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It takes several tries to get a hold of Drakeo The Ruler over the phone. This isn’t that unusual, especially when reaching out to a famous musician deep in their publicity run. However, getting in contact with the incarcerated South Central Los Angeles rapper introduces all-new complications thanks to Global Tel Link, the official phone service provider for the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail.
You have to be careful not to press any keys, or the system will drop the call. Every five minutes, a little voice reminds you that all calls are recorded — and likely listened to — for any information that can be used against the interviewee. And just trying to set up the multi-way call including the jail, Drakeo’s manager, and my phone involves Drakeo calling his aunt first to accept the charges. I try to be mindful that someone is actually paying for this call as we discuss Drakeo’s new album with producer JoogSzn, Thank You For Using GTL, which was subject to every one of these limitations and more.
For Drakeo, though, it was important to give his fans everything they’ve come to expect from him, even though he was forced to record his vocals over jail phones while awaiting retrial on charges of criminal gang conspiracy and shooting from a motor vehicle. He’s already been acquitted on murder and attempted murder charges, but the District Attorney filed the new charges just two months later, resulting in a hung jury in the initial trial and highlighting yet again the failings of the US criminal justice system — especially when it comes to rappers like Drakeo.
As reported by longtime LA music historian Jeff Weiss, much of the State’s case relies on using Drakeo’s lyrics as evidence. That made recording the ironically-titled Thank You For Using GTL on the recorded jail lines even more fraught, but that didn’t stop him from bringing his usual level of creativity, authenticity, and narrative innovation to the 19-track project. Drakeo refuses to dumb down his gangsterism right up until the chilling closing track, “Fictional,” on which Drakeo playfully toes the line of hip-hop’s long-established kayfabe.
Drakeo is just as authentic in our interview, although I try to guide the conversation away from anything that may extend his stay in MCJ, which has already been two years too long. Over the course of the discussion, he detailed the difficulties of recording over the notoriously bad-sounding GTL system, becoming one of the architects of the new LA sound, and how current events have affected him while he sits in a cell as he is still presumed innocent.
So, the obvious question to start with here is, what is it like recording an album over jail phones?
It’s cool. I just have to tell everybody to be quiet and sh*t but everybody know me here so n****s just be cool. I really only did it because my little brother made me. You know what I mean?
Why did your brother want you to put this out, so bad, right now?
Because he said that I needed to put out new music because people would listen to just my old sh*t and they need to hear the new me.
Which is the same me, but it’s just the saying.
So, what can you tell me about the album? I see it has features from Rio The Young OG, Allblack, Lil 9. Tell me a little bit about those guys and how they got on the album.
These are guys that I f*ck with. So, Allblack, he been f*ckin’ with me. I f*ck with him. He always shout a n**** out, he always checking up on a n****. Rio, I like his sh*t because he reminds me of me, it’s crazy. He’s from Flint so it’s got my ear. I like that he say whatever the f*ck he want and he don’t care. And Lil 9, I just like that little n****. That little n**** hard and he deserve more credit. He reminds me of me when I was coming up and n****s didn’t want to f*ck with me.
So, I first heard about you, I want to say it was on “Out The Slums” with 03 Greedo. I posted the video where you guys were running around on Rodeo.
We do that type of sh*t all the time. So, I never did a video over there or nothing. I was just like, “Man, we always be over here with drums and all that type of sh*t.” So, I was like, “F*ck it, man. I got to do a video over here.” I couldn’t put none of that type of sh*t in the video because I’m doing my probation and parole, and stuff like that. But it was fun though.
What’s your background with 03 Greedo? I know y’all go way back but how’d you meet him? How’d you guys link up and what’s your relationship like now? Because I know you guys both may not be able to have a lot of contact with each other.
My brother and them, they was already out. So, they was f*cking with the n****s. I’m like, “All right. This n**** hard.” I didn’t know he was from out here but I know he Grape [Street Crips] and sh*t so I’m like, “He got to be from out here.” So, when I got out, first day I got out, I was in the studio, I was f*cking with the n****. Man, this n**** knockin back songs. He did like nineteen songs in one day. And I was just listening to this sh*t. That n**** be saying crazy sh*t too but he just be thinking that sh*t sometimes. One day he’s like, “Yeah, Drakeo, we’re going to do some sh*t.” I turn the song on and I’m like, “Yeah, we going to do something right now, then,” and it just went from there.
He was always cool. He wasn’t one of them type of n****s that’s like, “These n****s don’t like Drakeo so I’m not going to f*ck with him.” So, I respected that. I be talking to him sometimes but we both in here. [Note: Greedo is currently incarcerated in the John Middleton Transfer Facility in Abilene, Texas on drug trafficking and possession of a firearm charges]
The reason I ask is I read an article that contrasted your recording styles. Greedo does what you just described, just knocking out songs in one go. How do you go into making a song? Do you have the song already written or do you go to the studio, listen to beats, and figure out where you want to go from there?
That sh*t be already in my head but sometimes when I go I might have to change. I go do the song I initially already had in my head or wrote to, and then I just be in the studio, I hear something, I’m like, “All right, I can make something of this.” Sometimes I take my environment, or things in my past that I might have done, or been with people who did it, or things that I might’ve saw. I have a lot of imagination, I watch a lot of TV. So, people could be having a conversation in the studio, and I’m just sitting there, and they might say one word that might trigger me, and I’m like, “Yeah, this is going to be a song.”
Is that also how you approached Thank You For Using GTL? Did you go in knowing what you want to do as far as what songs you want to be on there and what sort of things you want to talk about? Or did you do a lot of songs and then try to pick the best ones?
Yeah, that’s why most of my songs be like that from the beginning. So, I’ll go in there, I might say one word or first couple bars and I’m like, “I’m just going to go off of the first word I said,” and then just turn it into something, and just keep going. That’s why I always start out with the first verse and then I think of the hook after. I try to figure out something that goes with everything I just said then I try to make it different. So, it’s like, “I got to make this right, this hook cool, but I need something that nobody ever said before. We’ve got to be different.” So when you hear it, you know, “Oh, yeah. That’s Drakeo.”
Absolutely. You may not want to talk about this but I just wanted to ask. What are the conditions like on the inside right now with COVID-19? How were you guys coping with that inside? How were they dealing with that?
They don’t really do sh*t for us. They give a n**** gloves — actually, they don’t really give us gloves. We ask for them but I just be in my cell and all that sh*t anyway. So, that sh*t is regular. They give us masks and sh*t — sometimes. They act like we the ones bringing sh*t in here when they bringing it in here. It’s crazy to me but it doesn’t really matter anyway because this is a closed facility. This sh*t is circulating dirty air anyway. So, it doesn’t matter we have a mask on or none of that sh*t. They don’t do nothing for us, they’re just sitting here.
What does it mean for you to have so much support on the outside from people who are trying their damnedest to get you out of that situation that you’re in?
It’s cool because I remember when I didn’t have nobody to say nothing for me or speak up for me. I wish it would be more people but I take what I get right now. Jeff [Weiss] always been there. I got Adam [22, of No Jumper Podcast] and sh*t now.
A couple of years ago I wrote this article, “Ron Ron, Shoreline Mafia, 03 Greedo, and Drakeo The Ruler Are The Architects Of LA’s New Sound.” Can you talk to that and talk about what it means for you to be the architect of LA’s new sound and what that sound is to you?
It’s crazy because when I first started rapping everybody’s like, “The f*ck? No, that sh*t trash. What does that even mean? You just be making up words and sh*t.” And now it’s like everybody wants to rap like me, it’s funny. It feels cool now though but I look at when I first started rapping and n****s wasn’t f*cking with me, it’s crazy. Even though some people don’t want to acknowledge it, it’s like, “Come on, everyone knows that this is cool.” When people bring up my name it’s not just like, “Oh, Drakeo The Rapper,” it’s like, “Yeah, you heard Drakeo? The n**** that changed LA rap forever. Yeah, that dude.”
Where’s the first place you hit up and what do you want to do when you get out?
Well, I want to go see my son. Of course, I’m going to get my son. Yeah, hopefully sh*t is open. I’m going to do the typical sh*t I always do, man. Throw a whole bunch of money around, hundreds of thousands. Go record a song. I’ll probably do a mixtape in one day. Yeah, that’s the type of attitude I have. Shoot as many videos as I could and just f*ck everything over. Just f*ck everything over on the streets for every single day I spent in here.
Thank You For Using GTL is self-released and out now. Get it here.