“This is what is real that them rappers never rap about”, Ajani NaNaBuluku spits, as the penultimate line of “The Struggle’s” second verse. The final line is a reiteration: “This is what is real that them rappers never rap about”. The song details an unglamorous struggle, not the fetishized narrative of drug dealing or imprisonment that record labels exploit for marketing strategies. Instead, NaNaBuluku opts for a more human, and decidedly more difficult approach. He evokes the familiar imagery of student loan debt (“Graduated to a fuckin’ world so cold and cruel though”) alongside cries of compassion and unfettered empathy for those around him. “Ever had to visit jail to see your uncle down and out?/ Ever been so broke you couldn’t even help your daddy out?” Ajani is willing to admit helplessness in a way that few other rappers are – and in facing it head on, he’s able to contain the urge to blame himself, or at least acknowledge it.
His cathartic plea (if it may be called that) is strung out over a beat produced by NaNaBuluku himself. At first the only element is a soothing keyboard progression, panned between channels, allowing a false sense of security before the kick drum makes a pointed entrance. The genre-blending is dizzying; neo-soul, trap, future bass, and more make their way into the mix. By the time the first verse hits most will have given up trying to suppose influences, because Ajani’s presence warrants full attention. His flow is somehow both biting and slurred; each syllable cuts through the mix before sliding effortlessly into the next. The drums dismantle themselves under his command in an effort not to divert focus, providing a thick foundation, popping in and out where needed. They come into full form with the chorus, their rhythmic pops and hisses balanced by NaNaBuluku’s fluid delivery. It’s catchy as fuck, too.
Written by Preston Fulks