I don’t know if anyone else heard Tru Life on the radio last week after he slapped up Cam in the club, but I did, and it’s been bugging me ever since. Dude sounds so conflicted—so caught between who he’s been and who he wants to become—and I wonder if that’s not part of his appeal. I bet a lot of people can relate. Tru Life seems to represent that battle between growth and self-destruction that so many men in hip-hop struggle with. The street mentality is so insidious, so hard to shake. That voice in your head that tells you that defending your respect trumps all other interests—even safety, even peace of mind, even getting money, even being around to take care of your family—is so hard to drown out. I’m glad Tru is trying, and I like him all the more for it.

Hip-hop is an inherently aspirational culture. It gives poor kids the world over hope. But if artists can’t grow out the state of mind that sees violence as the only solution, what are they really giving youth? If rappers are still brawling and beefing and on edge all the time, well into their thirties, they’re basically just telling kids that it doesn’t matter how much success they get, they’ll never escape the bullshit they grew up around. Which is a downright heartbreaking thought.

On that same note, I spent the last week listening to the new Bone Thugs album and I have to say that I’m seriously feeling it. After months of get-drunk-and-get-freaky club records, Strength & Loyalty is exactly the album I’ve been waiting on—something smooth, mellow and moving. In other words: headphone music. The track that samples Fleetwood Mac is so ill (Rumors is one of my all time favorite albums). But I really can’t stop bumping “I Tried.” Something about that song is so haunting. That struggle to transform your life is one that so many in hip-hop live with every day.

Sometimes it’s a mental thing—letting go of old ideas that don’t work anymore. And sometimes it’s a financial struggle. Often it’s both. I’ve watched so many dudes I care about go through it. I don’t think that people who grew up comfortable have any idea how hard it is to change your life when you don’t have financial resources. You make a wrong turn somewhere and find yourself living a way that fills you with anxiety. You know you need to change, and so you try. But there’s no support net to catch you, nobody in your family that can pitch in for rent or groceries as you find your way, nobody to buy you those dress clothes you need for that job interview. You have to reinvent your life out of nothing, and it’s a gargantuan effort. There’s always that transition period between what you’ve been and what you want to be—a time of weeks or months or years when your back is up against the wall and you feel hopeless and helpless.

I’m guessing most rappers know a little something about that scenario. I’d like to hear more songs about that—and how if you hang on long enough and keep doing the footwork, eventually things change—and less about chains, chicks, and clubs. Cause none of that is worth much if you’re still looking over your shoulder all the time.