Doe Cigapom doesn’t reject what he’s done to survive, or how he feels about the city’s changing demographics. He robbed people and did unsavory things in the old D.C., the “Dodge City” with the high murder rate. “And I lied, even stole, plus cheat/’Cause those the type of games when you playing up in the streets,” Doe, 31, recalls on “I Did,” a cathartic standout from Life as We Know It, his collaborative album with Virginia producer Drew Dave (formerly known as Soulful!). He’s done and seen some messed up things, and this, to hear him tell it, is how he wants to atone.

Throughout Life, Doe scours his past as a way to move beyond it. On “Yes U Did,” he bears emotional scars from dealing with drug-addicted parents and being beaten by his dad. With “Heart Speak,” we learn that Doe once tried to kill himself—that is, until his friend, rapper Uptown XO, stopped him in 2005: “He said ‘I would do or die, the only thing that I ask is you to stay alive.’” The rapper talks about himself for much of the LP, but he keeps the narrative broad enough for anyone to relate. Consequently, Life as We Know It is introspective and attainable, a vast chronicle of inner-city existence that conveys the struggles of everyday people and their attempts to overcome despair.

Musically, Dave’s use of traditional soul is equally vital to the album’s mission statement. From the orchestral knock of “Indie Love” to the Southern stomp of the interludes, Dave provides an emotive canvas for Doe’s meditative rhymes. That’s the usual for Dave, whose 2011 album, Mumbo Sauce & Drumbreaks, paired local MCs—Doe Cigapom included—with symphonic samples and 1970s funk. For Doe and Dave’s Caged Birds EP, the producer opted for a brighter sound that anchored the project’s summery feel. On Life standout “On The Run,” Doe makes the indie grind sound like a bank heist; Dave’s beat, with its rustic guitars, galloping drums, and triumphant horns, places you in the getaway car.

So it’s tough to tell who’s at the helm of Life. Doe’s delivery is impressive, but the instrumentals could survive on their own. Nonetheless, Doe spits some of his best rhymes to date throughout the album, chiding misguided kids on “Youngblood” and bemoaning the music business on “Indie Love.” (Not every line hits the mark: “U Know Who U R” contains the cringe-worthy lyric “bammas still softer than the pussy on a newborn.”) As a whole, Life as We Know It opens the book on Doe’s life as a rapper and someone trying to survive in D.C. It’s an offering for the laid-off Metro worker, the hard-working single parent, and the displaced D.C. native. Those hardships aren’t just germane to the city, of course. Real life happens everywhere.