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Drakeo The Ruler Released From Jail After Accepting Plea Deal

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The musician Drakeo the Ruler is out of jail. A rising star in the L.A. rap scene, he had been held for years on a bizarre, convoluted case involving a murder, his music, California gang laws, and finally, this week's election. NPR's Andrew Limbong reports.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Darrell Caldwell, AKA Drakeo the Ruler, first got attention for his easy, laidback style.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLU FLAMMING")

DRAKEO THE RULER: (Rapping) I be wilding out. Chopsticks, mop sticks all in my mama couch. Bathe with the...

LIMBONG: He was originally arrested in 2017 for a murder he was eventually acquitted of. But he stayed in jail as prosecutors argued that his lyrics and music videos were proof that Drakeo's rap group was a violent gang and Drakeo was its leader. In California, if you are a gang member, you can be charged for crimes other members of your supposed gang committed. Here's how Drakeo explained it to NPR earlier this summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

DRAKEO THE RULER: You don't have to be involved. You don't have to know nothing. You just have to be a gang member. But then the twist is that my group is my gang? Come on, bro.

LIMBONG: His group, the 2Greedy Stinc Team, was just a bunch of musicians, he says. All that didn't deter his music. He released an album from jail earlier this year, recounting his experience in the same breezy style.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACKFLIP OR SUMN")

DRAKEO THE RULER: (Rapping) I beat the murder and the other five attempts. But you ain't do it, though. That's not the point. Ain't do no telling, how you make it out that joint?

LIMBONG: After nearly three years in jail that included a gag order, more than nine months in solitary confinement and, of course, the pandemic, it's all come to an end with a plea deal. Drakeo pled guilty to shooting from a motor vehicle. The gang conspiracy charge that tried to pin his rap crew as gang was dropped.

JOHN HAMASAKI: In an otherwise terrible year, it was a beautiful day.

LIMBONG: Drakeo's lawyer, John Hamasaki, says the election this week helped tip the scales in their favor. The current L.A. County district attorney, Jackie Lacey, looks like she'll lose to George Gascon, a candidate known for criminal justice reform.

HAMASAKI: I don't think Mr. Gascon would have taken kindly to this case. I don't think he would have looked well upon it. I think that if the case had been continued to January, it probably would have been dismissed by his office.

LIMBONG: As for Drakeo's future, Hamasaki says that after Drakeo was released, he went straight to his studio and spent six hours recording new tracks.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXMAG'S "ZAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.