’
‘I Got A Shot’
‘SUVs (Black On Black)’
‘Starlight’ (with Dave)
‘I Wanna See Some Ass’
‘Already Best Friends’