As XXL reported earlier this month, incarcerated Nashville rapper Struggle Jennings sparked a local stir when he released a music video filmed from behind bars back in October. The hard-hitting “Black Curtains” video contains 2012 footage of Jennings inside the Davidson County, Tenn., correctional facility where he was being held at the time. Although Jennings’ camp insists otherwise, prison officials maintain that they were misled about the crew’s reasons for filming inside the facility.
Jennings has since been relocated to the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City, Tenn., where he is serving what could be the final months of a hefty drug-related sentence. Hailing from a family that has lived out plenty of personal controversy in the public eye, Jennings is the grandson of notorious country music legend Waylon Jennings, a founding father of the “outlaw country” genre.
With the assistance of his management, XXL was able to communicate directly with Struggle about what life’s been like inside, how growing up in Nashville shaped his artistry and what we can expect from him musically after his anticipated 2014 release. —Katie Moore (@kmoorenyc)
XXL: What’s been the most difficult part of being in prison?
Everything about prison is difficult. The loss of freedom, the time away from family, watching your kids grow up through pictures. Watching my career take off from behind these walls where it’s so hard to control, sometimes even out of my control. But it was a necessary part of my path. There’s definitely been a silver lining. Manifesting my dreams from a nightmare has been an empowering experience. I’m like a proud general looking down on a battlefield; even though we’re at war and we gotta make sacrifices, we’re still winning.
What’s helping you get through your time?
What helps me through the most is all the people that rock with me. We’re all in this struggle together. I’ve got thousands of people writing me letters and posting comments. When you know someone’s listening you have a responsibility to say something worth hearing. I’ll definitely be home sometime in 2014. I’ll definitely be back in the studio by May and I’ll definitely be on tour by next fall.
Are you writing music right now?
I write all the time. I write to stay on point. Last time I was locked up I filled whole notepads with songs and I never recorded a single verse. My music is always about what I’m really going through. I’m a storyteller, so when I touch down I’m heading straight to Music Row and I’m gonna get in the booth, turn the music on and tell my story.
If people get just one thing from the “Black Curtains” video, what do you want that to be?
It’s never too late to break the cycle. I’m a gangster, but I want my son to get more out of life than I did. I want him to know that he can do better than me. Statistics for the children of convicts are crazy! But the children are the future. And with the examples we’re setting right now, their vision is distorted right out the gate. They barely see they have options. We gotta tear down that black curtain that blinds them from seeing clearly.
What do you see as the high point of your musical career?
This may sound corny, but right now I’d have to say when I heard my son Will’s excitement the first time he saw the “Black Curtains” video: “Daddy we were just on the evening news!” He stars in the video as himself, so he’s been getting this crazy response from his peers and everybody in his life. It’s helped him so much in just a couple weeks. Now he’s full of hope, and he’s got a new set of dreams. I just wanna show my kids that with hard work, dedication and determination, anything’s possible.
What’s the Nashville hip-hop scene like, and how do you fit into it?
Nashville is such a melting pot. You got so many talented artists coming here from all over the world, mixing with the musical heritage of the people who started this whole shit. Everybody with their different perspectives and styles. The potential down there is unlimited. There’s things that I wanna do down there that are gonna change the face of country music, and I’m just one dude. But Nashville’s always been a city where dreams come true.
What can we expect from you next?
I’ve got three new music videos coming out over the next few months, and there’s two remix projects we’re gonna put out this winter. But the biggest news is definitely the I Am Struggle documentary. While I was out on bond facing 30 years, I went into the studio to cut my album thinking it would be the last time I got to tell my story. My brother Yelawolf kept pushing me to film everything that was going on in my life. We all saw the vision so we got a crew together and they just followed me through everything. We ended up with over 20 hours of documentary footage. We’re actually just about to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds so we can finish it. I just wanna get my message out to as many people as possible, and telling my story seems to be the best way to do that.