LA rapper Drakeo the Ruler is backstage at the Once Upon a Time in LA festival. He has just capped off a successful, creatively fruitful year and celebrated his 28th birthday. But unknowingly, his fate is sealed.

Fellow LA rapper YG arrives with what’s been described as 40 to 60 Blood gang members. Given the heavy and complex street politics of Los Angeles, it’s no wonder that violence would erupt from such gatherings of different loyalties.

Drakeo was not gang loyal but often still ended up in the centre of drama. His erratic post-jail behaviour resulted in being in the crossfire of a certain section of Inglewood Bloods. If there was a chance to teach him a lesson, it was this moment backstage.

A scuffle escalates, ending in Drakeo bleeding out on the floor with a stab wound to his neck. The moment is promptly recorded and uploaded to social media, creating a spectacle out of a young man losing his life. Midnight hits and attempts to revive him fail – Drakeo is pronounced dead.

Such rapper deaths are not unique, but Drakeo’s demise was significant. A leader of the Stinc Team collective, he had only begun creative heights, an unprecedented triumph after a pre-trial jail stint where prosecutors intended to let him rot in solitary confinement.

He defined a generation of brooding, dark LA rap, where the underbelly of the city is put on display for an outsider to experience.

Drakeo’s versatile, deceptively casual flow is delivered with a reserved, menacing tone. His words can jump from simple rap cliché to oddly beautiful turns of phrase, layered with LA-specific slang that illustrates a wider vernacular than his major label peers.

The following songs are not a ‘best of’ but the tracks that give an insight into Drakeo’s artistry, providing an arc and context to the persona that drives his work. Though his career was tragically cut short, many in his cult-like fanbase will continue to stamp his presence in the history and legacy of the genre and city.

Warning: the following songs and videos contain harsh language and adult themes

DJ Mustard – Mr Get Dough feat. Drakeo the Ruler, Choice & RJ (2015)

Drakeo’s first brush with a wider audience was on this DJ Mustard cut, contributing the opening verse and infectious hook on top of a minimalist piano riff and booming bass and clap beat.

The influence of fellow city rappers Tyga and YG linger, but it’s hardly distracting when superstar producer Mustard propelled the careers of both. Drakeo fits perfectly into the context, establishing his skills for constructing unique cadences and choruses that are ready for rap radio.

It is a cruel twist of fate that the crew behind this song, an example of what could have been a mutually beneficial relationship, would be part of the street drama that would consume Drakeo’s energy for the last part of his life. Both parties would forge different paths after this, and Drakeo would go on to come into his own.

Impatient Freestyle (2016)

Impatient Freestyle is a wonderful statement from the Ruler, reigning as his most-viewed music video at 36 million views.

The hook is an indispensable tool in modern rap, yet Drakeo is confident enough to forego this crutch and rhyme straight through its runtime.

Weaving through all types of flows and cadences of his own creation, he’s completely undisturbed by trends. The words open up his persona, flipping between peacocking and gritty observations about the difficulties of swapping street life for the studio as a legitimate career blossoms (“In the field, rap ain’t payin’ no bills, it’s getting tricky / And on top of that, I’m poured and my fingers is getting’ itchy”).

Drakeo glides effortlessly across an ethereal, melancholic raindrop synth, evoking a pathos that builds investment and puts the listener on his team.

Out the Slums feat. 03 Greedo (2017)

Out the Slums pairs Drakeo with frequent collaborator 03 Greedo. Greedo is a classic hip hop wildcard, constantly breaking rules for how a rapper’s performance lands on the beat. His whacked-out frenetic energy contrasts wonderfully with Drakeo’s quiet, menacing aura, perfecting a meshing of styles that shouldn't work on paper.

Producer RonRonDoThatShit has worked hard to provide a sound bed for the Stinc Team and affiliated groups, crafting a distinctive, eerie and minimal style that complements feelings of tragedy. The beat here has an almost industrial edge, sweetened with a ghostly synth line that floats above the proceedings.

Flu Flamming (2017)

Flu Flamming showcases a lot of peculiar slang that appears routinely in Drakeo’s music, the most curious being the meaning of ‘flu flamming’ – robbing, or more specifically, home invading.

The racial tensions of the city become relevant here, with the conflict between LA’s black and Asian communities.

Prejudice in a post-war climate meant that Asian people were often taken advantage of by financial institutions, creating a precedent for storing large amounts of money within their own properties. Ultimately attracting the attention of burglars, this became the route for a younger Drakeo who saw it as a payday in a world where one would be unlikely to come around.

This past informs the language of his work but can also be seen in the imagery used by the Stinc Team, with generic symbols like Buddha and lucky cat figurines dotted across their visual palette.

GTA VI (2020)

Drakeo was arrested in 2018 for first-degree murder and a litany of other charges after being the driver of a vehicle where shots rang out and killed a Blood gang member in a chance encounter.

The charges were eventually found to be trumped up by vindictive prosecutors and he was acquitted, the key facts being that Drakeo never pulled a trigger himself and was not aware this situation would unfold.

But that’s not before a succession of events where he had to beat the murder charges twice and was placed in solitary confinement for the years he was jailed, all without ever being convicted.

Amidst the troubles, new music appeared in the form of an album where vocals are delivered through the county jail’s phone service. Drakeo and his producer adapt to the circumstances, making simpler songs with more space that better suit the poor recording quality.

Fans were enamoured by this jailhouse material, prompting studio recordings of the songs once Drakeo was free, with the song above being one of these polishings.

Pow Right in the Kisser feat. Ketchy the Great, Remble, MoneyMonk & Ralfy the Plug (2021)

In this head-knocking posse cut by the Stinc Team, Drakeo devises an interesting song structure by marking the hook as a permanent feature of every line. This forces the other rappers on the track to adjust, being pushed to play against the constant refrain.

Two artists featured on this track from last year have already passed away, reiterating a brutal reminder of the separation between rap as entertainment and the harsh, dangerous realities that provide its content and form. Ketchy the Great was killed in a hit-and-run incident the month before this video was released.

Rising star Remble also features, who has gained a following through his eloquent, overly pronounced (and highly memeable) style, showing that Drakeo had an ear for future talents.

Ralfy the Plug & Drakeo the Ruler – That’s A Awful Lot Of Stincs (2021)

This lowkey track is a collaboration between family, with Drakeo assisting his brother Ralfy. Their styles are unsurprisingly similar, with Ralfy coming off a touch lighter in tone and sound.

An us versus them mentality floats through a lot of their collaborations, in turn building an excellent chemistry musically. The opposite of Drakeo’s creative relationship with Greedo, the siblings sit on the beat like a perfectly complete puzzle.

Ingleweird (2021)

References to Drakeo’s personal drama on the streets are abundant in his post-jail era, yet it wasn’t until Ingleweird that he started to directly address his detractors.

Running through the track is a paradox of escalating paranoia and animosity while being suitably unserious in its mocking. Specific points of ridicule are brought up, including the rumour that a Blood rapper didn’t become affiliated until the veteran age of 25 and the low view count of Inglewood rappers collaborating with Louisiana legend Lil Boosie.

Drakeo did himself no favours leaning into the drama, lashing out at a time when he was clearly spiralling and mentally vulnerable, with years of solitary confinement being washed away in a hazy cloud of codeine and ego.

Stincs Run LA (2021)

One of Drakeo's biggest appeals is the atmospherics he paints a vivid picture with, this track perfectly soundtracking the nature of late-night LA drive-by culture. The violin sample gives a tense thriller moment while Drakeo breaks the Hollywood illusion with his trademark reality setting.

It’s never too dour though, with eccentric references to Homer Simpson and Two and a Half Men somehow managing to snake their way in. Despite the seriousness of his topics, Drakeo still showed a playfulness and sense of humour that would give his work its own character and flair. 

Whole Lotta Ice (2021)

The way Drakeo delivers boastful remarks at this point is almost like he’s trying to convince himself rather than a third party, suggesting that he refuses to acknowledge his vulnerabilities in the face of conflict and escalation.

The cracks show though, with affirmations juxtaposed with a lost wariness ("It’s a cold world, I’m a cold devil", "I beat life two times, my watch too icy").

Instead of a beat with pomp and swagger to illustrate this surface-level bragging, Drakeo chooses an airy, achingly sad instrumental, prompting a tragic defensiveness over sheer gloating.

By the time its music video was released, Drakeo had been dead for several months. It is a testament to his work ethic and endless creativity that a backlog completed while he was still alive made fans feel like he was still here, at least for a little bit.

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