The San Pedro rapper Remble learned that Drakeo the Ruler, his mentor and champion, was in trouble in a text from his aunt.
“She was in the trailer for one of the other rappers,” the 21-year old born Eunique Cooper Remble said of the Once Upon a Time in L.A. music festival. Remble had a late night at Roddy Ricch’s album-release party the day before, so he’d skipped the Dec. 18 concert — featuring Snoop Dogg, Al Green and Drakeo among many hip-hop and R&B legends and stars — to write music.
As the night went on, “She thought Drakeo was in trouble or hurt or something like that, from what she was overhearing. She texted me that it was all yellow tape and helicopters there.
“I kind of was just shocked,” Remble continued. “I started calling around, I wasn’t getting no answers. I just started getting calls back to back to back that Drakeo was in trouble. As the hours went by, we started seeing posts on Instagram, the ‘Rest in Peace’ posts.” Remble sent desperate messages to fellow members of Drakeo’s Stinc Team crew, including Drakeo’s brother Ralfy the Plug, trying to learn if this insane rumor might be true. It was: Drakeo had been stabbed to death.
“Losing Drakeo just like we lost Nipsey Hussle,” he said, “it was devastating.”
Drakeo’s killing, just a year after the 28-year-old’s release from a potential life sentence in prison, shocked the hip-hop world. It added to a grim toll of violence that’s taken the lives of rappers including Hussle, XXXTentacion, Pop Smoke, Young Dolph and Slim 400. Questions around Drakeo’s death — and any possible street rivalries that contributed to it — have cast a pall on the city’s rap scene, which is simultaneously spinning off up-and-coming stars like Baby Keem and Blxst while losing others to violence and jail.
Remble, whose young life has been haunted by loss since childhood, now has to find his own way in the aftermath. With a major-label deal, tens of millions of streams, placement on Spotify’s “Artists to Watch” list and one of the most distinctive, technically impressive vocal styles to come out of L.A. in years, he’s at the forefront of SoCal rap in 2022.
But since Drakeo’s killing — which remains unsolved, with no suspects arrested — that hope comes singed by fear. Remble’s an inheritor of Drakeo’s artistic legacy, but in a troubled time for L.A. hip-hop, that mantle sits uneasily.
“I wouldn’t say I’m worried about myself,” Remble said, staring down at the carpet in a home recording studio earlier this month. “But yeah, Drakeo, that was a real tragic experience.”
On a foggy January morning, Remble is working out of a spare bedroom in a very suburban SoCal condo, around the corner from an empty community pool complex. Remble’s handlers never gave the exact address over the phone or email, instead asking a Times reporter to park around the block and walk up to the unit.
At 10 in the morning on a Friday, Remble already has his Logic rig open on a laptop, in front of a green-screen video backdrop. He’s alone upstairs save for his brother, who’s quietly texting away in the studio corner. Remble’s dressed in a camel-colored sweat suit and a durag as he sifts through a folder of new demos to play for The Times.
This is not quite where you’d expect to find the new face of L.A. rap working, but “this just where I’m at today,” he said, warily. Remble’s quiet and considered in conversation and a little self-conscious about interviews — “I know I’m not too well-spoken,” he said sheepishly.
Remble’s guarded about a lot, from his dad’s life sentence in prison when Remble was 5 (asked what his dad was convicted of, Remble would only say it was “nonviolent”) to what his day-to-day life is like right now. He won’t mention whose place this is, and neither he nor his team would give specific details about where he was the moment he learned about Drakeo’s slaying. (He did not attend the Dec. 21 memorial service at Drakeo’s Runyon Canyon home.)
Given the targeted manner of Drakeo’s death, that makes sense. “Call this my Airbnb,” Remble said. “I’m trying not to say where I live.”
He’s much more verbose on record. Remble has one of the most head-snapping, fine-grained flows in contemporary hip-hop. If the trap and Soundcloud rap of recent years were defined by benzo-glazed depression, Remble’s delivery cuts with a sushi chef’s precision.
Remble recorded his first track, “Fortnite,” in 2018 as a 15-year-old. On early singles like “Gordon R Freestyle” or “Ruth’s Chris Freestyle,” his style pulls from the tensile funk of local hero Dom Kennedy and the torrent of words of Busta Rhymes. But it lands with deadpan, nonchalant clarity and total breath control. Once you hear one of the spooky, laceratingly funny couplets from “Touchable” — “Came a long way from pre-K and eating Lunchables / I just took your life and as you know it’s unrefundable” — his unmistakable sound feels almost in direct opposition to most rap today.
“I just like to listen to music that I can understand clearly,” Remble said. “But it came through time, me being in the studio every day, just finding myself.”
“Remble almost feels like a response to mumble rap,” said Carl Chery, Spotify’s creative director and head of urban music.
“He enunciates in a way you’re not accustomed to hearing.”
“I think it’s fair to say Remble is polarizing,” said Aaron Bay-Schuck, CEO and co-chairman of Warner Records, Remble’s label. “You either love him or hate him, there isn’t much room to be in the middle. I believe that to be a mark of a real artist.”
Bay-Schuck said that at first, “Frankly, I didn’t know whether I liked what I heard. Whenever you hear something that is so different than what’s out there working on a mass commercial level, it gives you pause. It makes you think and ask questions.” But right away, he also felt that “underneath the punchlines, there is a rapper who demands and deserves respect.
“Many of his records lack traditional choruses or have no chorus at all,” Bay-Schuck continued, calling that a “risky move in a short-term-attention economy.” Nevertheless, “Touchable” has nearly 40 million Spotify plays, with new single “Rocc Climbing,” with Lil Yachty, close on its heels.
The pandemic has forced young artists to form or adapt their styles at home, without the feedback of live stages. Remble — who in his youth bounced around from San Pedro and a Christian school in Compton to L.A. suburbs Bellflower and Lakewood — says he’s never even seen a live rap show, let alone performed at one. He’s only released a smattering of singles and one full-length mixtape, “It’s Remble.”
“I’ve never been to a concert,” Remble said. “It just was never my thing. But my dad used to have [New Orleans rap duo] Big Tymers playing when I was younger. Then I started listening to J. Cole and Kendrick, and then I ended up getting into the L.A. rap scene and listening to a lot of Drakeo.”
Just months after Drakeo was released from prison in late 2020, Remble put out “Ruth’s Chris Freestyle,” with wily taunts like “My mama told me, ‘Watch the snakes,’ I didn’t pay attention / I had to pay the consequences because they f—’ bit me.” Drakeo heard it on Instagram and almost immediately replied, asking to jump on the track. Remble earned traction on TikTok, and gobsmacked fans described him in comments as “rapping in MLA format.”
“Drakeo was always real cool,” Remble said. “He was real supportive in trying to sign me, and we went to a lot of video shoots and studio sessions together.” He gets quiet thinking about the time now lost. “I wish I could have gotten closer to him.”
Drakeo’s not the only role model taken from Remble’s life. Remble remains close to both his parents, and he talks to his dad often in prison, in a dark echo of Drakeo’s own “Thank You for Using GTL,” which the rapper recorded from a phone behind bars. (“That was a dope album,” Remble said, knowingly.)
“That affected me the same way it affects any other kid that grew up without a father,” he said, stressing his dad’s warm character and encouraging influence on him, even under the present circumstances. “I was as close as I could be to my dad before he had got arrested and everything. I always maintain conversation with him.”
Remble and everyone around him are very aware of the stakes when Drakeo, a cause celebre for the L.A. rap world, or Nipsey Hussle, a universally beloved community figure, can be killed for barely explicable reasons.
The facts of Drakeo’s killing are still emerging. The late rapper’s mother and friends have said that they believe people associated with the rapper YG were involved in the backstage melee that killed him. Drakeo’s family have said they plan to sue festival promoter Live Nation for negligence, but the fatal stabbing also was gruesome evidence of the tensions roiling L.A.’s rap scene (documented in songs like Drakeo’s “IngleWEIRD”), and a decades-old Blood-versus-Crip gang culture that, sometimes, bleeds into it.
Warner’s Bay-Schuck said that right now, the label’s role is to give Remble “space to process the quick success. Let him process the heartbreak of losing someone so close to him. It’s heavy becoming famous. It’s heavy losing someone you care about. Our expectations need to be realistic. That is how we best protect him.”
Drakeo wasn’t even the first Stinc Team death last year — the rapper Ketchy the Great died in a car crash in February. As evidenced in the home-studio hideout, Remble’s laying low following his mentor’s death while still trying to navigate his breakout as one of the city’s most acclaimed new rappers. It’s a lot for a 21-year-old.
“I’m able to live a lot more comfortably now and I don’t have to risk my freedom to get anything I need, you know what I mean?” he said. “I’m a pretty normal dude. I just listen to beats every day, trying to come up with different sounds and focus on different strategies to help my dad get outta prison. That’s pretty much it.”
Before leaving for the day, Remble cued up two new DJ Mustard-produced tracks he’s working on. The songs are raw and foggy, but within seconds, there’s that voice of his, cutting through all of it.
“It’s just kind of messed up how people could just be taken away from me. I wish I could have got closer to Drakeo as a person. Like, he really helped me a lot,” Remble said.
“In a perfect world, everybody would just be home.”
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