A new lawsuit accuses concert promoter Live Nation, among others, of negligence that contributed to the killing of the rapper Drakeo the Ruler in December at the Once Upon a Time in L.A. festival.
The suit, filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of the rapper’s 5-year-old son, Caiden Caldwell, names promoters Live Nation, C3 Presents, Bobby Dee Presents and Jeff Shuman along with venue operators Major League Soccer and the Los Angeles Football Club, among others. The suit seeks $25 million in damages.
Drakeo, 28, born Darrell Caldwell, was stabbed to death backstage at the Banc of California Stadium before he was scheduled to perform at the festival on Dec. 18. No suspect has been arrested, and the investigation is ongoing.
“Mr. Caldwell’s lynching and eventual death at the hand of a violent mob of purported members of a Los Angeles based Bloods gang,” the suit alleges, “was a result of a complete and abject failure of all Defendants to implement proper safety measures in order to ensure the safety and well being of the artists whom they invited and hired to their music festival.”
Drakeo’s killing , just weeks after the crowd-crush disaster at the Live Nation-produced Astroworld Festival in Houston that killed 10 fans, raises troubling questions about the promoter’s ability to or interest in keeping its shows safe, said James A. Bryant, an attorney at the Cochran Firm representing Caiden Caldwell and his mother, Tianna Purtue, who filed the suit.
“How on earth could any of the promoters at this event have not only allowed top-billed artists [to] be a part of an initial attack with nothing done, but how do a hundred people get backstage for 10 minutes to pound him, beat him and stab him?” Bryant asked. “For a concert in South Central, with as much gang activity as they knew was going to be there, how they didn’t have an escort for Drakeo is beyond me. He should have never been in that position. He never should have died that night.”
A representative for Live Nation and the Once Upon a Time in L.A. festival said, “Once Upon a Time in L.A. joins Drakeo’s family, friends, and fans in grieving his loss. The festival is continuing to support local authorities in their investigation as they pursue the facts.”
The suit alleges that Drakeo, one of the most innovative and respected rappers of his generation in L.A., was confronted by a group of close to a hundred people backstage at the festival, where he was a top-billed act. Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and Al Green were among the other headliners.
The suit claims that Drakeo’s 15-person entourage was split into smaller groups due to COVID-19 protocols, leaving him with only one personal security guard, who could not carry a weapon on the festival grounds. A gate by the artists’ entrance off of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. “was a flimsy chain linked fenced, encompassed by a green fabric privacy covering, and manned by a sole unarmed security guard.” An altercation broke out as Drakeo headed to the G-Funk Stage to perform, and “at no point did security arrive to address the altercation or do anything to provide for Mr. Caldwell’s safety and wellbeing.”
Drakeo had been targeted by local Blood gang affiliates over allegations in a murder case, in which he was acquitted. (He was released from jail in 2020 in a plea deal on conspiracy charges related to the killing.) The suit alleges that the presence of the rapper YG, who was also scheduled to perform at Once Upon a Time in L.A., could have contributed to the melee. Many of Drakeo’s assailants were wearing red clothing and, according to the suit, yelling, “Suu whoop” as they circled Drakeo.
(YG has not been questioned by police, and the investigation is ongoing. A representative did not immediately return requests for comment.)
“While there is no evidence to indicate that YG had anything to do with the events that would lead to Mr. Caldwell’s murder,” the suit claims, “it was clear that other members of the Bloods gang may take issue with him … it was widely known that members of the Bloods gang were actively targeting Mr. Caldwell following his acquittal.”
Kellen Davis, Drakeo’s longtime attorney, said that the tense circumstances and lack of security at the festival created a powder keg, one that should have been easily foreseeable by the promoters of an L.A. hip-hop festival.
“The thing that stands out to me is the knowledge that Live Nation had about the artists they were soliciting for this. They knew the volume of people they were letting backstage, with no background checks,” Davis said. “The metal detectors were spotty — we know at least one person made it in with a knife. There was no one in security jackets backstage.
“Live Nation were asleep at the wheel,” Davis continued. “This ultimately falls on their laps.”
After the Astroworld disaster, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform said it will investigate Live Nation’s security practices.
“They just had the Astroworld debacle. You would have thought, ‘This is a big concert, let’s take all measures and really be cautious.’ They still couldn’t even do that a month later,” Bryant said. “Tell me where the security guards are in those videos. How is the No. 3 person on that stage able to sustain an attack for 10 minutes without a single soul to protect them?”
Live Nation already faces hundreds of suits in the Astroworld case, with damages potentially reaching into the billions.
“It’s layer on layer of negligence. It’s easy to pass the buck and subcontract, but whatever happens is on you,” Davis said. “Live Nation gets the success of booking these acts, but there needs to be some audit process, some oversight. We want assurance that they’ve actually confirmed this is a safe venue. If Live Nation can shave costs, that’s what they’ll do, even if it’s at the expense of Drakeo.”
While the summer festival season looks to be a redemptive period for the live music industry, the twin disasters at marquee Live Nation hip-hop festivals could undermine fans’ and artists’ confidence in their safety.
“Live Nation makes billions. At the end of the day, how hard is it to put care into protecting people who came to your event that you invited?” Bryant said. “Drakeo had every reason to believe he was going onstage to celebrate a successful event. He finally beat his case, he worked so hard to build his career, and right when it finally happened, his life was snatched.”