A provocation or daring feat - or both - Drakeo The Ruler has produced a complete album from his prison cell. Nineteen tracks elaborated at the Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles, the rapper’s hometown. Thank You For Using GTL (2020) is the fruit of a tenacious collaboration between the Californian artist, his producer and The Stinc Team collective which brings together artists Ralfy the Plug, Ketchy The Great, SaysoTheMac, Bambino, Good Finesse and Young Bull. This album, recorded entirely via the penitentiary phones belonging to the company GTL (formerly Global Tel * Link), is impressive in its ingenuity and its outspoken take on the American judicial system.
Repeated imprisonments on questionable grounds
Drakeo The Ruler has already been through the prison system several times. At the tender age of 12, Darrell Caldwell (his real name) was arrested for the first time. A sudden passage in this world but which didn’t stop his musical career flourishing albeit marred by multiple arrests for more or less proven reasons. In 2017, just out of prison for the illegal possession of a firearm, Drakeo The Ruler took a month to produce Cold Devil, a mixtape of 16 titles pointing to the faults of the Los Angeles police force. His daily life as a gangsta rapper is not a fantasy, and his two subsequent arrests bear witness to this.
Incarcerated at the Men’s Central Jail of Los Angeles since 2019, Drakeo The Ruler is waiting for the jury’s verdict. A furious legal battle is currently raging between the rapper, his relatives and the Stinc Team collective, against what seems to be fierce judicial harassment. The Stinc Team is well-known for its explicit dislike of the Los Angeles police, who don’t hesitate in using the rappers’ punchy words to turn the situation in their favour. As far as they’re concerned, images of video clips and the song lyrics are all evidence and proof of Drakeo The Ruler's guilt. The beginning of this year saw the release of the Free Drakeo mixtape, denouncing the abuse of power and the inherent racism in the measures taken against the rapper, imprisoned without any real tangible evidence. In this mixtape, the introductory track Letter From Me to You Freestyle (Intro) is a freestyle mix directed by Drakeo The Ruler over the telephone, as well as fragments extracted from various pieces all linked together with the same slogan: “Free Drakeo”.
Drakeo The Ruler - “Letter From Me to You Freestyle (Intro)”
A remarkable clandestine album
His voice and his lyrics won’t be silenced, as Drakeo The Ruler continues to nourish his music from his prison cell. The man who was put behind bars for his texts is now composing new ones over the loud-speakers of the prison telephones owned by the GTL telecommunications company, known for its influential lobbying and the millions of dollars allocated each year to the Los Angeles penitentiary centre, and therefore, partly responsible for keeping the judiciary corrupted by capitalism in place. Thank You for Using GTL sounds like serious mockery.
Yet this unusual production context rubs off beautifully onto this album, creating a rare sense of immediacy and proximity. While Drakeo The Ruler delivered a rap lamenting his condition as presumed guilty, his producer JoogSZN recorded it down the other end of the line and started to edit the album in the studio. The mix tape gives way to the rapper's raucous and resolute verses, offering us fascinatingly simple yet highly catchy melodies. The Los Angeles Times has called the Californian the most original artist on the West Coast. Superimposing heady riffs, spoken and sung voices along with excerpts from conversations, he tackles the American situation while claiming his innocence loud and clear. With the track Social Media Can't Help You, he looks at the artificiality of social media, as well as the corruption of the political class and the frustrations of an African-American in a hostile society. Despite the slightly muffled effect resulting from the telephone communications, none of the emotional intensity is lost and the poetic force of Drakeo The Ruler's words rises in the background, while a pre-recorded female voice rings out clearly looping throughout the mixtape - “Thank you for using GTL”.
Drakeo the Ruler & JoogSzn - “Social Media Can't Help You (Audio)”
The album Thank You For Using GTL (2020) by Drakeo The Ruler is available now [Stinc Team].