Don't look a gift horse in the mouth... But what about a guest verse? Especially when it comes from hip-hop's biggest superstar Drake. That's what rapper Jack Harlow has to contemplate as he sets out to release his forthcoming album, Come Home the Kids Miss You, on May 6th.
This week, an unreleased track featuring Jack Harlow and Drake (who were spotted buddying it up in Turks and Caicos) hit social media. Tentatively titled "Have A Turn," Drake's verse leaked in its entirety. Now, when we say "leaked" in a 2022 context, it's usually not a random, accidental release or a security breach at the hands of a forgetful unpaid intern. Many artists and collaborators (producers, guests, etc.) sign non-disclosure agreements during the recording process of high-profile albums and others just know better than to leak unreleased material. Hell, even I've had to sign them when going to certain rappers' homes. So, this "leak" was most likely intentional— and given the subject matter, something Drake wanted out there.
Should Jack Harlow even include this on his album?
In a genre replete with cosigns, getting the figurative thumbs up from the reigning superstar pretty much guarantees exposure. The industry takes notice, Record labels want to take meetings. The media pays attention. Publicists will actually say things like "Drake-cosigned artist" in the subject line of pitch emails. Playlist curation is largely guaranteed. Drake, or whoever is in his ear, has proven to be an eclectic talent spotter. He's on top of emerging sounds, scenes and trends from UK Drill to Afrobeats. There are entire blog posts and thinkpieces dedicated to the power of the Drake cosign.
"Drake was the first person to put [me] on before anybody… It was just like, 'You gotta shine and I'ma see to it.' I forever, forever owe Drake," A$AP Rocky has said. iLoveMakonnen got the whole industry talking when Drake jumped on his "Tuesday," and ultimately signed him to his OVO Records. "[Drake] wanted to help bring ["Tuesday"] to the light and I'm thankful that he did," Makonnen told radio host Sway. "If he put a stamp on it, that must mean it's hot," Sway replied.
The problem of having Drake jump on your song is that it quickly becomes his song. He has a BIG presence. Many artists, from Migos to Blocboy JB and even Future, have been overshadowed when this guy shows up. A musical shapeshifter, he has an uncanny ability to mimic the style and cadence of whoever he's with. He can seamlessly maneuver through genres. Look no further than Migos' "Versace," which Drake ended up dominating. Does anybody remember any of the verses after his? Didn't think so. "It was a gift and a curse," Migos' label head Pierre "Pee" Thomas told FADER. "Sometimes I really wish he had never jumped on it—it was gonna blow without him."
Migos was already getting regional love when "Versace" dropped. Now, did Drake add fuel to the fire? Absolutely. But what would have happened if the Atlanta rappers had done it themselves?
Being self-made that's powerful. You don't owe anybody anything. There's never that uncertainty, the imposter syndrome of wondering if you're just in the room because you're Drake's plus one.
"The line between paying homage and wave riding is a blurry one," said Earl Sweatshirt. In Earl's case, he didn't need the Drake stamp of approval. He already had critical love and die-hard loyalists. If anything, it would have hurt his career to be perceived as needing a big name to hitch his star on.
There's always a new "flavor of the moment" in hip-hop. With the advent of streaming and social media, the life cycle of an artist is getting shorter and shorter. The average artist doesn't have time to truly incubate, develop and grow. And fans, are voracious for what's new and next. Giving out cosigns (or Bitcoin, as he did with Kodak Black) gives Drake the opportunity to be seen (and heard) with the newest, youngest and hottest rappers. At 35 years old—and a decade-plus into his career—he could very well be seen as old, outdated, the "dad in the club." Staying on top of the trends with Gen-Z keeps his name relevant. Some have even gone so far as to accuse the rapper of being a cultural appropriator, by embodying the style, vernacular and even accents of who he's feeling at the time. I'll let you decide that for yourself.
Jack Harlow has been rapping commercially since 2015 and broke out with "What's Poppin" in 2020, notably, a solo song. He's shown his ability to cross over into pop with Lil Nas X's "Industry Baby," one of the few rap representations at the 2022 Grammys. He's already got love from Kanye West. He doesn't need Drake on his album. It's distracting, drums up old Drake vs. Pusha T beef and does nothing to propel—artistically or commercially—an artist who is doing just fine in both arenas. Harlow has over 44 million monthly listens on Spotify (as the #29th most popular artist currently), has a movie career on the horizon with the White Men Can't Jump reboot and recently graced the cover of Rolling Stone by positioned as a "heartthrob" (Again, I'll let you decide that for yourself).
Don't do it, Jack. Save that guest verse for a rainy day. Or, never.
Do you think Jack Harlow needs a Drake song on his album? Sound off in the comments + subscribe.