A judge has stated that lyrics will be admissible as evidence in the trial of US rapper Young Thug, who’s currently being charged with racketeering and running what prosecutors call “a criminal street gang known as YSL (Young Slim Life or Young Stoner Life).
Famous US rapper Young Thug is currently on trial for racketeering and running the “criminal street gang YSL” according to reports. Recently, a judge in the case has stated that lyrics can be admissible as evidence in the trial, a controversial move that has been condemned by free speech groups and other major figures in the industry like Jay-Z and Coldplay.
Young Thug is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed rappers in the US, with multiple chart topping albums and singles. He’s set to go on trial in his home city of Atlanta over racketeering and his alleged involvement in the gang YSL. Members of the “criminal street gang” have been charged with murder, carjackings, and other crimes.
Within the context of this case, 28 individuals were initially charged, including other famous US rapper Gunna, who took a plea deal to maintain his innocence. Other defendants who also took plea deals were not arrested and/or saw their cases separate from the racketeering case. Young Thug and five others are still to face trial.
Ural Glanville, the judge for the case, has given prosecutors permission to use some of Young Thug’s lyrics as evidence: “I’m going to conditionally admit particularized lyrics.”
“Prosecutors [are] 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.”
Prosecutor Mike Carlson stated “The lyrics are being used to prove the nature of YSL as a racketeering enterprise, the expectations of YSL as a criminal street gang. We’ve got party admissions for even the offense of murder here; this is evidentiary use.”
Prosecutor Simone Hylton quoted the lyrics: “‘I just beat a murder rap, I paid my lawyer 30 for that.’ There’s a few other lyrics in between that and then: ‘Me and my slimes are above the law.’”
The defense team in the case stated that the lyrics are simply used for creative expression, and shouldn’t be used as evidence or actual admission to guild. Doug Weinsteing, attorney for one of the other individuals in the case, stated that “there’s a giant elephant in the room, which is that we’re ignoring art. There is art here and the art has got to be separated from real life … What Mr Kendrick is singing about is what he grew up around. What else is he supposed to sing about? He’s not going to sing [the Monkees’] Daydream Believer. He’s not going to write about puppies and rainbows and unicorns.”
In January 2022, famous rappers Jay-Z and Meek Mill voiced their support of a proposed change in New York State law that would prevent lyrics from being used in court cases. State senator Jamaal Bailey also supported the move, stating that the use of lyrics as evidence violates free speech freedoms.
“The right to free speech is enshrined in our federal and state constitutions. The admission of art as criminal evidence only serves to erode this fundamental right, and the use of rap and hip-hop lyrics in particular is emblematic of the systemic racism that permeates our criminal justice system.”
Similar shifts in legislation have also been introduced in other stated such as Georgia and California. US Congressman Hank Johnson stated that one “should not be able to just simply put in some lyrics and say this is the state of mind of the person who is accused.”
In September of 2022, California actually outlawed the use of lyrics as admissible evidence. “[This] is an important victory. Silencing any genre or form of artistic expression is a violation against all music people, said chief executive of the Recording Academy Harvey Mason Jr at the time.
In a petition from jail, Young Thug encouraged his fans to sign the Protect Black Art petition: “I always use my music as a form of artistic expression, and I see now that Black artists and rappers don’t have that freedom. My art is not allowed to stand alone as entertainment, I’m not allowed that freedom as a Black man in America.”
Young Thug’s trial is set to begin on November 27th and will likely last from six to nine months, according to Glanville.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.