Before Drakeo The Ruler’s life was cut short, photographer Annie Devine captured the fan dedication and love that made him a true California hero. Through her lens, she saw the extent people would go to support the late rapper.
“When [Drakeo] did the meet-and-greet on the first day and then the show on the second day, that was the first time he invited me to be around him and his fans,” Devine tells REVOLT. “One of the first people he introduced me to was a fan he pointed out and said, ‘That fan was at every single one of my court dates sitting in the crowd.'”
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the accomplished photographer explains the extreme lengths she went to, to photograph Gunna before the pandemic, the last Drakeo The Ruler show she shot before his death, and how betting on herself led to connecting with Lil Baby.
What was the first Drakeo The Ruler show you photographed?
He had a two-day pop-up event. The first day, it was merch sales and a meet-and-greet. On the second day, if you bought merch on the first day or bought a ticket to the performance, you could pull up to this secret location yet to be announced to the general public. It was an intimate show with only a couple of hundred people there. But they were all hardcore Drakeo fans. Everybody knew every single word. All the lights were out, and everybody was recording. Seeing him look like a larger-than-life figure for the first time was wild. That was around July 2021. He had been released from prison about six months earlier.
Which performance of his was your favorite to photograph?
His tour kickoff at The Novo was incredible. It was packed. It was especially special to me because he included one of my photos on his tour hoodies and shirts, and paid me to license it. Only a few people understand doing good business like that. But he did. He understood good business and respected that. If there [was] profit to be made off of my photos, he would cut me in somehow.
For those who never saw him live, what was Drakeo The Ruler’s style on stage?
His performance style was calm and collected. From what I watched him do in the studio, he wasn’t writing those lyrics down, and they’re pretty intricate. He would be punching in and out. So, to be able to perform those songs live required a lot of attention to detail. For somebody with so many words, phrases, and metaphors jammed into his lyrics, he was getting every bar. He floated across the stage in a way that was calm and collected. Something I remember about his set at The Novo is when he asked the crowd, “What do y’all want to hear?” He was letting people call out the songs. That was cool.
He did a few meet-and-greets with his dedicated fan base. Were there any interactions that stuck out to you?
Absolutely. When he did the meet-and-greet on the first day and then the show on the second day, that was the first time he invited me to be around him and his fans. One of the first people he introduced me to was a fan he pointed out and said, “That fan was at every single one of my court dates sitting in the crowd.” His family members and lawyers would be the only people in attendance for him. But, he said that fan was at every one of his court dates. So, I made sure to capture a photo of them together. In December 2021, he invited the fan to his birthday party. He seemed to develop personal relationships with his fans.
That birthday was a few weeks before he was killed backstage at the Once Upon a Time in LA festival. Were you there?
No. They had a limited number of passes, so he had a small team with him that day. The last show I photographed of him was at the tour kickoff show at The Novo in September 2021. He wanted to be remembered as California’s hero. He had a lot of obstacles set up against him that he fought hard to overcome. He wanted to be the people’s champion. I’d really love for him to be remembered as California’s hero.
What’s the most you’ve done to make sure you captured a live show?
The first show that I ever shot for Gunna in 2020. It was his last show before the pandemic shut everything down. He texted me as soon as he landed in California. This was March 2020, and he texted me saying, “Hey, I just landed. I have a show at Cal State. I go on in an hour. Just let them know you’re here for me. Here’s my manager’s number. Give them a call.” The GPS told me I was over an hour away (laughs). I hopped in my car and started going [Grand Theft Auto] fast. I was going Fast X fast (laughs). I was weaving through traffic. I was still pretty new here, so I wasn’t familiar with the roads. I’m just clinging to the phone’s GPS in one hand. I threw my car in a random parking spot and figured if it got towed, I’d figure it out later. I ran a quarter-mile down to the security entrance of the venue. I’m calling his manager. Gunna is already on stage at that point. I constantly ran until I got to the stage and caught the last half of his set. But it was worth it. He knew I was down and willing to make the shot happen. That was when we really locked in and moved forward to shooting a lot together that summer.
I owe Gunna so much because the work I did with him and the people he introduced me to and put me on with really changed a lot for me. He helped put food on my table through the whole pandemic as well. So I’m very appreciative of Gunna.
Keeping it YSL-connected, how did you end up shooting Mariah the Scientist live?
That’s thanks to Shy Glizzy. I met him in the Summer of 2020 in the studio, and he called me one day and said, “Hey, there’s this new girl on the scene. I would love for you to photograph her. I already spoke highly of you to Mariah.” It was her first LA show, and it was at The Echoplex. It was sold out. Shy paid me himself out of pocket to shoot that show, and she was incredible. The energy was great at that show. Everybody knew the words to her songs. We did get to connect after the show, and I see what Thug sees in her. She’s a great person. She’s so beautiful and talented.
What do you have coming for the rest of 2023?
Honestly, it’s an adventure. Things come up last minute for me. For example, some of the biggest work I did last year was with Lil Baby for the rollout of his album It’s Only Me. I got booked that same day just scrolling through Instagram. I saw someone at the production company, Blank Square Productions, posted what they needed behind the scenes today. They didn’t even post who the artist was. That one day of work at a day rate with Blank Square Productions led me to maybe four or five more days of work for Lil Baby, then led me to more work with [Quality Control] for some of their other artists like Icewear Vezzo and Baby Money. The best thing you can do is just stay available. So, I’ll keep you posted because you never know.