BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Before Jack Harlow’s rise as one of the most popular new rappers on the scene, there was one show in Birmingham.

On January 12, 2018, Harlow played a small show in front of less than 20 people at WorkPlay Theatre. It was his first show on his first tour promoting his mixtape “Gazebo.”

“I thought I was famous,” Harlow said during a recent show back in Birmingham at Iron City last November. “I wasn’t.”

Since then, Harlow has gained a large following and has worked with artists like Kanye West, Eminem and Lil Nas X. On Sunday, the Louisville, Kentucky native will perform at the Grammy Awards, where he’s nominated for Album of the Year (“Montero”) and Best Melodic Rap Performance (“Industry Baby”).

“It’s crazy he started off as this corny little kid in our town and now, he’s one of the best biggest stars out there,” said Bryce Jones, a meteorologist at WDRB in Louisville.

Growing up in Louisville, Jones knew about Harlow and his music through his aunt, who taught chemistry at Butler Traditional High School. By that time, Harlow was slowly gaining momentum with music he had begun posting online.

Jack Harlow and Bryce Jones at WorkPlay in 2018. (Courtesy Bryce Jones)

“The music was corny, but you could tell that he had a lot of potential,” Jones said about Harlow’s early years. “It flowed very well.”

By the time “Gazebo” had come out, featuring Harlow’s breakout single “Dark Knight,” Jones had become a fan. While visiting with his brother at Mississippi State University in January 2018, Jones had found out that Harlow would be playing a few hours away in Birmingham. He, his wife, and his brother soon made the trip to the show.

“There were so few people, he came out in the lobby and took pictures, even gave us T-shirts,” Jones said.

One of the people at Harlow’s first Birmingham show was Mel Crozby, a Birmingham rapper who had been a fan of Harlow’s through “Dark Knight” and still remembers how strong of a performer he was.

“From that show, what stuck out to me was how unfazed he was by how small the crowd was,” Crozby said. “When you get onstage and see a crowd that small, it can be disheartening. The way he performed, you would’ve thought there were 100 people in the crowd.”

Like Jones, Crozby and his friends were able to talk to Harlow after his show, where he talked about his own music and sent him a link to some of his recordings on Instagram.

“He said ‘Thanks for sending it to me. I’ll listen in the morning,'” Crozby said. “I don’t know if he listened.”

Leading up to Harlow’s Iron City show last November, the rapper posted a picture on Instagram of his WorkPlay show, talking about what the city meant to him and how he would be coming back as part of his “Creme de la Creme” tour. Crozby, who was featured in the picture, found out about the post after friends of his had tagged him.

From there, Crozby decided to take a shot and reach out to Harlow on Instagram.

“I told him I was there in that picture,” he said. “I thought ‘He’s never going to look at this DM.’ He got back to me within 30 seconds.”

Crozby said Harlow said he was happy to hear from him and then said he would leave two tickets for him to go to the Iron City show.

“It really surprised me,” he said.

Bryce Jones and rapper Jack Harlow backstage at a show at Iron City in Birmingham in 2021. (Courtesy Bryce Jones)

Along with Crozby, Jones was also at the Iron City show, where Harlow put up a picture of his concert at WorkPlay to show how far he had come in a few years. Then, Harlow recognized Jones in the crowd, who was wearing the same University of Kentucky hoodie that he had worn at the WorkPlay show in 2018.

“I just realized that that fan in the UK hoodie is right there,” Harlow said as the crowd cheered. “I love you, man. Thank you so much for sticking with me.”

Jones said that after the show, one of Harlow’s security people went up to him and asked if he could meet Harlow backstage to talk.

“He just thanked me for sticking around,” he said. “It was a nice gesture.”

Jones said he feels proud to see Harlow come so far in his career.

“Even though he’s a little older, it’s a proud dad moment,” he said. “It’s cool seeing that.”

Harlow will return to Alabama to play the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores on May 22.