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Dean Van Nguyen injured his wrist pouring some out for the fallen.
C Struggs didn’t seem to believe that his time on this planet would be short. Stars that pass away young sometimes shroud their work with sepulchral themes (Kurt Cobain, Tupac Shakur, Elliott Smith, Lil Peep). But Struggs, who died earlier this month after a prolonged battle with cancer, relished living every moment. He rapped like his chest contained fire, his larynx was laced with sulfur, and his spirit was as unbendable as a graphene rod.
Even on the gospel-drenched “Go To Jesus,”a mortality-wounded song recorded before the cancer diagnosis, found him declaring “30 is the new 20!” We’ve heard that line before, but it boomed from a man who seemed possessed by the belief that death could be stared down, intimidated, and defeated. From his pulpit, it felt like a beatific battle cry.
Patients deal with terminal conditions in different ways and each strategy, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, is right for them. In Struggs’ case, he was defiant, a man with a wrought iron mind. On the title track off his excellent recent mixtape, Why Not Hustle 2, Struggs shouts “Fuck that cancer shit n***a, that shit ain’t stopping shit.” Why Not Hustle 2 dropped while the Dallas artist lay in a 25-day medically induced coma after suffering kidney failure that he miraculously awoke from. It features very few references to his diagnoses. Apparently, Struggs was recording videos and recording music right until the end, his lust for life unbroken.
Two children have lost a father, countless loved ones have lost their kin. And rap has lost one of the South’s finest. Struggs’ voice had a warmth and rawness typically associated with soul singers and prophets. On wax, he could play a loverman or a gangster with equal sincerity—the bulky lothario who kept a pistol under the pillow.
Struggs’ music uppercased the phrase “Trunk-Rattler,” but like Boosie and Scarface, two of his clear stylistic forefathers, he was capable of rapping the blues. He defined Texas rap tradition. Here was a voice that could overwhelm the most expensive subwoofer, yet his flow had the nimbleness of a wuxia movie hero. Take a song like “36 Oz,” a banger made of tougher stuff than Marvin Hagler with the agility of Sugar Ray Leonard.
There was a heartfelt precision to his writing. “Go To Jesus” lays out the struggle of growing up in poverty, living when a violent death feels eternally tangible, and the problems in his relationship with his mother. “I wonder why she act like that, man, I don’t know this lady,” he sighs. Rappers depicting their mothers as anything less than infallible and divine is rare, yet Struggs delivered as moving a depiction of the complications that can exist between a son and his mom seen since 50 Cent admitted being confused as a child by his mother’s romances with other women. The video puts him in a local Dallas church, a reminder of the unremarkable rooms where Christians seeks solace. Now it’s where people will gather to mourn the man who gave the world such solemn hymns.
There are those currently paying tribute to a man they only knew from an internet meme. What I’ll say about that is I always feared it’d stifle Struggs’ rise as an artist because as a rapper he had everything to enter the kind of arena that guys like Young Jeezy and Juicy J currently inhabit. To their credit, Reddit users did donate thousands of dollars to a GoFundMe campaign after Struggs was diagnosed, and the man himself was said not to mind his viral fame.
But it’s the art that will live forever. Documents of the flesh, blood, and bone from which that incredible voice emanated. If the body is a cage then Struggs spent his time bettering himself, serving his city, connecting his fans to another realm of existence.