Some of the lyrics from rapper Young Thug’s music will be used against him in the YSL RICO trial, and one Atlanta rapper fears for what precedent this will set for all Americans.
Thug, real name Jeffrey Lamar Williams, has been behind bars in the Fulton County Jail in Georgia since May 2022. The “Pick Up the Phone” rapper was arrested in connection to a series of gang-related and racketeering charges, along with 27 other individuals connected to the Young Stoner Life Records, including Gunna and his younger brother, Quantavious “Unfoonk” Grier.
Thugger has remained in jail for 18 months, as he has been denied bond multiple times. Prosecutors have tried to use Thug and other YSL affiliates’ rap lyrics in the trial as proof, but they have faced resistance from the defense and other rappers. Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis brought the case that relates to conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and participation in criminal street gang activity.
In November 2022, “Art on Trial: Protect Black Art” was written and signed by record labels, streaming services, rappers and musicians, who asked prosecutors to stop using lyrics as evidence in court cases. “Rappers are storytellers, creating entire worlds populated with complex characters who can play both hero and villain,” one section of the letter says. It continues, “But more than any other art form, rap lyrics are essentially being used as confessions in an attempt to criminalize Black creativity and artistry.”
Prosecutors and defendants battled over the subject to make their case before Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Ural Glanville. Thug’s attorney Brian Steel argued, “They’re targeting free speech,” while prosecutor Mike Carlson rebutted, “Your honor, someone can look at that indictment and say one thing’s for sure, that’s not fantasy, people are dead and murdered and a gang exists.”
After an hours’-long debate between the warring sides, Glanville finally came to a conclusion. The judge told the defense, “They’re not prosecuting your clients because of the songs they wrote; they’re using the songs to prove other things your clients may have been involved in. I don’t think it’s an attack on free speech.”
To the disappointment of Thug’s camp, on Nov. 9, Glanville ruled that rap lyrics would be allowed as evidence in the trial under certain conditions. The defense wasn’t the only one that was dismayed by the decision, as activist and rapper Killer Mike also voiced his displeasure.
In a post to his Instagram story, the “Kryptonite” rapper said, “This decision scares me. This threatens all Americans’ 1st Amendment rights in my opinion.” He also asked viewers to read the 2019 book “Rap on Trial,” which tells the story of how prosecutors have used lyrics as evidence to put away rappers.
Fans agreed with Killer Mike and called out the judge’s ruling. One commenter said, “#ProtectArtists This sets a dangerous precedent for creative rights and the freedom of expression.” Another person commented, “If the 1st Amendment protects painters & movie producers from having their art used against them, so should rappers. Not arguing YT is innocent—that’s for his defense team—but I’m defending his right not to have his art treated as an admission of guilt.”
If the 1st Amend protects painters & movie producers from having their art used against them, so should rappers. Not arguing YT is innocent—that’s for his defense team—but I'm defending his right not to have his art treated as an admission of guilt:https://t.co/3ZWo4RKcSo https://t.co/VF5QC1nlBZ— Kali Holloway (@kalihollowayftw) November 9, 2023
Glanville already has permitted the use of 17 sets of rap lyrics against Thug and his YSL associates. “Take It to Trial,” “Bad Boy,” “Really Be Slime,” and “Slatty” are some of the songs that are included in the trial, and in these songs are lyrics about murder, guns, and areas in Atlanta where criminal activity has happened.
The prosecution believes YSL is connected to the crimes in those areas and that the lyrics are proof.