EXCLUSIVE: Struggle Jennings Addresses “Black Curtains” Video Controversy & More
by Yohance Kyles (@HUEYmixwitRILEY)
The grandson of legendary country singer Waylon Jennings admits to losing his way to the streets for a while, but when the man Struggle calls his “father figure” passed away while he was locked up in 2002 he decided it was time to take his rap passion seriously. With a goal of carrying on Waylon’s legacy and creating his own, Struggle set out on a musical path that has led to an international fan base that appreciates his heartfelt lyrics and personal story of redemption.
Part of that connection was established by Struggle’s latest video “Black Curtains.” The song serves as a message to his son, “Little Will,” who actually stars in the clip. The video also made headlines earlier this month after Tennessee’s Davidson County Sheriff’s Office accused the incarcerated emcee of misleading jail officials in order to film jailhouse scenes for the video. Struggle, currently housed at the Northeast Correctional Complex, has denied that he tricked DCSO officials and wanted the opportunity to set the record the straight about the situation.
AllHipHop.com connected with Struggle through his reps via e-mail to get his side of the story. The Nashville native also discusses the inspiration for his video, when he’s scheduled to be released, and what his fans can expect from him next.
AllHipHop.com: Why were you placed in jail and what is the current status of your incarceration? When will you be released?
Struggle Jennings: I was arrested on charges of conspiracy with 200 keys of cocaine and 300 pounds of weed, but it was dropped down to conspiracy of cocaine “of special amounts,” and they gave me 13 and a half years at 30%. The DEA had a three-year investigation on a suspected drug ring from Nashville to California, and my voice was caught on phone taps with suspected cartel members.
I really can’t talk too much about it though because they’re still going to trial on it, and I don’t wanna incriminate any of my charge partners. I’m also serving time for a federal drug charge that I caught in 2010. I’ve been incarcerated for 2 years now but I just made parole on my state charges, so I’ll be transferred to federal custody in February. I’ll be home by the summer of 2014.
What was the inspiration for your Black Curtains song/video?
Man, a couple of years ago my brother Jellyroll said something to me about my son. He said, “little Will is gonna be just like you bruh.” And it took me back to when I was younger, remembering people saying that to me about my dad. I remember always hearing stories after he was killed about how he was hustling and he had all these cars and guns and jewelry.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my whole life I strived to be just like that. It was like a curtain blocking my view of any other option. So when Jelly said that it finally clicked. I gotta change that. I gotta tear down that black curtain so he’ll have a clear view of his future. You know I got 5 kids, and I want them all to reach their full potential and live out their dreams, not get caught in the same cycle that I did. You know, it’s dark when you’re living in the shadows.
What exactly was the arrangement between yourself, the production company, and the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office concerning the filming at the site?
Well here’s the real deal, from the horse’s mouth. We were shooting a documentary before I got locked up. I was at a crazy point in my life, facing 30 plus years, struggling to record the album I always wanted to make, and lay down my testimony. Trying to hold my family together at the same time. My brother Yelawolf and my whole extended Slumerican family pushed to get a film crew to follow me and document everything that was going on, but we were interrupted by the U.S. Marshals.
So while I was at Davidson County Jail awaiting trial, we asked to get clearance so we could shoot more footage. It was a long shot, but they allowed us 45 minutes supervised by an officer and a public relations representative from DCSO. I signed all the release forms saying I was allowing them to film me and interview me. During the shooting we asked if we could do a performance scene of me rapping the verses to one of my songs. Of course they said yes, or we wouldn’t even be talking about this. There was an MP3 player sitting right on the table in front of me playing the song while we filmed four or five separate takes of the whole thing. Then they let the film crew walk me back to my unit.
We even asked if they needed to review anything before it was released, and they declined the offer. So when “Black Curtains” was released, I guess someone got in trouble for the decisions they made, and they tried to push the blame off on me. So it is what it is. We’re still working on the full version of the documentary. We’re actually about to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to finish it. I’m in prison so it’s not like I’m in here making money, but as soon as the rest of the budget’s in place it’ll be finished. We didn’t try to “trick” anybody. We just used a bad situation to put out a positive message, and we didn’t let any obstacles stand in our way.
Have you been admonished or punished in any why by jail officials?
Nah, everybody up here at Northeast is cool. It’s all love and respect as far as the staff and everybody goes… so far. I mean, I might end up in the hole after this interview, but we’ll jump that hurdle too.
Has there been any word about the suspected lawsuit by the DCSO?
Nah man. There’s no word of lawsuits. We didn’t break any laws. What are they gonna do? Sue us for the money that we charged people to watch a free video on YouTube?! Like come on, for real? If they do, it wouldn’t be my first time in a courtroom anyway.
Do you have any plans to edit the video like the DCSO has requested?
No. There’s no reason to. We didn’t depict anybody in a negative way. The message of the video is positive, and I’m not going to change that.
Despite the story of you “tricking” officials, the response on our site has been overwhelming positive towards your music. Do you see the whole situation as possibly being a blessing in disguise?
Yeah, it’s definitely been a blessing. It helped a message that needed to be heard reach an audience that I might not have been able to reach. The song, the video, it’s all part of my testimony. And God works in mysterious ways, you know? It shows that if something needs to be heard it will be. You can’t hold back the truth, and the world is in dire need of some truth and optimism right now. So I don’t even care about the backlash, as long as people hear the message. If it changes one person’s life it would be worth a few years in court anyway. So I’m gonna keep making music that’s true to me and hope that it reaches the people that need to hear it.
Any other music projects on the way?
Yeah this is just the beginning. Of course we got the documentary coming up real soon, and we’re about to drop some more videos over the next few months. I just released my debut album I Am Struggle a couple of months ago. We’re talking about doing a remix album based off those songs because there’s a lot of producers reaching out to my camp right now. We also came up with the idea to do a live album using just my vocals with a band replaying all the tracks, so we’re working on putting that band together down in Nashville right now.
I recorded a lot of music before I got locked up though, and we held on to some of my biggest records, so I’ll definitely be putting out some new songs this winter. I’m just riding the wave man. Seeing where this all takes me. I had a vision to speak the truth and put a positive message out there, but do it in a way that people would really pay attention. So just to know that they’re listening is really all that matters.
For more information about Struggle Jennings visit his Facebook page.
Stream/purchase Struggle’s I Am Struggle album below.