Jack Harlow Talks Lil Nas X, Their Friendship and ‘Industry Baby’ Video: ‘I Was Following His Lead!’

Lil Nas X Jack Harlow
Courtesy Columbia Records

Sometimes, when an artist makes a featured appearance on another artist’s song, you can tell that it’s just a payday — the featured artist got a nice check to add credibility to another artist that they don’t really know or maybe even respect. (No examples are necessary — we see them every week.)

Then there are the features where you can tell the artists not only like but genuinely admire each other and have a real personal chemistry — which  definitely seems to be the case with Jack Harlow and Lil Nas X on their tag-team “Industry Baby” and its controversial video.

Of course, barely a month has passed this year where Lil Nas hasn’t released a “controversial video” of one kind or another. But “Industry Baby” is different because it features Harlow — whose career is rising fast, powered by singles like the smash “What’s Poppin,” “Tyler Herro” and his new tag-team with Pooh Shiesty, “SUVs (Black on Black)” — essentially cosigning everything about Nas’ recent outspoken and groundbreaking songs and videos, which have seen him pushing the envelope against hip-hop’s longstanding homophobia issues. As noted in Nas’ Variety cover story this week, he isn’t making grandiose statements about being a pioneer or a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community because he doesn’t need to: His actions speak for themselves.

Harlow officially endorsed the prison-themed video on social media on the day it was released — via a hilarious Twitter exchange with Nas — and doubled down by saying he would have appeared in the clip’s most controversial scene, which features Nas naked in a shower with a bunch of male dancers (albeit with their privates pixelated), if he’d asked him to. Harlow said even more admiring things about his friend Nas in an interview with Variety last week.

Before we talk about Nas, how was your set at Lollapalooza?

It might be the best show I’ve ever done — it was incredible. The fans were just going for it, it felt like I could do any song and they were gonna lose it. I attribute it to my fans, but because Chicago is such a great music city. I did a show the night before [Lollapalooza] at the Vic Theatre that was just as electric, but not as many people were there so I didn’t know whether that was a fluke, but when I did the festival the next day I was just blown away. I can’t wait to come back and headline it someday.

What’s coming up next for you? Is there a new album or single or anything coming?

I’m just cookin’ right now. I’m always working on something — trust that every night I’m working toward something, but I wanna be careful about announcing too much before I wrap my head around it. Just know I’m working hard.

So when did you and Nas first meet?

The first time we actually met was right after we made the song, but we started communicating toward the end of 2020. We just admired each other’s social-media activity, I thought he was hilarious and I loved the way he was handling the internet. So we just started chopping it up — we got cool, followed each other, typical digital shit. And then after we told a few jokes and exchanged respect, he said he had a song he wanted me on and texted it over. I was actually getting a facial [when it arrived], and I played it and the lady giving me the facial was like, “Wow, that’s fire” — and I thought it was fire too, but that’s all I needed to hear. I was like, “You know what? I’mma do it.”

I wanted to make a statement with my verse though: it’s a hip-hop record but he’s in a kinda pop space, and I haven’t really crossed over to do too many pop moments. So what was important to me was not just tacking on the obligatory verse to hang on [his] coattails and slide up the charts — I wanted it to feel like a collaboration, and I really wanted it to be a statement, packed with quotables.

Why do you feel he’s important?

I think he’s giving a voice to a lot of people and kids who could use one. I think the community he represents could use someone who’s succeeding on a mainstream level — it doesn’t have to be a niche thing, it can feel like, Yo, you can be number one, you can be the greatest. I really recognize what he’s doing and I think he gets a lot deeper than the jokes and whatever gimmicky stuff people wanna associate — I really think he’s an icon. I really recognize what he’s doing, and I admire him — I admired him long before we met.

So it’s more than just a cosign, you’re good with all of it?

Of course, 100%. I love everything about his movement.

Was there concern from you or your team about what appearing in the video might mean for career?

I take counsel from a lot of people, and there were a few I trust who had their own reservations — just out of nervousness and “I don’t know if you should do this.” But honestly, I was never hesitant, it felt like the right move for me and I was excited to be a part of it. And there were also plenty of people on my team who were like, “Yo, do it!”

I think it shows how secure you are in yourself and your own sexuality and what you stand for, and your faith in your fans. Were you confident that your fans would be cool with it?

Wow, great question. I do think those things are true and I do have some security in those spaces, although I didn’t know how my fans would react. But for me it was less about… I always take what my fans will think into account, but [not] for this moment. I just felt like it was important and a great opportunity, and something that in ten years I’m gonna look back on and be very proud of.

You’re from Louisville, Kentucky — the South, which can lean very conservative in some areas. Did you grow up in a tolerant environment?

I am from Louisville and I guess it’s ambiguous what region you wanna put us — some people say we’re the South, some say the Midwest — but Louisville is a little more urbanized and liberal than the rest of Kentucky, so it’s not as classically country and homophobic and racist as some other rural areas would be. I actually went to a high school that had the first trans-gender bathroom [in the area], so I went to a high school that was very accepting and diverse, and it was totally normal. I have a lot of family members who are part of the LGBTQ community, so for me it’s something that I’ve grown up on and I’m totally comfortable with.

So you would have done the shower scene in the “Industry Baby”?

If he’d asked me, I would have done it. I was following his lead!