The prosecutor’s office in Atlanta (Georgia) accused the rapper Young Thug on Monday of being the “proclaimed leader” of a gang that “acted as a pack” to commit crimes on the first day of the trial against the famous American actress.
Controversies and setbacks have dogged this lengthy trial for alleged criminal conspiracy since jury selection began in January, particularly over the inclusion of his song lyrics as evidence of a crime.
The state of Georgia maintains that Young Thug’s record label, YSL, is a front for a criminal gang, arguing that the defendants belong to a branch of the “Blood” street gang, known as Young Slime Life, or YSL.
“The evidence will show that YSL meets all the requirements to be a criminal street gang,” Fulton County Prosecutor Adriane Love said in presenting the government’s indictment, which began by quoting “The Law of the Jungle,” said Rudyard Kipling.
Love talked about the lyrics of the songs: “We don’t chase the lyrics to solve the murder; we chase the murder and find the lyrics,” he said.
And citing Young Thug’s song “Take It To Trial,” he noted that they have “uncanny similarities to real and very real, and pretty specific events.” “The words of Jeffrey Williams, which he promoted through songs with beats behind them, are not taken for granted,” he said, referring to the real name of the 32-year-old rapper.
After the prosecution, it was the musician’s lawyers’ turn. The defense insists that YSL stands for Young Stoner Life Records, a hip-hop and trap label founded by Young Thug in 2016 and which, they say, constitutes an association of artists, not a criminal gang.
Young Thug was one of 28 alleged street gang members originally included in a racketeering indictment in May 2022.
Six of them were tried within the framework of the original accusation and denied all allegations. Many others involved have pleaded guilty or will be tried separately.
The allegations include a series of underlying crimes that prosecutors say support a general conspiracy charge, including murder, assault, carjacking, drug trafficking, and theft.
Dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and oval glasses, Young Thug sat quietly in a packed courtroom as Judge Ural Glanville detailed the charges against him and the other defendants to the jury.
In addition to his girlfriend, Mariah the Scientist, Kevin Liles, the CEO of 300 Entertainment, which is located at Young Thug’s record label, was also present, where the rapper and the genre were unfairly persecuted.
“If it was country music or rock, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.
“Punishing the expression of black people”
Liles was one of the defenders who attacked the Prosecutor’s Office for citing the song’s lyrics as evidence of criminal activities.
In a hearing earlier this month, Glanville gave prosecutors the green light to include the lyrics of 17 songs as evidence, as long as they could link their content to actual crimes.
Defense lawyers complained that “rap is the only creative art form to be treated this way.”
Erik Nielson, a professor at the University of Richmond and a specialist on the subject, told AFP earlier this year that the persecution of rap lyrics “is part of a very long tradition of punishing black expression.”
Nielson could not comment directly on the YSL case, as he will be a witness in the trial, but said: “We know that this rap court thing is just one manifestation of a system that is determined to lock up young men of color.”
The prosecution presented a list of hundreds of potential witnesses. The defense list includes experienced and character witnesses, including family members of the singer and rappers TI and Killer Mike.
The trial took place in the same court in Fulton County, Georgia, where former Republican President Donald Trump (2017–2021) was involved in a blackmail case for allegedly trying to overturn the 2020 election.
After the first day of the trial, defense arguments will begin on Tuesday. The trial is expected to last until 2024.