The trial of Young Thug is set to begin in an Atlanta courtroom on Monday as the rapper faces gang-related racketeering charges, along with 13 other defendants, in a sweeping grand jury RICO indictment in Fulton County.
Young Thug, legal name is Jeffrey Lamar Williams, was arrested last year on May 9, 2022, and was charged with one count each of conspiring to violate the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and participating in criminal street gang activity.
After a search of his home following his arrest, the rapper was also charged with an additional count of participating in street gang activity, three counts of violating the Georgia Controlled Substances Act, possession of a firearm while committing a felony and possession of a machine gun. Those charges were later wrapped into the RICO indictment.
He has pleaded not guilty to all eight counts.
“Mr. Williams has committed no crime whatsoever,” his attorney Brian Steel told ABC News. “We will fight this case ethically, legally and zealously. Mr. Williams will be cleared.”
This landmark case is significant because it cites the use of Young Thug’s rap lyrics as evidence connected to real-life alleged crimes.
Young Thug was among 28 individuals named in the indictment who are allegedly associated with the Atlanta-based Young Slime Life (YSL), a gang that prosecutors allege Young Thug co-founded, along with two other co-defendants, in 2012. But YSL, which is also the acronym for “Young Stoner Life,” is also the name of the rapper’s brand and music label — an imprint of 300 Entertainment. The music label is not named in the indictment.
Prosecutors allege YSL is a “criminal street gang” that “claims affiliation with the national Bloods gang” and predominantly operates in Southeast Atlanta, but has expanded activities to surrounding areas, according to charging documents obtained by ABC News.
Charges in the 65-count RICO indictment include murder and attempted murder.
Young Thug is not charged with murder or attempted murder but is accused of allegedly renting a car used in the Jan. 10, 2015 killing of rival gang associate Donovan Thomas, Jr., which according to Willis “triggered” additional gang-related killings in the city.
In the indictment, prosecutors reference instances where individuals allegedly associated with the YSL gang wore or displayed symbols of “YSL” in music videos posted on social media between 2016 and 2021 and rapped lyrics that mention “YSL” and/or various descriptions of criminal activity.
The lyrics listed in the YSL indictment are from songs in the same time frame, including Young Thug’s hit, “Anybody” and several numbers from YSL’s 2020 compilation album, “Slime Language 2,” including “Take it to Trial,” “Ski,” and “Slatty.”
Prosecutors argue the lyrics served as “overt acts” to fulfill a key objective of the alleged RICO conspiracy: “Preserving, protecting and enhancing the reputation, power and territory of the enterprise [YSL].”
Although the scope of the YSL indictment goes far beyond the lyrics, the inclusion of lyrics has sparked a movement to “Protect Black Art” and criticism from freedom-of-speech advocates and the artists themselves, who argue that introducing lyrics into a case with the implication that they are reflections of reality, discounts rap as a form of artistic expression.
Steel filed a motion last month asking the court to prevent prosecutors from using Young Thug’s lyrics as evidence against him at trial, arguing in a motion obtained by ABC News, that the practice is “racist and discriminatory” because it could prejudice a jury against his client.
“[Lyrics] cannot be used as evidence of crime if they are simply connected to music/freedom of expression/freedom of speech/poetry,” the motion said.
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