The North Side rapper walks the line between a challenging upbringing and a future filled with promise

On Eyedentity, the long-in-the-works new album from TrigNO, the North Side-born rapper straddles the line between a challenging past and a promising future — a tension that exhibits itself in everything from song titles (“FuturePast”) to the choruses on which his verses hang. Witness the refrain of “Change,” which pivots from “things never change” to “everything must change” as the song progresses, gradually introducing an element of light into the music.

Throughout, the rapper pushes back at outside forces that might stymie this growth — “They want to see me stuck in my ways,” he spits on the Dev Draper-produced “4biddenFruit” — as well as those from within his community who might want to keep him tethered to the past.

“You hear it from both sides, either from … people above where I’m at, rich people, down to people where I’m from who’re like, ‘C’mon, sell this with me real quick,’ or, ‘Stay in the hood,’” said TrigNO, whose new album debuted on streaming services today, Oct. 14. “I’m in that gray area right there, so it is like it is. But as long as I stay true to myself, I can get up out of there. … I can’t just keep looking at the same thing every day.”

Growing up, TrigNO, 26, said he navigated a similar divide living in a strict, religious home centered in a lower-income neighborhood where crime tended to thrive. “At the crib, at my mom and dad’s house, we practiced the Bible, but when you stepped outside, you’d see all kinds of crazy things and all the bad stuff,” he said. “It was easy to be like, ‘All right, I’m going to go out here and get rid of this eight-ball real quick,’ but then come home knowing good and well that if I bring one of those in the crib, it’s a wrap.”

Early songs cater to these youthful misadventures, TrigNO retracing his life in unsparing detail, right down to the time he was kept out of school for weeks with scabies. As the record progresses, however, the MC tightens up to the point that he starts rapping about all of his income coming from legitimate, taxable sources on the aptly titled “Boss Talk.” “Just a hoodlum filing 1099s,” he spits in a line that plays like a working-class twist on Jay-Z’s “I’m a business, man” boast. The song also references the self-drive fueling TrigNO’s evolution: “I bring my own daylight,” he raps.

“Going in [to making Eyedentity] I thought I’d always be here,” he said. “But even just reading everybody’s story that’s on now, they’re not living the same lifestyle that they did, or some of them would be dead by now. They’re living their best life, or whatever the kids say nowadays.”

TrigNO, an admitted perfectionist, said he recorded more than 80 songs for Eyedentity before paring it back to 14 for the release. “For me, I do a lot of letting the verse breathe before getting back to it,” he said, noting that he'll often set a song aside for days or even weeks before returning to it to see if it still holds the same pull as in that spark of creation. “I had in my mind, like, ‘I gotta get those chill bumps on me every time I listen to a beat or a verse.’ That’s how I knew something had to stay.”

Early in his career, TrigNO, who has toured professionally as a dancer and started rapping while in elementary school at Duxberry Park, lacked the same patience, often racing ahead of the beat as he pattered his flow after MCs like Eminem and the Christian rapper Phanatik. Gradually, though, he learned to appreciate what his vocals could do when he eased up, letting his voice sit back in the beat rather than sprinting around in tight circles, nipping at its heels — a change that further highlighted his skills as a storyteller.

“I know I can out-rap most people,” he said. “But specifically with this album, every bar had to be thought-provoking. Every bar had to be a photo.”