We expect emerging young rap groundbreakers to have a certain type of voice and delivery: yelpy, excitable, prone to messy vocal explosions and yah-yah-yahing. Drakeo The Ruler, the 24-year-old rapper currently reshaping the sound of the Los Angeles street-rap underground, does not have one of those voices. Instead, Drakeo sounds older than his years. His voice is a wizened, back-of-the-throat croak, a voice that suggests having just woken up from a nap and not being fully locked-in to reality quite yet. He raps his lyrics in a whispery grumble, as if he’s trying not to wake anyone who might be in the room with him while he’s recording. Even on hooks, he never lets his voice rise, which lends a matter-of-fact concreteness to an absolutely singular flow.
Drakeo’s flow is what matters. It’s what sells him. Nobody raps like him. Nobody even could. Drakeo likes to start rapping just as his songs begin, before the drums even kick in. It’s like he creates his own drums, his own alternate rhythms. He always stays in the pocket of the tracks, but it’s not the pocket that other rappers use. Instead, it’s like he’s just talking, like the words are magically arranging themselves into something that works like rap music. In the way he organizes his words, Drakeo’s closest cousin is probably E-40, another California rapper who seemed to invent both his own vocabulary and his own meter. Drakeo does the same thing; the terms he uses the most, “flu flamming” and “mudwalking,” aren’t even on Urban Dictionary. (Well, “mudwalking” is on Urban Dictionary, but I don’t think Drakeo’s bragging about going through his day without wiping his ass.) But he doesn’t sound like E-40. E-40 was selectively explosive, his splutters defined by their clarity. Drakeo doesn’t seem to care, especially, whether you know what he’s talking about or even whether you can make out the words he’s saying. He seems to be rapping entirely to himself. It’s one of the things that makes him so compelling.
Another of those things is his oddly expressive, poetic word-choices. Drakeo is a street-rapper, concerned with flossing and menacing. But he’s one of that rare breed of street-rappers — the ones who see the form as a blank canvas full of wide-open possibilities, like Gucci Mane in 2008 or Young Thug in 2013. He’ll transition back and forth between slurry, liquid free-association and coherent but elegantly rendered tough-talk: “Medusa, I stone him if he Judas, he stupid / Think he finna book me, I am not one of these losers,” “Standing in my face telling boldfaced lies / You ain’t been where I been, I seen grown men cry.” When he’s flexing about fashion (“Bathing Ape cape and shit, nobody can tame the kid”), he sounds just like when he’s talking about his guns (“The type of shells that’ll knock down Juggernaut”). And the best is when he lets it all blur together, when the sounds of the words seem to dictate the lyrics’ internal logic: “All mud in my kidneys / My plug is a gypsy / This a fully automatic, I let my kids hold the semis.”
Drakeo spent 2015 and 2016 building up a reputation within LA rap circles and signing a short-lived deal with DJ Mustard. But after a January arrest on gun charges (on the day that Drakeo’s son was born, for guns that Drakeo says weren’t his), Drakeo spent most of 2017 in jail, tweeting prolifically on a smuggled-in phone. He got out of jail at the end of November, recorded his excellent new Cold Devil mixtape in 10 days, and released it before the year was over. The end of the year is always crowded with new rap releases, and it can be hard for one to stand out, especially one from a rapper who’s only just building his name outside his city. But Cold Devil is a complete work, one that demands to be heard. It’s Drakeo operating at peak capacity alongside likeminded and similarly hungry young LA rappers like 03 Greedo and Ohgeesy. The beats, like Drakeo’s voice, are soft and forbidding — lo-fi synth-shimmers that, more than anything else, recall circa-2010 cloud-rap. The sound is bleak and instinctive, both raw and oddly soothing. It creeps into you.
There are no bad songs on Cold Devil, but the best might be “Out The Slums” and “100,” the two successive tracks where Drakeo teams up with the similarly buzzy young LA rapper 03 Greedo. Greedo, like Drakeo, raps with quiet confidence, but he’s his own kind of weird. His voice is more of a high-pitched squeak, and there’s an instability to it, as if he’s about to break into evil laughter at any moment. (He also has fastidiously well-kempt facial hair and enormous face tattoos, a combination that frankly creeps me out.) Drakeo and Greedo complement each other beautifully, their two adjacent forms of forbidding oddity feeding and building off of one another. They’re reportedly working on a collaborative mixtape now. Look out for that. That’s the sort of combination that could change some things.
1. SHIRT – “Flight Home”
A hazy love letter to the people who move across the world and then long for home, delivered with punchy New-Yawk swagger over blissed-out boom-bap. I’ve been ignoring this guy’s name on rap blogs for years, and I’ve got some catching up to do.
2. Maxo Kream – “With The Plug” (Feat. 03 Greedo)
Virtuoso Houston shit-talker hooks up with aforementioned Angelino weirdo over spaced-out, harp-laced aquarian soul-sample haze — which is to say, drug-rap that actually sounds like drugs.
3. Nef The Pharaoh – “Bussin'”
A few years in, Neffy hasn’t lost the spazzy excitability that first made him so much fun. And when he gets a beat as energetic and confident as he is, we’re in good hands.
4. Xavier Wulf & Skepta – “Check It Out (Remix)”
In which grime’s leading big dog proves his flexibility by jumping on Floridian SoundCloud-rap and just annihilating it. Not too many rappers can do the things that Skepta can do.
5. Sole – “All Your Bases”
Nineteen years ago, this Anticon redbeard had the misfortune to beef with El-P, who absolutely let him have it: “This is my ride, and you’re not commandeering it / The only thing advanced about your music is you need a computer to hear it.” But these days, you need a computer to hear anyone’s music, leaving a guy like Sole free to riff on old video-game memes and global dystopia over gorgeously gloopy new age. Everyone wins!
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
when you wake up and remember you bought a gallon of orange juice yesterday pic.twitter.com/8qcTkYeXEx
— Al Shipley (@alshipley) December 30, 2017