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Drakeo the Ruler, a rising force in West Coast rap, has died at age 28

Drakeo the Ruler performs during Rolling Loud on Dec. 12, 2021 in San Bernardino, Calif.
Timothy Norris
Timothy Norris, Getty Images
Drakeo the Ruler performs during Rolling Loud on Dec. 12, 2021 in San Bernardino, Calif.

Updated December 19, 2021 at 1:35 PM ET

The Los Angeles rapper Drakeo the Ruler, a rising force in hip-hop, has died at age 28. The rapper's death was confirmed to NPR via a representative following reports that he had been stabbed at the Once Upon a Time in LA music festival.

Drakeo the Ruler, born Darrell Caldwell, was a critically acclaimed star of the West Coast rap scene. He was hailed as "the most original West Coast stylist in decades" by The Los Angeles Times for his distinctive personal vocabulary and flow. He released his debut mixtape, I Am Mr. Mosely, in 2015 following the DJ Mustard-produced breakout hit of the same year, "Mr. Get Dough." He often referred to his work, which played off of dark themes and beats, as "nervous music."

"This s*** isn't right for real wtf are we doing," the rapper Drake, who was supposed to perform at the Los Angeles music festival, wrote in an Instagram story. "Always picked my spirit up with your energy RIP Drakeo."

In November 2020, Drakeo was released from prison after reaching a plea agreement following three years in jail. Originally arrested in 2017 for a murder he was eventually acquitted of, Drakeo was kept in jail after prosecutors tried to argue that his lyrics and music videos were evidence that he was part of a gang.

The criminalization of Drakeo's work was another example in a disturbingly common trend for hip-hop artists, as explored in a video from NPR's Louder Than a Riot.

"They just didn't like the person I am and decided to make an example out of me for everyone else," Drakeo told NPR in 2020, about his belief that Los Angeles' District Attorney Jackie Lacey possessed a personal vendetta against him. "I was kind of like a warning."

While in jail, Drakeo recorded the groundbreaking album Thank You For Using GTL, recorded entirely via the phone service provider at the Los Angeles Men's Central Jail, GTL. Peppered with consistent pre-recorded interruptions from GTL's call service, NPR Music's Rodney Carmichael wrote that the album is "a stark reminder that suspended disbelief is a privilege off limits to artists in a genre where even Black creativity is criminalized."

Following his release from prison, Drakeo put out several full-length releases, along with his debut album The Truth Hurts, featuring Drake on the single "Talk to Me." When asked what he hoped to achieve career wise in a 2020 interview with The Ringer, Drakeo said: "To be the greatest, youngest, richest rapper in California."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hazel Cills
Hazel Cills is an editor at NPR Music, where she edits breaking music news, reviews, essays and interviews. Before coming to NPR in 2021, Hazel was a culture reporter at Jezebel, where she wrote about music and popular culture. She was also a writer for MTV News and a founding staff writer for the teen publication Rookie magazine.