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Remembering rapper Drakeo the Ruler, fatally stabbed at a Los Angeles music festival

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The rapper Drakeo the Ruler was a fast-rising star of hip-hop until he was fatally stabbed on Saturday backstage at a Los Angeles music festival where he was scheduled to perform. He was 28 years old. Drakeo was an idiosyncratic rapper who also got caught up in a Byzantine legal case that had him in jail for more than 34 months. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PIPPY LONG STOCKIN")

DRAKEO THE RULER: (Rapping) It's the ruler. I know I'm a problem.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Cold is probably the most efficient way to describe Drakeo the Ruler's style. His delivery is cool, composed and relaxed, which somehow gives his verses a chilling edge.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PIPPY LONG STOCKIN")

DRAKEO THE RULER: (Rapping) The road Willie Nelson. You baby boy, Melvin - up in hell, but it's cold trying to hard rock with Elvis Presley. Don't test me.

LIMBONG: Born Darrell Caldwell in 1993, Drakeo the Ruler first came onto the scene in 2015 with a handful of mixtapes. A part of the Stinc Team crew, Drakeo built a name for himself as a hip-hop force to be reckoned with. Then came the legal troubles. A jury found him innocent of a murder, but a California penal code allows alleged gang members to be charged for crimes committed by other members of the gang. This is how Drakeo ended up spending years in Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles. While there, he spoke to NPR in 2020.

DRAKEO THE RULER: You don't have to be involved. You don't have to know nothing. You just have to be a gang member. But then the twist is that my rap group is my gang. Come on, bro.

LIMBONG: He didn't let the case stop his music, though, going so far as recording a project behind bars.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACKFLIP OR SUMN")

DRAKEO THE RULER: (Rapping) But you ain't do it, though. That's not the point. Ain't do no telling. How you make it out that joint?

LIMBONG: He eventually agreed to a plea deal and was released in November of 2020. On the rap podcast "No Jumper," he talked about the experience, which included long stretches in solitary.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "NO JUMPER")

DRAKEO THE RULER: Man, it just [expletive] you up. I can't even hear a door close without me turning my head.

LIMBONG: He wasn't going to let that stop him from rapping.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WAR ON DRUGS SONG, "KNOCKED DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.