The mother of murdered rapper Drakeo the Ruler wiped away tears on Monday as she spoke about her son’s “genuine heart” and senseless death in a backstage stabbing at the Once Upon a Time in L.A. music festival Saturday night.
She ran two fingers up from her collarbone to show where someone plunged a blade into her son’s neck, ending his life just as his music career was reaching its next level.
“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,” Darrylene Corniel told Rolling Stone in an interview at her Los Angeles residence.
“I need this to be out there. I need people to know. And I do want justice for my son. And I do believe that justice will be served,” she said. “I will not rest until justice is served.”
According to Corniel, 53, her son Drakeo, born Darrell Caldwell, was backstage with a small group of people that included his younger brother Devonte Caldwell, a rapper known as Ralfy the Plug. She said that, according to witnesses she spoke to, a large influx of people arrived around the same time as fellow rapper YG.
“They said there were, like, 40 to 60 people,” Corniel told Rolling Stone. Members of the incoming crowd “swamped” her sons and their small entourage, she said. “Everything just happened so quickly,” she said. “They started trying to jump them.”
She said Devonte tried to protect his brother: “He was trying to fight, but when he turned around, he could see his brother with blood gushing out of him. He was like, ‘Did they stab you?’ It was like, there were so many of them.”
She believes pride played a role in the tragedy, but she was still awaiting her formal interview with investigators to get more information. “It is such a shame how much jealousy and envy can make people stoop to such low tactics to try to destroy another individual because of fame and progress,” she said. “When you start getting up there, people start getting intimidated. So, I believe, once his platform started going higher, people started getting upset.”
She said aside from the killer’s motive, it’s clear venue security failed at its job.
“We plan to sue,” she told Rolling Stone. “This happened backstage at an event. Someone has to be held accountable.”
The concert, held at the Banc of California Stadium in L.A.’s Exposition Park, was put on by Live Nation. In a statement, Live Nation said the fatal incident happened “in a roadway backstage” and that it caused the festival to end an hour early.
“We are extremely saddened by the passing of Drakeo The Ruler. Our thoughts go out to his loved ones and fans and we’re doing everything we can to assist authorities in their investigation,” a rep for Live Nation said in an email to Rolling Stone on Monday.
A well-placed source said people entering the backstage area were supposed to pass through a metal detector and a screening area patrolled by K9s trained to detect gun powder and other explosives.
CHP investigators say the incident involved “a suspect wielding an edged weapon.” It was not immediately clear if the weapon was smuggled through security or possibly an object found backstage that was turned into a weapon.
“They let all these people in, and you’re not supposed to have all these people backstage. And your security is supposed to be in place,” Corniel said Monday. “The whole program should have been orchestrated a lot better than what it was. And there should have been more protection. Even if you have metal detectors, even if you pat them down, you let those people come in there. You had more people come in than you were supposed to. And you allowed them to jump my son. You didn’t protect my son.”
She broke down and needed a moment to collect herself as she described her eldest child.
“Darrell, my son, had a good heart. He took care of those around him because I taught him that, to watch out for everybody,” she said. “People who really know my son knew he was a real individual. He had a genuine heart.”
The teacher with a bachelor’s degree in child development said Caldwell leaves behind his own son, who turns five years old next month. Two days before he died, Caldwell took his son to the Long Beach Aquarium, she said.
“He planned to do so much,” Corniel said. “He wanted to help the homeless and do something for children who were needy. And he wanted to take care of his family. That is one of the reasons he got into the industry, because he wanted to help his family. He saw what his mother went through, raising him as a single mother, going to school, getting my degree with no help. Darrell wanted to help everybody.”