If given the option to eat KFC or Popeyes, I’d choose Popeyes every time. KFC’s chicken doesn’t have the Louisiana Kitchen’s Cajun spice, which bursts with flavor and leaves my taste buds rejoicing with every crunchy bite. And Popeyes’ warm buttermilk biscuits may be a choking hazard, but I’ll devour five with no drink before I try anything else on Colonel Sanders’ menu. So when Jack Harlow partnered with KFC to launch his own meal, I had no interest in tasting it. The meal consisted of “childhood favorites” that included mac and cheese, fries, lemonade, a side of ranch and his recently added favorite, a spicy chicken sandwich. These foods sounded great but were already on KFC’s menu.
I was hoping for something new, but that’s typically how musical artists’ meal collaborations go. Travis Scott’s McDonald’s meal, which sent fans clambering to the nearest Mickey D’s drive-thru and even led to a shortage of meal supplies, was simply a quarter pounder with bacon, fries, barbecue sauce and a medium Sprite. It was nothing special as these items could easily be found on the menu. But that didn’t matter, as the meal was an instant hit and boosted McDonald’s sales during the pandemic. It was no surprise KFC would do the same with Jack Harlow’s meal, and for those reasons, I wasn’t interested.
However, when I saw the KFC x Jack Harlow ad online, something within me stirred. Toward the end of the minute-long ad, we see the young Kentucky rapper in a crimson blazer sitting in a KFC-themed room. Surrounded by buckets of freshly prepared fried chicken, fries bathed in the finest seasoning, and chicken sandwiches with glistening brown buns, Harlow takes a bite out of a sandwich.
My stomach gurgled. My taste buds whimpered. My nose twitched as I found myself swaddled in a deep-fried fragrance. KFC had never looked so appetizing. At that moment, I forgot about their flavorless chicken and tasteless biscuits, and other people seemed to agree with me. “Never thought I would want to eat KFC so much,” one comment read. “This makes me wanna eat KFC and I don’t even like their food,” another person admitted. For the first time, my mouth watered for KFC — it was consumer manipulation at its finest.
The marketing campaign for the musician’s partnership was nothing short of genius. Following the release of his highly anticipated sophomore album, it was perfect timing to launch his combo meal. For further promotion, Jack worked at a KFC drive-thru in the Atlanta area. Fan-captured pictures and videos of him donning a bright, red uniform while sporting a headpiece circulated on social media. What would be better than your favorite rapper serving you his own special meal? Jack had the demeanor of an overworked yet determined food service employee as he took orders and handed over food like a true working man. With all this hype surrounding the rapper’s KFC meal, I finally decided I would try it. I needed to sink my teeth into that chicken sandwich. Just how finger-licking good was his meal?
After receiving the brown paper bag that contained the rapper’s meal, I noticed it didn’t have a particular smell. Popeyes’ aroma of fried chicken goodness gently caresses your nose, so I was surprised KFC’s food wasn’t accompanied by a smell too. Regardless, this didn’t stop me from munching on a few fries while I drove home. The fries were easily the best thing about the meal and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed them. They had a golden brown color, flaky texture and the seasoning was flavorful. They also had the perfect balance of a crunchy exterior and fluffy inside. This was definitely the highlight of the meal.
The chicken sandwich, on the other hand, didn’t live up to expectations. The sandwich buns didn’t have the same glisten as they did in the ad, but you can’t expect food to look as advertised. The pickles were a nice touch, which is something Jack said he added and made the sandwich less bland. A shy amount of spicy mayo tucked itself somewhere in between the crispy chicken breast and buttered bun but didn’t have the bold taste I was hoping for.
Despite that, the buns were nicely toasted and the all-white chicken breast was crispy, thick and juicy, making the chicken sandwich the runner-up to the seasoned fries. I would quickly discover that these were the more enjoyable foods in the meal, as the lemonade and mac and cheese weren’t up to par.
Ideally, a nice, cold lemonade sounds great with this meal but when I tried it, the drink seemed out of place. Usually, this beverage is sweet and tart but KFC’s lemonade had a weird, diluted mix of both, and more sweet without the lemonade’s signature sour. I think a soft drink would have sufficed, but the lemonade washed the food down just fine. As for the mac and cheese, it had no redeeming qualities. Even in the ad, it didn’t look all that appealing. It reminded me of Kraft Mac and Cheese, which I adored as a child but now hate. It even tasted as bad as the boxed mac and cheese too. The macaroni was soft and mushy and came in baby food size portions, which was a relief since I didn’t want any more than I was given.
Overall, I would say the meal wasn’t finger-licking good, but decent enough. I appreciate Jack for getting me to try items on the menu I would’ve never eaten and the marketing definitely did its job well. For KFC, it wasn’t bad, but I do wish it was something different. As mentioned before, musician meals tend to be the same repackaged menu items with their endorsement on them so it’s not like you’re getting anything different. Jack mentioned in an interview that he wanted more creative freedom when it came to making his meals but KFC wanted him to “stick to the script.” Why not make a new sauce or mix fountain drinks to create an entirely original concoction? Giving people something that already exists makes the meal less special. However, it doesn’t make it any less good. And though I wish they allowed more freedom to experiment, I understand why they would be hesitant to put out an entirely new meal that may not sell well.
Regardless, Jack’s partnership with KFC indicates the success he’s found as an artist. Jack’s KFC meal is a good attempt and definitely didn’t turn me into a KFC believer, but I would probably get it again and I’m hoping fast-food chains can give more freedom to artists to get creative when it comes to combo meals.