In December of 2021, we lost Drakeo the Ruler. All month, We Know the Truth will pay tribute to the Ruler, the foreign whip crasher, Mr. Mosley, one of the most innovative LA rappers in the history of the genre, and most importantly, a rapper we all loved who made music that became part of our lives.
Kevin Yeung is all about his green, his broccoli and celery.
Listening to Drakeo the Ruler felt like listening to someone who could see the future. He made music that sounded like rap’s next progression before anyone else could sense what that was going to be, and he had a pulse throughout Los Angeles and the Bay Area for others who could do the same. When Kendrick Lamar curated the soundtrack for Marvel’s blockbuster Black Panther film in 2018, he was especially praised for the inclusion and — for all intents and purposes — mainstream discovery of the up-and-coming North Vallejo rap group SOB x RBE. But before Lamar ever released “Paramedic!” to the masses, Drakeo had already recorded one of 2017’s best rap songs, “I Could Never,” with group members Slimmy B and Yhung T.O.
What separated SOB x RBE from the rest of the Bay at the time was the feeling that these kids had a wild energy that might actually take over the world. On “I Could Never,” Slimmy B sets it off by sliding on his opps, stomping out his opps, and how his bros will slide on his opps for him if need be. It sounds like he’s bouncing off the studio’s four walls while laying down the vocals. Yhung T.O. he of the voice that suggested their potential for R&B or pop crossovers, powerglides over the beat next, singing sweet threats about choppers and blowers.
In comparison to Slimmy B’s energy or Yhung T.O.’s melodicism, Drakeo’s turn on the beat feels like it barely belongs. Even while he was putting them on, he was determined to sound different. His flow is a murmur, something that asks listeners to lean in, and his vocabulary involves slang so singular that he might as well have been rapping in hieroglyphics. On any given Drakeo song, especially if you haven’t heard other Drakeo songs, you might find yourself without any clue or reference for what the fuck he’s talking about. What are eye busters, or uchies, or bald-head Caillous? His flu flamming is phenomenal? He is the Ruler, Mr. Mosely, Mr. Big Bank Budda and what feels like at least a dozen other bynames all at once.
This was always a part of the qualities that made him special, something that goes beyond surface-level listening or broad appeal. He rapped in codes and riddles, the inventor of his own language and cadences. And he knew the truth: That he was great, because that’s the only way insularity this intense works. You could only understand his music by listening to more of it, tracing back the steps of his discography to find the intricate construction of self-referentialism underneath. His music was a testament to the idea that not everybody needs to know what you’re talking about at all times. What’s his was just for him, and it just turns out that he was so damn good at what he did that we would be drawn into his world anyway.
The cross-regional exchange on “I Could Never” was an early sign of what was still to come. Not just literally, in terms of the eventual success that SOB x RBE would find on the Black Panther soundtrack and their later group or solo projects, but also the influence that Drakeo would have on the California rap of the future. In Stockton, about five hours northwest from Los Angeles, rappers have founded an entire scene of music that draws from Drakeo’s brand of nervous rap as a primary source. He’s appeared on tracks with Young Slo-Be, EBK Young Joc and more, matching the paranoia and psychedelic whispers of Stockton rap while maintaining the linguistic gift that could only ever be his. Other rappers, such as Remble, have taken his verbiage as inspiration and spin it forward to new endpoints, endless Glock euphemisms.
I’m not sure, but I think that “I Could Never” was the first Drakeo song that I ever listened to. I’m also confident that, at the time, I left with more fascination about the sort of music that SOB x RBE was going to make than I was with Drakeo. Drakeo was a slow build for me — it took me a while to see his genius — but now, I see somebody who was one of the true visionaries of Los Angeles rap and its possibilities, an artist that I can revisit from “I Could Never” to “Eye Busser” to “Mr. Mosely Claps Back” to “Pow Right in the Kisser” and still find new connections always. I feel like I’ll be catching up to Drakeo’s mind forever.