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“The struggle is real” is a phrase that’s been thrown around with ironic insouciance so much, it’s begun to reek of privilege. But for Tarica June, and many other artists, struggle isn’t just a cute meme. It’s real.

In “4-Unit (My Life),” off her Stream of Consciousness EP released earlier this year, June chronicles the everyday struggles of her life, from juggling bills and student loans, to her life in a four-unit building that shares a water tank, waiting for her neighbor downstairs to finish showering so she can take her turn. It’s a sobering song that June raps with somber conviction, much in the vein of her viral hit from the same EP, “But Anyway,” which similarly documented the struggle of living in a rapidly gentrifying city. A struggle that the D.C. native knows all too well. 

June explains: 

The song details many aspects of my story. The first verse describes my struggle with being a self-funded independent artist in an expensive city, juggling bills, student loans, and of course the costs associated with being an artist (I cite studio time as an example), and the fear of being a ‘starving artist’ (“feels like musical chairs…might not be a place to sit when the music ain’t there”). The song is called 4-unit because I live in a 4-unit building (“4-unit building with a water tank that everyone shares, I can’t shower same time as the guy downstairs”). These types of buildings tend to be much cheaper than the new buildings in the city, which for the most part are high-rises with lots of units, so for me it’s the most affordable option. But they also are obviously older so the plumbing might not be perfect and there might be other types of challenges. So that was a short way to express a whole host of ideas. This verse goes on to describe feeling unfulfilled within office jobs, and the annoyance that comes with having to deal with an uncomfortable, stuffy work environment when you’re an artist at heart (“they want the graduate to end up in a button-up shirt; under fluorescent lights smile at folks you don’t like, laugh at jokes that ain’t funny, just to make that money”…”touching concrete, never grass, never sand, no sunlight, it can wreak havoc on the spirit of a person…”). 

And these challenges can be even harder for artists, who often have to work twice as hard and sacrifice twice as much just to be able to create their art. The second verse deals with that, and the idea June’s mother imposed on her that she should be focused on her education and “always preached that you have to be practical and you have to be able to support yourself, so I knew that being a musician would have been frowned upon,” she says. Because of that, June has lived a kind of double life, pursuing music at the same time as her education—”I was writing papers at the same time i’m writing bars/ I was sitting up in class looking like i’m taking notes/ When I’m really writing rhymes trying to get some better quotes,” she raps.

In the music video, which she directed and edited, June raps in and around her neighborhood, the recording studio, and, naturally, her apartment in a four-unit building. It’s a personal song, but one June says has a universal message:

Although the song is personal, I meant for it to also express how many people besides myself are feeling who are going through similar struggles within our current system. I know there are many people who feel similarly to this although their dream might be something besides music. So many of us are working to survive while trying to carve out the space to do what we love and pursue our dreams.