Drakeo the Ruler is more than just a gifted rapper, he’s the creator of his own cinematic universe, a prolific MC with an inimitable flow. His four major mixtapes are full of evocative, singular slang that can only be properly deciphered and appreciated when you hear how it evolves and changes over Drakeo’s short but thrilling career. His command of and creativity with language rivals that of E-40, and if the circumstances were different, it isn’t hard to picture the 24-year-old rhymer having a decade-plus career where his linguistic flourishes seep into the water supply of mainstream rap.

Unfortunately, Drakeo is currently being held in Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail awaiting trial in connection with a 2016 murder he staunchly maintains he was not involved in. As Jeff Weiss detailed on Passion of the Weiss, the L.A. County district attorney claims that Drakeo was part of a plot to murder California rapper RJ that resulted in the death of 24-year-old Davion Gregory. In his piece, Weiss notes several incongruous details in the case, including that the color of Drakeo’s Mercedes didn’t match the police description of the involved vehicle, and quotes the rapper’s attorney saying, “This case is absurdly overfiled and we have every reason to believe the charges are being brought against him as a result of his fame.”

As part of the thrilling new wave of Los Angeles MCs along with 03 Greedo, G Perico, and Shoreline Mafia, Drakeo is helping usher in a sound that takes steely California gangster rap and blends it with infectious, sparse production and fresh, unconventional flows.

“I never even liked the West Coast type of beats, I just did it because I knew it was going to get heard and that’s what people were on,” Drakeo says over the phone from jail. “But I always made sure to change them so they could be like, ‘Oh yeah, this is different.’"

Drakeo first rose to prominence on a 2015 DJ Mustard track that bore one of his signature nicknames, “Mr. Get Dough,” and from there reeled off four mixtapes culminating in the stunning Cold Devil, which came out just a few weeks after his November 30, 2017 release stemming from unlawful weapons charges.

One of the most impressive California rap projects in years, Cold Devil is often funny (“I’m Luke Skywalker with this glock playing laser tag,” he brags on “Flu Flamming”), menacing (“Watch how you approach and we ain't finna beef on social / The media won't know if you gon' breathe again, the demon's here,” he threatens on “Hood Trophy”) and full of vivid scenes and colorful language that make you want to dive further into his story. In an era when many rappers struggle to hold your attention for two verses and a chorus, Drakeo is the kind of artist whose work takes you down a 15-song rabbit hole before you’ve even realized.

Drakeo’s incarceration is keeping him from appearing at Red Bull Music Presents: Ron-Ron and Friends, an upcoming show featuring his longtime producer Ron-Ron along with 03 Greedo, Shoreline, and Cypress Moreno on 6/15, but it hasn’t stymied his musical productivity. He says he’s continuing to write and his crew, Stinc Team, which includes his younger brother Ralfy the Plug, released Free the Stinc Team in April. They have plans for a full-length follow-up titled Live From L.A. County Jail. 

On Free the Stinc Team, Drakeo raps the opening track over the phone from prison, a reminder of both his prodigious talent and the massive stakes he’s presently facing. The grimly titled “Murder Was the Case” lays out the scenario, with Drakeo’s loping cadence cloaked by the phone fuzz. “I’m thinkin’ what’s gon’ be my fate? / Will the judge give me a break?” he wonders. Later, he acknowledges the sheer uncertainty of the future, rapping, “Y’all got higher expectations, I’m a legend if I make it.”

With a pre-trial date set for June 28, we spoke to Drakeo about his ever changing vernacular, his unique brand of “nervous music,” and his present legal situation.

Casual fans might know you as an L.A. rapper who has been getting some shine while being in and out of jail. Is there anything about yourself as an artist or as a person that you want to have on the record.

I ain’t do it. [Laughs] But this shit wasn’t easy. It’s a lot of people that are just really jumping on my shit now, but it’s a lot of people that have been on my shit. I love people fucking with my shit now though, because I’m just being me. I never try to fake nothing or try to be like anybody else for attention. Most of the times when I drop my songs I use real pictures of me, I don’t try to fabricate nothing, I’m not putting no extra cars in there. I’m going to put a car I have, I’m going to put money I have—I just be me. I’m not with all that talking about stuff I don’t have.

What did you listen to growing up? Were you into West Coast hip-hop?

I ain’t gonna lie, I was never really into the West Coast thing. When I was younger, I especially liked Rocko. Young Dro, too, because I could understand the way they talked.

Do you see the moment that artists like you and Greedo and Shoreline are having now as one unified L.A. thing? Are you all part of the same movement?

Yeah. Shoreline’s tight, yeah. Us too now, everybody’s fucking with us. I remember when nobody wanted to fuck with none of our shit. Everybody was on YG and RJ and all them.

I’m just being me. I never try to fake nothing or try to be like anybody else for attention. I’m not with all that talking about stuff I don’t have.

Why do you think it took a little while for people outside L.A. to embrace your music?

I don’t know, probably because everybody thought that we were on that West Coast stuff talking about lowriders, flannels, long socks and all that. So that’s probably just what people thought we were on, but then people started noticing we really be on some fly shit. But I been doing this for a long time, people are just barely catching up with me now. I’ve been talking about this shit since I came in. I don’t know why people just started off having that perception of us [as stereotypical West Coast rappers], not knowing that my first car was a Beemer.

Had you already figured out who you were prior to rap or did it take time to carve out an identity as Drakeo the Ruler?

Oh, no. I knew who I was even back then. I just didn’t know it was going to take this long. I ain’t gonna lie, I only started rapping because people encouraged me to. I’m like, “Alright, whatever. Y’all are just telling me that, everybody is always telling their homies that.” But, when other people started telling me I decided to keep it going.

And that’s back when everybody was talking about all that ratchet stuff and all that. I decided I’m not finna be doing that. I’ll talk about my life and things I did. And that’s kind of what made my music different, because I was rapping on the same beats, but in a different way.

What was the first moment where you realized you had some buzz and could pursue rap as a career?

After that I Am Mr. Mosley mixtape, it wasn’t even after “Mr. Get Dough.” Everybody knew the song and all that, but it was after the mixtape that I heard people telling me songs that other people would listen to. I’d come to jail and people would be like, “Oh man, I listen to that ‘Devil in My Head’ every day. That’s my favorite song.” And I was like, "What the fuck? That’s crazy." So after that mixtape I was like, "Let’s keep this going."

You’re one of those rare rappers nowadays where I feel like hearing one song just makes you want to dive into the rest of the project. Your music gets better the deeper you get into it.

Yeah, that’s how it be. All the songs that blew up like “Big Banc Uchies” and “Flu Flamming,” after I make those types of songs I be getting tired of that shit. I’ll be wanting to hear something else, so that’s what makes me jump to something else. Those two aren’t even my favorite songs, my favorite song off the [Cold Devil] mixtape is “Roll Bounce.”

You said in an interview that the rap world in general didn’t feel real to you. Do you still feel that way as you've gotten more acclimated to it?

Yeah, it still kind of feels like that. I’ve been learning to adjust to it and realizing that sometimes it’s only entertainment. You can’t take this stuff seriously. Some people seem to take it serious, tweets and all that. They think it’s real life. Especially the police.

You’ve been in and out of jail while your career has been taking off. Has that been disruptive for your creative momentum?

Yeah, but sometimes it kind of helps me too. When I come to jail, I’ll just be thinking of new stuff. It’ll be weird how it comes out. So that’s why, when I came out with Cold Devil this time, the words were different, everything just felt kind of different. It actually helped me process stuff and think about changing different words or how maybe I shouldn’t do this, because people might be trying to bite it, so I’ll come out and do something different. Like, how I used to say “Shanaynay” and call the glock “Pippi Longstocking.” Certain shit like that.

I had a phone in prison, so I would sit back and just look at everything everybody was doing and I started noticing people copying me a little more than they were before.

I had a phone in prison, so I would sit back and just look at everything everybody was doing and I started noticing people copying me a little more than they were before. So I figured out how to change wording. Or sometimes it’ll be conversations that I’m having with somebody, and then I remember a word that I said and start using that. That’s how “Flu Flamming” and all that came about.

Where did your slang come from? Is that how people you grew up around spoke?

That’s just me, that’s just me in general. People be saying, “I’ve been listening to this music for a long time, I just want to know what this means.” It’s hard, but some of that shit is just common sense.

One specific term you’ve used to describe your sound is “nervous music.” Could you explain the origins of that term and whether it’s changed now that your career is taking off?

It’s still the same thing. Even with I Am Mr. Mosley and [the mixtape] Nervous Music, I was still doing the same things, so the same rules apply. I just feel like a lot of my music be making some people nervous [that are] living that lifestyle. Especially when you’re really doing the stuff we’re talking about, or you used to do it, it just makes you nervous.

I think so much of that is your delivery, the way that you rap can be so menacing but totally under control. It’s kind of this mafia boss flow where you don’t raise your voice, but you’re intimidating.

I told myself when I started doing this, "I’m not finna be doing all that yelling and doing all them ad-libs." I always kept the same voiceI’ll be seeing some people, they’ll be in the studio and they be yelling and that shit looks dumb as hell. So I was like, "I’ll just keep my same pace. I’ll just keep it the way I am."

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Credit: Deawnne Buckmire

I wanted to give you some space to say anything about the legal situation you’re in right now that you’d want to have on the record.

Just that I didn’t do it. They know I didn’t do it. They know I ain’t have nothing to do with it, and I had them tell me that they know I didn’t do it, which is funny. Shit is crazy, but hey.

This is an older case, right?

Yeah, 2016. It’s funny though, because I was talking about it in my No Jumper interview. I was talking about how they tried to do that shit and it just so happened that they did it [now]. I don’t know, maybe they’ve seen the interview. Maybe it was the newspaper, I don’t fucking know. It’s crazy.

Do you think that your situation and what’s happened with the rest of Stinc Team is emblematic of a bigger thing that’s going on in L.A. or in the country at large?

I think they’ve got something against us, man. It’s just crazy, most of the charges that we got, like my brother Ralfy and them, they charged us from music videos and weird shit. Nobody ever got caught with a weapon or none of this shit. They just were like, “Oh, well it was in a music video. Alright, well you had a possession on this day.” Nobody is getting pulled over with guns or nothing, no weird stuff like that. And it’s just like so many people be doing this, so why are y’all just coming after us?

They felt like this is going to stop what I’ve got going on, and maybe even if I get found not guilty that by the time this stretches out I will lose my buzz or people will stop wanting to listen to me. They’re playing games. I didn’t get actually charged until three days after the newspaper came out. Four days, maybe.

It seems like as soon as everybody starts to recognize and realize I’ve really been on my shit, they just come snatch me up and take me to jail.

Do you worry that you and Greedo might miss your moment because of the legal trouble you’re facing?

Yeah. I kind of been feeling like that sometimes, but I know I ain’t do nothing. I didn’t have anything to do with it. That’s all I think about. [Sighs] I just be thinking about how I’m going to get what’s mine, what I deserve. I deserve to get this money, I deserve all this. It seems like as soon as everybody starts to recognize and realize I’ve really been on my shit, they just come snatch me up and take me to jail.

If you had to name one Drakeo the Ruler song for someone who’s never heard your music to get them up to speed on what you’re about, which would you choose?

Let’s see. “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

Why “Gone in 60 Seconds?”

It just describes everything. It’s hard for me to explain. That’s probably one of the songs where I actually put three verses on that motherfucker. [Laughs] From beginning to end it describes everything. How I came in the game, the shit a nigga was doing, all types of shit. How I really was cold and everything. How I came up with other songs because of this song.

One of the recent tracks of yours that I really love is “Cyber Bullies,” and obviously that song is addressing a lot of the people talking on the internet, all of that backlash. What’s it been like seeing the chatter about you online?

I hardly ever really even see that shit. The only reason I see that shit is because my fans will send it to me, but that shit ain’t serious. I feel like when they’re talking about me, they just want some attention. They’re mad. They’re mad because I’ve been stealing the shine that they think they had. I don’t know, I never pay attention to that shit anyways.

When I post stuff on Instagram, I just post it and then I don’t even look at that shit. I don’t look at it until later, that’s when I see all the niggas that be subbing me. I’ll post little stuff, and then people in the DMs will get into it. Like, Mustard and RJ and all them others, all over little bullshit.

I guess they were mad because they started to see that niggas were starting to fuck with my shit and I’m not really with supporting all that bullshit that they be doing, all that lowrider shit. Khakis and all that, I never was into that shit. I just be like, “Y’all are not going to paint some image of me when I’ve been doing Saks Fifth, Neiman Marcus and all that. Y’all are not finna portray it as this is what I’m on when I’m not on that, and everybody that’s with me has never been on that.” So that’s really why they be subbing me, because I don’t be with what they be with.

I wanted to ask specifically about your relationship and the music you make with Greedo, because I think you two are such unique and complementary artists. Why do you think the two of you have such good chemistry when you get in the studio together?

I just be feeling it. I always fuck with a real nigga. I’m really selective with who I do music with. That’s another reason why a lot of people don’t like me, because I don’t just do songs with anybody. But, [Greedo’s] shit is actually cool. I can actually sit back and listen to the music we make and be like, “Yeah, this shit’s hard.” Rather that than doing a song with somebody just because they’ve got a little buzz, and then thinking, "Man, I don’t even like that shit. It’s cool and all, but it ain’t really me." I was feeling Greedo's shit. I was listening to his music in the pen.

We knew, it’s either you’re going to get this money, you’re going to be in jail, or you’re going to be a bum. I would rather not be a bum, so we’re just going to get this money.

In your XXL interview, you kind of joked that you’re like, the next Big Meech. Could explain that a little bit?

Oh yeah, that’s just how I was feeling. Basically, I don’t know how we came in the game, but it changed, and everything became a little bit higher. Everything we do, it’s not one person that don’t be flexing, I don’t care. Even the youngest homies, they could be 17, 18 with a bust down Rollie. 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 bands. We came in the game like this, we didn’t try to get handouts from nobody. We’ve been blowing money fast since we were young, it’s just what it was. We knew, it’s either you’re going to get this money, you’re going to be in jail, or you’re going to be a bum. I would rather not be a bum, so we’re just going to get this money. Yeah. It’s just a whole lifestyle. All I know is Big Meech and big watches.

You drop a lot of car references in your music. What’s your dream car?

I want a McLaren.

Is there anything else that you would generally want to say?

These motherfucking Nikes is comfortable. [Laughs] I’ve got these motherfucking Nikes on. They’re cool, they’re comfortable. I’m trying to see how long it’s going to take before one of these motherfuckers starts hating. “Oh, you’ve got Nikes and Nike socks.” I’m going to wear these motherfuckers in court.

Good luck with everything you’re dealing with right now. Excited to see the moves you’re going to make in the future.

Yeah, man. Me too. Time to take over the world.

Tickets for Red Bull Music Presents: Ron-Ron and Friends are available here.