The greatest rappers are well known for lyrics with personal, emotional, and social depth that provides meaningful commentary on the world around them. Plenty of rappers have lacked this, but not many who have ascended as far as Harlow. In the words of one of Harlow’s critics, “somewhere along the road to perfecting the medium [of rap], he forgot to bring the meaningful stuff that will populate it.”1
Harlow’s content boils down to two main subjects: his desire to be a great rapper and his sexual exploits. As far back as the mixtape that Harlow released when he was eighteen, the same two themes are front and center: girls and glory.
The circularity of becoming a famous rapper by rapping about becoming a famous rapper betrays the superficial nature of Harlow’s career. Harlow is supremely focused upon himself, a form of preoccupation sometimes called navel gazing. Harlow’s technical proficiency aside, what contributes to his ever-rising popularity? In other words, why is our culture so eager to indulge in his navel gazing?
A Culture of Self-Obsession
The obvious possibility is that we, as a culture, are so shallow as to not want anything more than empty entertainment like what Harlow has to offer. From blockbuster movies that feature little more than explosions and expletives to mindless fifteen-second social media video clips, a certain amount of our entertainment is incredibly vacuous. But perhaps there is more to Harlow’s success than a cultural indulgence in mindless music.
Perhaps Harlow’s self-centered, deeply narcissistic navel gazing enables or sanctions our own desires to be wholly self-focused. Despite the critics of his music, Harlow—as an individual and as a celebrity—is widely adored, despite (and even because of) his casual self-absorption. As a celebrity, Harlow is a de facto role model for his fans. The adoration and success he has gained from his navel gazing makes self-absorption seem that much more appealing and that much more acceptable.
As citizens in a society that elevates a character like Harlow, we must ask ourselves this question: are we just as self-absorbed as Jack Harlow? A little self-reflection could be a powerful antidote to self-obsession. The Christian worldview explicitly rejects self-centeredness, identifying Christ and the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31, Isaiah 42:8) and loving God and one another (Matthew 22:36) as the most important things in any person’s life. Yet that does not make us immune to the temptation of being focused on ourselves.
While we face the danger of becoming self-obsessed, there is a difference between being self-absorbed and knowing our own value. While the Christian worldview rejects self-obsession, it claims that human beings are intrinsically valuable (Genesis 9:6, Matthew 10:29-31). But this is profoundly different from the importance Harlow claims for himself. For Harlow, he is important because he thinks that he is important (and he needs to prove it); for Christians, we are all important because God thinks we are important (and we don’t need to prove it).
A dual danger exists for Christians: the danger of indulging in self-importance, and the reactionary danger of demeaning and denying our own value in an attempt to avoid becoming self-obsessed. There is a third option, a better way in which we follow the example given by Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1). The example given by Jesus is a life lived serving others with sacrificial love. This way of life prevents us from making ourselves the center of our lives and it does not allow us to demean ourselves or others. As Christians, we agree with God that we are of incredible importance, that he is the source of our value, and our priority is not to glorify ourselves but to glorify him. The end goal is so “that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).
Sign up here to receive weekly Reflect emails in your inbox!