Family, friends, and fans attended the open-casket funeral at the Greater Emmanuel Temple Church in Lynwood, a few miles east of the South Los Angeles community where the highly inventive MC — known for his breakout 2017 mixtape Cold Devil, and the Drake-assisted 2021 single “Talk to Me” — grew up.
“It really hit me last night. Reality is setting in. This is my baby,” Drakeo’s mother Darrylene Corniel told Rolling Stone as she greeted family outside the church. “My son had class, and I wanted him to go out with class.”
Inside the chapel, Drakeo’s younger brother, the rapper Ralfy The Plug, was seated in the front row. An arm’s length away, Drakeo’s body lay in a $36,000 platinum coffin surrounded by life-size images of the 28-year-old hip-hop prodigy and a giant floral arrangement spelling out his name in blue-tipped roses.
“He was my role model. He made sure I knew the best of everything. He made me start rapping. He was getting so much money and made it look so easy,” Ralfy told Rolling Stone hours later, after his brother’s casket was interred in a wall at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills, the same cemetery where the brothers’ late friend and collaborator Ketchy the Great was laid to rest.
“He was just born with it,” Ralfy said of his brother’s unique flow. “Certain stuff you can’t fake. He made up his own style of music, ‘nervous music.’ It was like our own little genre. It’s like that kind of feeling when you’re riding around in a $100,000 car with felonies all around you.”
Drakeo, born Darrell Caldwell, was attacked and stabbed in the neck backstage at the Once Upon a Time in L.A. music festival held at the Banc of California Stadium last December. The event’s long list of performers included Al Green, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and YG.
Drakeo’s career was just beginning to flourish when it was cut shot. Following his acquittal in a murder case that had trapped him behind bars for nearly three years, he released two full-length albums. His collaboration with Drake on “Talk to Me” was one of the many signs his mainstream moment was on the horizon.
The California Highway Patrol, the agency with jurisdiction over the area in Exposition Park where the murder took place, has so far been tight-lipped about the investigation being run through its major crimes division. The lead detective on the case did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Corniel told Rolling Stone shortly after the murder that her son had been “swamped” by a group of masked men backstage.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed Feb. 2 on behalf of Drakeo’s five-year-old son says the rapper died at the hands of “a violent mob of purported members of a Los Angeles-based Bloods gang.” The paperwork faults the festival’s organizers and promoters for an alleged “utter lack of security” that left the rapper vulnerable in “one of the most dangerous areas in the greater Los Angeles region.” Drakeo’s “ongoing public feud” with fellow festival rapper YG was listed as another reason the concert’s organizers should have afforded him greater protection, the paperwork alleges.
“While there is no evidence to indicate that YG had anything to do with the events that would lead to Mr. Caldwell’s murder on the evening of December 18, 2021, it was clear that other members of the Bloods gang may take issue with him,” the filing reads. “It was widely known that members of the Bloods gang were actively targeting Mr. Caldwell.”
Drakeo’s personal safety was a major issue after Los Angeles County prosecutors put him on trial for the 2016 shooting death of Davion “Red Bull” Gregory — a known member of the Inglewood Family Bloods — even though they knew he didn’t pull the trigger.
Drakeo was acquitted of the murder in July 2019. He later told his friend, the music writer Jeff Weiss, that he felt there was a gang-related bounty on his head, according to Weiss’ stunning account of Drakeo’s murder in Los Angeles Magazine.
Speaking to Rolling Stone a month before his murder, Drakeo reflected on how prosecutors used the lyrics from his 2016 song “Flex Freestyle” in their failed attempt to convince jurors he’d attended the warehouse party where Gregory was killed with malicious intent: to target a rival rapper, RJ. “I’m ridin’ around town with a tommy gun and a Jag / And you can disregard the yelling, RJ tied up in the back,” the lyrics state. RJ wasn’t even at the party in question the night of the deadly shooting and said he never had any intention of going.
“I didn’t even think (prosecutors) could do that,” Drakeo told Rolling Stone in November. “I heard about them doing it before, but it was just the way they were doing it. How they were using it against me. It didn’t make no sense. It was just crazy.”
After Drakeo’s service on Tuesday, mourners filed by his open casket before his fellow Stinc Team rappers carried the coffin outside to the white chariot and fleet of Rolls Royces that ferried his family to Forest Lawn.
Drakeo’s young son, Caiden, darted around the crowd at both locations in a tiny black tuxedo and bow tie, not fully comprehending what was going on, his mother, Tianna Purtue, told Rolling Stone. She didn’t let the rapper’s only child view his body.
“We couldn’t do it. It was just way too hard. I didn’t want him to have any last memories of seeing his father in a casket. I just prefer to keep the memories he has, and the photos,” Purtue says.
“Caiden understood he was coming to the church, but I kept having to explain that we were saying our final goodbyes. Of course he’s going to live on with his legacy, but it’s not the same. So many opportunities have been taken away from our son, because his father isn’t here.”
At the church and later the cemetery, where Stinc Team members lifted Drakeo’s casket into the exterior marble wall of his mausoleum, the rapper’s closest friends reminisced about his outsized personality and the enduring mark he left on the West Coast music scene.
“What he gave us is really powerful. The way Drakeo led, it touched a lot of people,” producer JoogSzn said.
“This is real. There’s so much sadness, but also, it’s like a weight is being lifted because he’ll finally be at rest. We can get back to celebrating his life instead of mourning his death,” Desto Dubb, the musician and owner of the clothing brand Awful Lot Of Cough Syrup, told Rolling Stone. “He was always pushing the envelope and doing things most of us thought wasn’t possible. He really represented L.A.”
Drakeo’s father, Darrell Caldwell Sr., recalled how his son showed his hyper intelligence and independent streak as a four-year-old boy.
“We couldn’t find him, Right? We were like, ‘Where is he at?’ And everybody was looking for him. You know what he did?” Drakeo’s dad asked. “At four, he knew exactly how to get to the donut shop on Century [Boulevard] and Normandie [Avenue]. We couldn’t find him. Amber Alert. Sheriffs. Everybody is looking for him. And guess where he was? Right at the donut shop, talking to the lady at the donut shop, ‘Hey, I want to get me a glazed donut.'”
As she thanked everyone for their ongoing support and attendance Tuesday, Darrylene Corniel said Drakeo’s tight-knit group of friends had become her “sons” as well.
“I always will love them for being there for my son. Darrell had a lot of friends, and I love them like they were my own,” she said. “I want you to know that my son’s death is not in vain, and I still say justice will be served. We won’t stop until justice is served.”
Ralfy, born Devante Caldwell, was with his brother when he was attacked and stabbed. He made it clear Tuesday he has no expectation that detectives will arrest the killer.
“I know they ain’t gonna do that,” he said, shaking his head and scoffing. “The police, they’re not looking for anyone.”
He then changed the subject to the Stinc Team, telling the unidentified assailants, “We’re still here.”
“They thought it was over, but it’s only just beginning,” he said. “They just brought more exposure to what’s going on.”