Steven Louis mudwalked through Barney’s, but at Neiman’s, he cashed the check.
Tuesday afternoon, soaked in dusty California sunlight, blinded by indignation. We’re at 605 S Irving Street, day four of what the intelligentsia has dubbed “The ACAB Spring.” Hancock Park is an affluent, picturesque Los Angeles neighborhood, adorned with multimillion dollar homes. You live here if you executive-produced Modern Family, or if you are the feckless mayor in charge of more than four million people. We’re here with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles to protest, among so many other atrocities, the proposed city budget that gives 54 percent of general funds to the most murderous police force in America. No violence, no looting, just chants and marches outside Eric Garcetti’s residence.
Our presence is met with a surreal, endless chain of cop cars and motorcycles descending down Wilshire Blvd. Directly outside Garcetti’s, we have a few National Guard tanks, at least 100 mobilized cops in full riot gear, and as many as six different LAPD helicopters whirring in and out, doing loud-ass air donuts over the scene while we try to listen for directions. We later learn that another set of cops are staged on Garcetti’s private tennis courts while the mayor and his guests ignore the fuss and eat an early dinner. They are SHOOK.
So here we are, maybe ten feet from armed-to-the-teeth cops guarding jacaranda trees and ornate wrought iron gates. The name we remember is PALKA, because he’s the only cop moving around; while he smirks, whispers orders and exchanges words with protesters, the rest of the cops stand deathly still, unflinching but clearly ready to pounce at any provocation. PALKA. He’s damn near the ruler of this heavily-armed gang. Terms are important, and distinctions have consequences. He’s the one to announce that police are standing down and not arresting anyone at this action. He’s the one on the pages of the LA Times, lionized for taking a knee and overseeing a peaceful demonstration. PALKA. Hard on the ears. Now go do the reflexive, requisite next step: search that shit on social media. You’ll find some, uhhhhhh, unflattering stuff.
Cory Palka is a gang leader. He’s been in this game, earning his stripes since Rampart. He flexes guns and flashes gang signs in videos. He commands a set of violent lieutenants, and he posts online about it. His behavior is not only condoned by a “progressive” public, but financed by it too. As of this writing, Cory is conducting press interviews and enjoying a comfortable raise in his salary, despite this lil depression/pandemic/uprising thing devastating the rest of the city. The budget automatically passed into effect and completely ignored genuine, mobilized dissent. Garcetti gets more fawning press while deploying the military on his constituents and defending his embattled, mega-racist police chief. The proposed reforms — admittedly unthinkable at this level just a few years ago — are fiscally still drops in the bucket and ideologically…well, play-action, misdirection, total bullshit.
One more time, let’s soak this all in:
Drakeo The Ruler is the consequence, a human sacrifice of all this policy. The best and most promising talent in the fabled Los Angeles gangsta rap scene is forced to record his latest mixtape through the GTL inmate telephone system. The “most original West Coast stylist in decades” is locked in purgatory and fighting a charge THAT HE ALREADY BEAT. Los Angeles, without remorse or hesitation, sacrificed Drakeo the Ruler for all the PALKAs currently stalking their territory. It’s not any more complicated than that.
Born Darrell Caldwell, the South Central artist was arrested in January 2017 in connection to the murder of 24-year-old Davion Gregory in Carson, Calif. Drakeo’s brother, Ralfy the Plug, was inexplicably hauled in with him, as was fellow Stinc Team rapper Kellz. No evidence or motive given. Beatmaker JoogSZN was also arrested later on petty misdemeanor charges. From there, we have the typical police ingenuity, placing wired snitches and recording devices in every Stinc Team holding cell. It’s accidentally revealed that 17-year-old Rollin 40s Crip Jaidan Boyd was the shooter in this murder. That should be the end to this, but it’s somehow not the end to this.
The Stinc Team is questioned intensely and accused of operating as a street gang. Cops use the song “Bully Breaker” to get Drakeo’s address, then use “Chunky Monkey” to prove criminality for warrants. Your Mark Fuhrman character in this case is Francis Hardiman, deputy sheriff of LA County. He uses lyrics, videos, Instagram posts and other legal gymnastics to prosecute Drakeo at all costs. Drakeo convincingly beats this murder charge, while other members of the Stinc Team receive criminal sentences for credit card scamming. But Drakeo is still locked up and imprisoned, now facing “gang conspiracy changes” from the same incident that Hardiman is thirsty to pin down. Under California Penal Code Section 186.22, all you need to be considered a street gang is 3+ people, a common name or identifying symbol, and members who individually or collectively engage in whatever the law calls “criminal activity.” Drakeo is now fighting these new charges as a street caricature, a warped projection of what the prosecutors demand to see. As it stands, the case file title doesn’t include his government name. It is truly The State of California vs. Drakeo The Ruler.
The Hieronymus Bosch fructose industry rapper was let out of Rikers to avoid COVID infection, and the glossy new video already has damn near 300 million views. Meanwhile, Drakeo remains stuck, boxed in and harassed by arcane codification in the name of criminal justice. It’s dark. He re-imagines language, spits rubbery flows, croaks through withdrawals and fights for his goddamn life on Thank You For Using GTL. Every song is astonishing and humbling, Drakeo’s recorded GTL vocals rattling through the icy, minimal creations that Joog pumps into the prison phone. It really was not supposed to be like this.
This ain’t Grand Theft Auto, you Brad-ass motherfucker. No problems at Neiman & Marcus, but don’t dare try Barney’s in New York. You really care ‘bout your momma, you should act like it. Even while locked up, fervently targeted by racist local law enforcement, Drakeo is still laying classic, smarmy one-take taunts that reverberate throughout a revolting city. As he says, it’s the only thing he knows how to do.
“Even though they doing me foul, man, this is why I started doing music. To say whatever the fuck you want. I mean, in the court of law, you can’t if you Black and have a record. But hey, I’mma keep doing it,” Drakeo confesses on “Keep It 100.” The subsequent tapestry of crime, addiction and indulgent fantasy that he spits out is all fake evidence, apparently permissible in the Compton Courthouse. He literally acknowledges how his new lyrics will be used against him. I mean, Nathaniel got a platinum plaque for his verse from jail; what the fuck else does Drakeo have to do?
Thank You for Using GTL is miraculous, hard to listen to, perhaps indefinitely challenging as fighting the Los Angeles Police State becomes trendy enough for Santa Monica. Drakeo’s burgeoning career has been defined by harassment, carceral limitation, literal “outside agitators” derailing a South Central maestro in his creative prime. It’s the product of decades and decades of cruel malpractice that we all signed on to. It’s praxis, and it’s the hottest shit out. It hurts, and it’s supposed to hurt. The Hall of Justice is overrun with soldiers and tracking every move from its opposition. Something has to give, and it’s going to, because the alternative looks a lot less like “looting” Rodeo Drive and a lot more like a real-life nationwide stick-up from those Stinc Team videos. Sheeeesh. Free Drakeo, free everyone. That’s never been hard to chant or promote, but it’s now the bare, absolute minimum. The Ruler found a way to deliver 19 new songs from lockdown while PALKAs do the bare minimum for cable news promotion and torture out of pure American boredom. We all owe Drakeo a listen.