January 31, 2017

If you go on C Struggs’ Twitter, you’ll notice the quote: “Bru I cried at da gym today lol.” As far as incredibly general ways to describe, “Go To Jesus” go, that’s one of the better ones. Struggs steers into the lane of some of my favorite types of rappers, those making music that makes you feel like you can benchpress 400 lbs. and then cry afterwards after, when it feels like the weight of the world crushes your sternum.

I’m talking rappers like Pac, Boosie, and Scarface. Those gifted at translating the struggle into emotions understood by everyone rich or poor, moral or corrupt, criminals and reverends. Those who can translate the spiritual elements of life into wavelengths accepted by atheists. A song like “Go To Jesus” reminds me of vintage Scarface. Maybe it’s the fact that Struggs is a hefty dude from Dallas, a city ready for its time in the spotlight thanks to The Outfit, T.Y.E. Struggs, and everyone else in that guide to D-Town that The Outfit wrote last year.

Regional rap gets overlooked now because none of these dudes can afford publicists and most music writers are so beleaguered, fatigued, and underpaid that no one spends nearly enough time digging into the SoundCloud and YouTube trenches. Moreover, breaking new artists isn’t remotely as rewarding traffic-wise as breaking news and songs from established artists who might grant you a RT.

It’s a shame because there are plenty of rappers making powerful art well under the radar of the national press. Oak Cliff’s Struggs is a prime example, starting the song with the fear of turning 30 — a Rubicon for most rappers. For every one 2 Chainz, there are several thousand washed up LiveMixtapes corpses who peaked before their fourth decade. He recognizes the need to sound his age, turning to that most traditional pulpit — rapper as preacher — somewhere between Scarface, Killer Mike, Cee-Lo, and Alpoko Don (wherever he may be). He’s been grinding for most of the last decade, putting physical product in the few remaining local record stores and mixtape clearinghouses. The ex-football star and father raps with seen-it-all-weariness, exhausted from the fight but unwilling to quit.

The narrative is familiar: guns, drugs, and genocide. But Struggs has one of those tuba baritones that sound forged in some subterranean furnace. The hunger is figurative and literal. Rap as last hope. Rap as a way to have a voice, to explain how you got here, to offer a sacral hymn to the lord and a lament that his fame remains local. The soul samples in the back operates as a gospel chorus, the rare chop that channels classic Kanye without seeming indebted to it. This is something deeper, something Texas, something that can’t be faked or mimicked. It offers a powerful affirmation of faith because Struggs understands there are a million reasons why he should have lost it.