Drakeo the Ruler - Thank You For Using GTL Music Album Reviews

Recorded in jail over a crackly phone line, Drakeo’s mesmerizing album is a remarkable feat: a stark rebuke of the justice system and an unparalleled achievement for a rapper and his producer.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department might see money from Drakeo the Ruler’s latest album before he does. Thank You for Using GTL was recorded over the phone from the county’s Men’s Central Jail using phone service from GTL (formerly Global Tel*Link), a company that controls about half of the market for telecom services in correctional facilities. Their exorbitant rates, which extort families’ access to inmates, have been under fire from politicians and advocacy groups alike, but persist largely because they cut sheriffs in on the scam. The company has guaranteed the L.A. County Sheriff millions of dollars each year in fees, providing plenty of incentive to keep the predatory systems in place.
This context is important because GTL is more than just a symptom of a corrupt capitalist corrections industry; on Thank You for Using GTL, it’s a passive collaborator. Drakeo quite literally could not have made it without them. He’s spent much of the last three years at the MCJ, first on a gun rap, then later on murder, attempted murder, and criminal street gang conspiracy charges. Acquitted of the murder charges, the District Attorney re-filed the conspiracy charges; Drakeo remains in custody without bail as he awaits a new trial. He released Free Drakeo earlier this year, a compilation mostly comprising remixes and previously released material. But with a depleted vault of verses and no access to a studio, any new material would have to be made from the MCJ.

That new material is a stunning depiction of what it means to be a gangsta rapper in 2020: constantly surveilled, presumed guilty until proven innocent, pressure applied from all sides. Producer JoogSZN paints the scene with a moody G-funk drum machine that perfectly matches the crunchy analog texture of Drakeo’s phone vocals, and his subdued mix leaves room for Drakeo’s verses and hooks to remain prominent. There’s a dissonant reversal of the flown-in producer tag; the interruptions of the GTL system’s automated messages (“This call is being recorded”) serve as a jarring reminder of the surveillance state in which his music is made—Big Brother is watching you. When JoogSZN’s actual tag gets dropped in, it feels more like an ad-lib. His touch is light, and the production so well-matched, that without the “Thank you for using GTL” interstitials it would be easy to forget this record was made on a jail phone.

And that fact is no small feat. There are a few ways to release an album while incarcerated: The cleanest requires some foresight, building up a backlog of verses and songs before entering custody that can be released while you’re incarcerated, like 03 Greedo’s recent, furious recording run before serving a 20-year sentence on drug and gun charges. C-Murder recorded his vocals for 2005’s The Truest Shit I Ever Said on a portable recorder during visits from his attorney. But the phoned-in method presents unique challenges. Despite the massive revenues they generate, prison telecom companies like GTL are notorious for providing dismal audio quality on their prison communications. And audio delays make it difficult to rap on beat; Gucci Mane’s producer Drumma Boy admitted that he had to chop up his vocals in order to make them fit the tempo of the beats on the BurrrPrint (2).

That Thank You for Using GTL overcomes these obstacles is a remarkable achievement from both rapper and producer. Drakeo’s flow is so laid-back it often sounds horizontal, but his internal metronome allows him to slide in and out of the pocket without ever losing the beat. And the aesthetic is crucial to the story. Drakeo didn’t choose to cut the record while incarcerated, but the jail, and his jailers, had a hand in how it was made, and how it sounds. It’s impossible to ignore, and each listen invites a closer read of its circumstances. (The irony of those circumstances is thick: The FBI investigated gangs within the Sheriff’s department itself, and the former L.A. County Sheriff currently sits in federal prison, found guilty of obstructing a different FBI investigation into abuse and misconduct in the county jails.) Still, Drakeo remains in the MCJ, where he’s lived for much of the past two years without ever being convicted of any crime.

Yet there’s not an ounce of desperation in his voice. A master at flipping classic one-liners into memorable hooks, Drakeo displays an uncanny ability to expertly wield repetition to create rhythm with the vocal track. His style is equal parts Snoop Dogg and Juvenile, smooth yet aggressive, oozing confidence and effortlessly expanding the English language with coded street slang. In one of the album’s few moments of levity, he decodes his shorthand for being unimpressed by large sums of cash (“300,000 in a duffel? Do a backflip or sumn, bitch”). The content mostly remains in line with his past work; rhymes about his namesake assault rifles, checking social media tough-talkers IRL, and his predilection for shopping at Neiman Marcus. If he was worried about rapping gangster shit while on trial for gangster associations, you wouldn’t know it until the album’s final moments.

And yet one of the more disturbing elements of L.A. County’s case against Drakeo is their repeated use of his lyrics as evidence of his criminality. It’s crucial to their case, which argues that the Stinc Team is a criminal organization, and therefore their music is indicative of their criminal intent. It’s one of the few specifics of his case referenced on record. The album’s closing track “Fictional” pokes fun at the DA’s obsession with his lyrics (“This might sound real, but it’s fictional/I love that my imagination gets to you”), pointing out that no other art form gets exploited like this in criminal court (“You’re not gonna hold Denzel Washington accountable for his role in Training Day”).

As cold as Drakeo sounds throughout Thank You for Using GTL, its strongest moment is its most vulnerable. The brooding bass and electronic snare on “Pressure” set an ominous mood, and Drakeo—in a rare move—admits the weight of the force applied against him. “I can’t think about my past, I got Alzheimer’s” he raps, his focus firmly trained forward, acknowledging that “Loyalty always comes with a price, it’s the life/just keep your mouth shut.” He knows the implications of the raw deal he’s been handed. But he refuses to buckle under the pressure.

Drakeo’s charges aren’t the result of his actions. His prosecution hinges solely on his associations—where he’s from, the people he grew up with, and the music that they make together. In a city where underfunded services languish while police budgets expand into the billions, it’s hard to consider the resources consumed by the county to prosecute Drakeo multiple times for the same incident and see it as anything other than a vendetta against a rap crew known to publicly disdain the police. He was forced to create the best album of his career from behind bars and, in a cruel twist, to pay his jailers for the privilege to do so. It’s likely the greatest rap album ever recorded from jail—an honor that will provide little consolation if the county’s vendetta is successful.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Drakeo the Ruler - Thank You For Using GTL Music Album Reviews Drakeo the Ruler - Thank You For Using GTL Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 Rating:

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