After years of legal drama, Drakeo the Ruler is finally free, and already back in the studio

Photo by Deawnne Buckmire

On Wednesday, a bit of good news might have flown under the radar: Los Angeles rapper Drakeo the Ruler was released from prison after striking a plea deal with the district attorney’s office, as first reported by Jeff Weiss. After a years-long legal battle, Drakeo pleaded guilty to shooting from a motor vehicle with a gang enhancement. He was released due to time served, and received five years probation.

The charges stem from a party Drakeo attended in 2016 — during which the 24-year-old Davion Gregory was killed by another person at the house — and stray attempted murder charges from a separate 2018 incident. Drakeo was acquitted of all murder and attempted murder charges in 2019, but prosecutors continued to pursue the charges of criminal gang conspiracy and shooting from a motor vehicle.

Prosecutors pulled all stops in attempting to classify Drakeo’s rap group, Stinc Team, as a gang by poring over his lyrics and music videos in court. State prosecutors leaned on extremely conservative associations to imply that Drakeo’s lyrics and music videos provided evidence enough to link him to murder. Despite the acquittals, charges of criminal gang conspiracy and shooting from a motor vehicle were enough for Drakeo to stare down a potential life sentence prior to the plea deal.

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s time in office has been characterized by harsh penalties, seeking the death penalty 22 times and pursuing gang enhancements, which inflate the sentencing in a case like Drakeo’s. In a recent piece for The LAnd, Drakeo described how “vicious her office has been towards Black and Brown people” with sentencing. “I myself have known hundreds of people who accepted gang enhancements and plea deals for stuff that they didn’t even do — just to go home,” he said.

After a summer of widespread protests against police brutality and justice reform, Lacey faced significant progressive opposition and appears to be in dire political straits. Although the race hasn’t been officially called, progressive challenger George Gascón currently leads Lacey in a tight race, with her path to victory narrowing. Gascón emerged from a crowded field of reformers to take on Lacey’s stringent record, and has been a strong advocate for Drakeo. “He is precisely the poster child for what I'm talking about,” Gascón told Mic back in March, “and why the use of gang enhancements can provide some horrendous consequences that really impact lives in a very unfair manner.”

As Weiss pointed out in his thread breaking the news, local election results had a significant impact on the plea deal. “It's unquestionable that LA voting out Jackie Lacey last night played a major role in the DA's decision,” Weiss wrote. “We have every reason to be cynical, but this was a case where collective action and organization actually paid real life dividends.”

Drakeo recorded vocals for one of the year’s most inventive hip-hop albums, Thank You for Using GTL, over the phone at Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail. Just hours after being released from prison, he was already back in the studio again.