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Security shortcomings under scrutiny in Drakeo the Ruler killing

Drakeo the Ruler, unbuttoned shirt revealing tattoos, stands onstage with microphone in hand
Drakeo the Ruler performing at Rolling Loud on Dec. 12 in San Bernardino.
(Timothy Norris / WireImage)
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On Saturday night, just after Al Green had finished serenading tens of thousands of fans at the Once Upon a Time in LA festival with classic love songs including “Let’s Stay Together” and “Love and Happiness,” the rapper Drakeo the Ruler was brazenly ambushed backstage and stabbed in the neck.

The incident occurred as Snoop Dogg was gearing up to perform as part of the single-day event, a joint venture he co-promoted with live entertainment giant Live Nation and L.A.-based independent promoter Bobby Dee Presents. The latter is owned by Robert “Bobby Dee” Drieslein, a longtime business partner of Snoop Dogg.

The festival, held on the grounds of Banc of California Stadium and Exposition Park and featuring performances by the Game, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube and dozens of other R&B, funk and hip-hop artists from the 1970s onward, was shut down soon after.

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Drakeo, whose real name is Darrell Caldwell, 28, later died from his injuries. “Detectives are still trying to figure things out,” said Officer Luis Garcia, an LAPD spokesman, on Sunday. California Highway Patrol is the current investigating agency. No arrests have been made.

A man in a hoodie kneels at a makeshift memorial, with a boy beside him.
Rogelio Pulido lights a candle with his son, Mason, at a makeshift memorial on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in honor of Drakeo the Ruler.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The killing of Drakeo, an acclaimed street-oriented lyricist who had recently issued his debut album after a series of searing mixtapes, has prompted questions about security staffing at the festival, which included local rap artists with a history of gang affiliations.

In 2019, Drakeo was acquitted after being accused of murdering Davion Gregory, a gang member affiliated with the Inglewood Family Gangster Bloods. L.A. County prosecutors sought to retry Caldwell on conspiracy charges in the killing. The second case ended in a deal that saw Drakeo plead guilty to shooting from a motor vehicle and released on time served. He was also sentenced to five years’ probation.

“Drakeo walked into the lions’ pit,” said a talent organizer at the event, who declined to be named for safety reasons.

His peers and associates remember the South Central rapper who was fatally stabbed at a local music festival: ‘There will never be another Drakeo.’

Video of the assault shows a swarm of people involved in the melee, with many passersby watching from the perimeter. Once Drakeo falls to the ground, a half-dozen young men continue to attack him.

One eyewitness to the fight said that the security response was surprisingly slow. The eyewitness said he saw “no security remotely near there.” Security would have “had plenty of time to break up the fight, but there was maybe one guard trying to help,” said the person, who asked not to be identified so he could speak freely about what he saw.

“If you’re bringing security, you’d expect that should be enough,” said a member of Drakeo’s camp. The person noted that on Saturday Drakeo had his own security head in tow, but event staff prevented him from bringing his entire team into the backstage area. An eyewitness confirmed that account.

Drakeo’s mother, Darrylene Corniel, described her son’s death in an interview with Rolling Stone on Monday. “He was hit in his neck. I saw him when I went to the hospital. They said it’s a homicide, so I wasn’t able to hug him or kiss him or anything like that. I had to look at him through a window.”

She added, “I do want justice for my son. And I do believe that justice will be served.”

Corniel said she plans to file a lawsuit but didn’t specify against whom.

Before the night was over, Live Nation had issued a statement: “There was an altercation in the roadway backstage. Out of respect for those involved and in coordination with local authorities, artists and organizers decided not to move forward with remaining sets so the festival was ended an hour early.”

A worker climbs a stairway in a backstage area.
Crews clean up backstage the day after the Once Upon a Time in L.A. concert at Banc of California Stadium.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Drakeo’s killing is the second tragedy to occur at a Live Nation-sponsored event in less than two months. On Nov. 5, 10 people died and hundreds were injured at Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival in Houston after being trapped in a crowd surge. Both Astroworld and Once Upon a Time in L.A. were joint ventures among Live Nation, artists and local promoters; Astroworld with Travis Scott and Scoremore Shows, and Once Upon a Time in L.A. with Snoop Dogg and Bobby Dee Productions.

In a statement posted to Instagram the next day, Snoop Dogg wrote that he was “saddened by the events that took place last night” at the festival and offered condolences to Drakeo’s family and friends. He added: “I’m not with anything negative and as one of the many performers I was there to provide positive vibes only to my city of LA. Last night I was in my dressing room when I was informed about the incident and chose to immediately leave the festival grounds.” He concluded the note with an all-caps benediction: “IM PRAYING FOR PEACE IN HIP HOP.”

Robert “Smoov” Bryant, a music manager, tour promoter and consultant who has worked with artists including Digital Underground, DMX and YG, was behind the main stage during sets by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and the Game, and maintains that security was prevalent.

“Some had USC gear, you had event security, artist security and you had officers from the LAPD stationed in that area,” Bryant said. “I felt very secure.”

Drakeo the Ruler, 28, whose surrealist slang made him one of the most original stylists in L.A. hip-hop, died after being stabbed at a concert.

Drakeo had performed without incident the weekend prior in San Bernardino as part of the Rolling Loud festival. It was one of his first major festivals since his release from jail in November 2020.

He was scheduled to perform on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. on the G-Unit stage, one of three stages offering music at the festival. But the event was running behind schedule, and Drakeo was still backstage at the main Once Upon a Time stage as Green’s set was concluding.

The talent organizer at the festival recalled seeing many attendees in the VIP area wearing red clothing as a potential sign of their Blood affiliation. The lack of security in the backstage area, he said, was concerning.

“I probably saw at most two armed individuals, and they were at the VIP entrance telling people to turn away because it was too packed to get in,” he said.

Randy Phillips, the former chief executive of AEG Live who produced Kanye West’s Dec. 9 feud-breaking concert with Drake at the L.A. Coliseum — but who was not involved with Once Upon a Time in L.A. — says that security concerns for his event required conversation with law enforcement at every level. Before that concert, held at the same complex as Once Upon a Time, Phillips’ team “had at least five three-hour meetings with all of the stakeholders in the event, including the venue, their normal security, California Highway Patrol, the LAPD and the Sheriff’s Department.”

Phillips, who wasn’t privy to the security plans for Once Upon a Time in L.A., added that responsibility for the on-the-ground production, including safety and security plans, depends on Live Nation’s arrangement with Snoop Dogg and Bobby Dee Productions. “Live Nation didn’t create some of these festivals they bought into,” Phillips said. “A lot of it depends on who’s actually producing the concert. Is it Live Nation proper or is it Live Nation and a joint-venture with another promoter?”

Representatives for Live Nation and Bobby Dee Productions did not reply to requests for comment.

A portrait of Drakeo the Ruler, smiling.
Drakeo the Ruler.
(Wyatt Winfrey / Associated Press)

Once Upon a Time in LA was created by Drieslein under his Bobby Dee Presents banner and Jeff Shuman, a former talent buyer for Goldenvoice who in July left the company for Live Nation. According to patent records, Drieslein owns the trademark for both Once Upon a Time in LA and Once Upon a Time in the LBC. Drieslein also leads Uncle Snoop’s Army, a talent agency that represents many of the artists who were on the bill for the festival, including Ice Cube, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Warren G, B-Real, OT Genesis and Brenton Wood.

In 2017, Drieslein and Shuman started organizing Summertime in the LBC at the Queen Mary events center in Long Beach. It was renamed Once Upon a Time in LA in 2019 after a settlement with the Long Beach hip-hop group the Dove Shack, who claimed infringement due to the festival’s use of its 1995 hit song title of the same name.

Shuman has overseen several large festivals in smaller markets, including at the Observatory in Santa Ana, where he once served as talent buyer. While there, he was behind ambitious 2010s festivals Beach Goth, Burgerama and Soulquarius, each of which, despite their marquee lineups, was criticized in coverage and on social media for issues including overcrowding and lack of security. Shuman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Steve Dixon, who oversaw production on the West concert as part of Phillips’ team, says that planning for every aspect of such events can only get you so far.

“When there’s a dirty deed to be done,” he said, “there’s only so much you can spend to prevent it.”


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