In one of the rapper's last interviews before his death, Drakeo the Ruler expressed his gratitude for being able to pursue a rap career, and was equally awestruck that he had managed to obtain such a position of power and influence within the west coast specifically. We conducted this interview with Drakeo for our "12 Days of Christmas" series on December 12, 2021, during Rolling Loud, California.
It's been two days since Drakeo the Ruler was senselessly murdered at a music festival in LA, and the world is only just beginning to grapple with the weight of that loss. As the days plod on, the intense disbelief and grief seems to deepen. Drakeo the Ruler, although just 28 years old, was a legend in his own right, a visionary who had spent the last half-a-decade uprooting the style and sounds of West Coast music. He rendered his own approach to language, using words as both his shield and weapon to dodge insidious observers and speak on them at the same time. His distinctive style broke ground in the undertow; listen to a few LA artists and you'll hear remnants of Drakeo everywhere. "People actually care about what I think and what I got to say," Drakeo told us just a few days after his 28th birthday. "It's my wave that got people listening."
Drakeo had just dropped his third project of the year, So Cold I Do Em 2, at the time of our conversation. While the new tape is the sequel to his 2017 album So Cold I Do Em, So Cold I Do Em 2 marked a completely different stage in the South Central-raised rapper's life. The mixtape clocks in at a muscular 29 songs—more than double the length of its predecessor's tracklist. This comes to little surprise when the last few years saw Drakeo snarled up in a number of all-too-public legal knots, the target of cruel judicial systems that cornered and punished him in ways that felt markedly personal. So Cold I Do Em 2, like all of his music, was made with the knowledge that everyone—including his enemies—would hold onto his every word.
Music is ultimately what turned Drakeo into a symbol of hope for so many— a voice for the people. However, he was also a father, brother, and trailblazing leader, who put his power back into his community.
Drakeo the Ruler backstage at Rolling Loud 2021 - Image shot for HNHH by @sophiajuliette
For this last week of our 12 Days of Christmas series, Mr. Mosley found a moment before his Rolling Loud performance to speak with us about his new music, his profound gratitude, and the importance of giving back. It was an honor.
Long Live the Ruler.
HNHH: "So Cold I Do Em 2" dropped earlier this month. How are you feeling now that it's out?
Drakeo: That sh*t crazy. 'Cause I was gonna put it out a long time ago, so it's just crazy that I'm out on the streets now and I could do it.
You put out two other albums this year as well. How does it feel looking back at all the music you dropped this year, moving into 2022?
I'm appreciative. I was in jail for three whole years, and it was just not knowing. I didn't have no music to drop. I was only out for a month, I was so comfortable, so I was in the studio, but I didn't have a chance to do what I'm doing now. I'm just appreciative.
"I'm appreciative. I was in jail for three whole years, and it was just not knowing. I didn't have no music to drop."
You've obviously been through a lot in your life, and in one of your past interviews, you've talked about how the American Dream is fake. With your success, you're one of the few examples of someone who made it "out" of your situation, though that could be disputed with how much you've gone through over the years. You're still a symbol of hope for people though. What's some advice you have for folks who are dealing with what you've been dealing with?
Never give up. Whenever you think it's over, it might not be over, because at the end of the day, I went to trial. I got about six, seven, eight not-guilty verdicts. I beat damn near all the charges, and they still made me go again like, "Nah, it's not over with." I could've been gave up, but I didn't, and with the DA laws, it was like, "Oh, you could go home now!" Anybody in my position... I'm not a stranger to this. I've been going to jail my whole life. I know that everybody don't make it. I went to trial and I got my verdict. Everybody was like, "Damn, man. You got worse charges than me, and you beat your sh*t. You gave me hope." Four of five groups of people, they all lost, all got life. So I know it don't just happen. I don't take it for granted.
"Never give up. Whenever you think it's over, it might not be over, because at the end of the day, I went to trial. I got about six, seven, eight not-guilty verdicts. I beat damn near all the charges, and they still made me go again like, "Nah, it's not over with." I could've been gave up, but I didn't"
Going back to that and going back to the music as well, you've talked about how you don't like to revisit past music because that inevitably forces you to revisit those moments. How does it feel to be performing that music and to have to relive those moments onstage--so publicly?
It just reminds me of everything I've been through, where I'm at now, and where I don't want to go-- what got me here too. It's just crazy.
Continuing on the music tip, your voice is super original, your wordplay is super original, and you've got a darkly humorous style to your songs. Talk about how you developed that sound and style. Was that a coping mechanism for you?
You could say that-- something like that. Sometimes, it's things I've experienced or seen other people experience, I just word them differently, because you can't talk about it exactly, word-for-word. You gotta make it so that regular people understand.
How do you strike that balance, of being extremely careful with your words but saying what you want at the same time?
It's kinda hard. It's just a part of me being me. I wouldn't be me if I didn't say what I wanted.
Drakeo the Ruler backstage at Rolling Loud 2021 - Image shot for HNHH by @sophiajuliette
In the past, you've also talked about how rapping is really a sport to you at this stage of your career. At this point, is it more about treating it like a competition with yourself, or do you still use it as an organic creative outlet? What does your craft mean to you at this stage of your life?
It's kinda both. I didn't realize how much I liked rapping or loved rapping until I went to jail, and I seen how much... people used to tell me, "You don't realize how big you are," or "You might not see it 'cause you're in jail, but it's totally different." I looked at it like this could change me. This is my time. Then I got out of jail, and I was like, "Oh wow. It's totally different." I seen the influence I had, because it's a lot of people that rap-- but it's not a lot of people that can rap and people actually care what they think. People actually care about what I think and what I got to say.
Speaking on your influence, you're one of the kings of the West Coast. They love you out here, they love you up in the Bay. How did it feel when that really set in for you-- the level of influence you have on this side of the world?
It was just crazy. I make sure that I use mine to try to help people, because it's a lot of people that blow up, do all this stuff, but they don't look out for nobody. I try to look out for me, people in my team, and if they burn their bridges, they burn their bridges-- but at least I could say I tried. People don't even try. They just get up there and are like, "Oh, I'm up here now," but they forget they was under at some point. I don't do that.
On this latest joint, you kind of dip into a little R&B-influenced sounds here and there. What are some experiments that you're making with your music moving forward?
I been doing everything, I ain't even gonna lie. If I like a song, I'mma do it.
Have you been excited to reconnect with your fans-- not only after the pandemic but after spending three years locked up?
Yeah, absolutely. I didn't get to do this when I was out. Now, it's my turn-- because I waited. There was so many people [waiting]. But it's crazy, because a lot of people don't understand, it's my wave that got people listening. Nobody wanted to listen to that. It took me to do all that shit so people could actually pay attention. I'm even happy I'm here to have the experience, because most people, they start waves and all that, and then they get washed out or stuff happens. And then it's like, okay, that's cool. Stuff happens. But I’m actually still here! So it's kinda cool.
"It's my wave that got people listening. Nobody wanted to listen to that. It took me to do all that shit so people could actually pay attention. I'm even happy I'm here to have the experience."
What's up next for you?
Man, I'm trying to do everything, anything. Try a label, get money, try to put other people on. I would feel more happy putting other people on than hogging it and saying, "I got fame, I got money," and not doing nothing with it. Like I said, people do that.