Myles-Andrews Duve has watched My Cousin Vinny every day this week.
The Stinc Team has rarely had anything to prove. The collective’s image is largely upheld due to their uninhibited sincerity. But right now, five of the members find themselves having to convince a Superior Court judge of their innocence. As you read this, a majority of the crew is locked up on charges that range from gun possession to murder to abetting in the conspiracy to commit murder. They are charges that, in the case of Drakeo The Ruler, came just days before he was set to be free earlier this month.
So, due to some corrupt LAPD bullshit this is where the crew currently stands: Drakeo faces life or worse and his brother Ralfy the Plug along with Ketchy the Great, Sayso the Mac, and Bambino are locked up pending trial. It is with that in the backdrop that the crew brings us Free The Stinc Team – Not Guilty!!!—an abbreviated 5-track EP that showcases each member’s versatility and further solidifies them as the most promising and diversely talented collective in West Coast rap.
Absent of any of that frustrating context, Free The Stinc Team is business as usual for the crew—every track delivers and each member proves their artistic singularity. But with it, the music’s promise evokes a greater sense of urgency for the team’s freedom. This is in large part because the tape is shrouded by their suffered injustice, but also because these songs are actually very good. “Dope Boy” is Ralfy the Plug’s talent fully realized: he floats over a beat similar to Greedo’s “If I Wasn’t Rapping,” showing an ear for melody that hints at pop appeal. Bambino’s appearance on this track is serene. He sounds like if Nate Dogg were doing his best impression of Lil Yachty (this is a compliment, really, Bambino has arguably as eccentric a delivery as any member of the team) while cleverly rapping about “a bitch famous off of backpage.”
The Stinc Team’s gut appeal is rooted in making their sinister posturing feel wholly personal, giving gravity to their threats through often blasé delivery. It’s what make tracks like “Cyber Bullies” work—the consequences of throwing them insults from behind a screen feel dire, largely because Drakeo is casually delivering lines like “we keep shells for cyber bullies” as if your well-being is the last thing he’s concerned about.
It’s possible that none of these tracks would feel out of place on any other Stinc Team tape, but with a majority of the group behind bars and the threat of a life sentence looming, each song feels momentous. It demands an attentive listen just as a posthumous memoir does a read. The crew rarely openly acknowledges their imprisonment but as a listener it’s hard to forget with an opener as bleak and earnest as Drakeo’s “Murder Was The Case.”
The track is a minimalized entry somewhat reminiscent of Suga Free’s “I Wanna Go Home,” where Drakeo delivers his freestyle verse over a muffled phone call to his engineer Navin from prison. It clocks in at just under a minute and a half but the grim tangibility of incarceration as you hear sounds from prison in the background, makes it the most striking moment on a tape that otherwise carries few explicit remarks on their current situation.
“As Drakeo the ruler sits in the cruelly ironic draconian hell of LA Men’s Central County Jail in DTLA he raps on every phone call he has been given,” manager TK Kimbro tells me about the song via text. “Waiting for the right time when the jail is as quiet as possible … over a phone call with his engineer Navin, Drakeo began bar by bar to lay down in his unique cadence and coded slang what was on his mind in real time.”
Drakeo has a true gift and, if he can beat the bevy of charges, will continue to be a torchbearer for LA rap. He’s also human, though, with a family sitting on the other end while he’s wrongfully imprisoned. The situation is no different for the rest of the crew behind bars, making the talent they showcase on the tape a mere accessory to underscore the obvious: Free the Stinc Team.