Bars and bullets: On the collision of Sacramento rap and gangs

Who’s breaking through … and who’s getting shot

Deandre Darnell Oliver doesn’t remember much about last month’s near-execution.

The producer-rapper formerly known as “Lil Lav” was exiting an Arden-Arcade liquor store on the night of February 20 when eight bullets tore into his 6-foot-3 frame, he and his mom say. The younger brother of incarcerated local rapper Lavish D flatlined twice in the hospital.

“I was assassinated. I wasn’t shot, I was assassinated,” he told SN&R. “But God has a plan for me.”

On March 10, the hobbled but upbeat Oliver was back in the studio making music. His dream, he says, is to escape through his art, not get sent to prison for it, like his brother. “I believe music can change my life,” said the man who now performs as Prince Dreda.

But it’s unsettled times in the Oliver kingdom.

Same goes for Sacramento’s gangster rap scene.

Brother Donald “Lavish D” Oliver is serving a six-year prison sentence after accepting a plea deal last summer in a gun-possession case, which used his music to portray him as the leader of the south Sacramento gang Starz.

Lavish’s chief rap competititor Mozzy, a validated member of rival gang Oak Park Bloods, is enjoying the kind of breakout success that hasn’t been seen around these parts in decades.

The divergent fortunes of the scene’s two most notorious artists are rippling through both the music world and the underworld.

“There’s a lot of people coming out of Sacramento right now,” said Coop D’Vill, a blogger for and an underground rap industry watcher. “Thanks to Mozzy and Lavish.”

D’Vill predicts Mozzy running mate Celly Ru could be the next to pop. And then there are the hungry suitors, roiling the scene as they aim for the throne. D’Vill ticks off several names belonging to prolific local artists. Some are associated with the gangster life and some aren’t, but they’re all workhorses.

“They’re staying relevant. That’s the best way I could put it,” D’Vill said. “You got to stay relevant in this microwave rap game.”

Meanwhile, law enforcement is wondering how all this will reverberate on the streets.

Before Lavish D pleaded to the gang-enhanced charges last June, the rapper had been a target of law enforcement for years, thanks to provocative lyrics and videos that authorities believe facilitated at least four real-world gang shootings. Lavish’s music played a heavy role in his prosecution, and it’s a tool that authorities regularly use to both identify and also implicate gang members.

“The music is a big factor,” said defense attorney David Bonilla, who currently represents Daniel Thomas Bush, a.k.a. rapper Poppy Chulo, in a gun-possession case. “It’s a big factor for Daniel’s case.”

It was in 2011 as well. Bush’s then-attorney Jennifer Mouzis got the rapper acquitted of attempted murder charges. Mouzis says authorities weren’t able to connect Bush to the crime beyond a disputed witness voice identification. But they tried to sway the jury with the music of Poppy Chulo, who has also recorded with Mozzy.

The tactic usually works. “The jury just sucks up that stuff like you wouldn’t believe,” Mouzis said. That’s because juries are afraid of gangs and anything that’s remotely connected to them, Mouzis says—even if it’s homemade music videos uploaded to YouTube.

It was a Lavish D video that played a crucial role in convicting those responsible for the 2010 gang shooting that killed an innocent bystander at a Holiday Inn Express in Elk Grove. Authorities used the video to identify several of the suspects, who appeared as extras in the video, “Project Nigga.” Mouzis represented one of the defendants in the case, a minor at the time, and got him acquitted.

The thing that helped her case most of all?

“My client was not in the video,” she said.

Deandre Oliver claims the link between gangster rap and gangster behavior is overblown. “Participating in criminal activity is a choice,” he said. “That’s not how I get down.”

Whether it factored into his near-death is unknown.

Oliver says he has “selective memory” of the attack. He’s unsure about when it exactly happened and says he doesn’t know who was behind it.

That may be true. But it also isn’t unusual for victims of gang crimes to be reluctant witnesses on their own behalf.

“My kids don’t tell me much about that stuff,” said his mother, Claudia Oliver. “But somebody needs to be at fault for this.”

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department confirmed it was investigating an injury-involved shooting that occurred February 20. Spokesman Sgt. Tony Turnbull told SN&R the Sheriff’s Communication Center received 911 calls regarding multiple shots fired in the 1300 block of Fulton Avenue, where the Kings Wines & Liquor store is located. “A 27-year-old victim showed up at a local hospital suffering from gunshot wounds,” he wrote in an email.

Turnbull couldn’t reveal the victim’s name and declined to be interviewed about rap-infused animosity between gangs. “I don’t have any comment on rappers and gangs locally,” he wrote. “Nothing has been brought to my attention.”

Deandre Oliver says he’s left the nonsense behind. “I’ve been to prison. I’ve been shot. I’ve done all that,” he said.

In 2010, Oliver was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading no contest to a felony gun-possession charge. Online court records show he’s currently facing one felony count of recklessly evading a peace officer, which carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $10,000 fine.

His goal right now, he says, is to make music with his two children that represents all of Sacramento, not just one neighborhood, and to figure out how to make money off of it.

Asked whether he’s inspired by the sudden success of his brother’s former sparring partner, Oliver demurs. “I wouldn’t even know him if he walked past me right now,” he said of Mozzy. “Ain’t nothing unique about it.”

But Oliver says those are the criticisms of an artist, not a gang member. “At the end of the day, it’s just music,” he said. “What are they going to do, take me to jail for making a song?”