An Atlanta judge will allow lyrics from Young Thug‘s music to be used during the upcoming RICO trial that has ensnarled the rapper and 26 other members of his YSL collective. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville announced the decision on Thursday morning, Billboard reports. The trial is scheduled to begin next month after jury selection was completed last week.
Thug, born Jeffrey Lamar Williams, was charged under two counts of Georgia’s RICO Act in May 2022. He was later reindicted with seven additional felonies including racketeering. Prosecutors seek to prove that the Young Slime Life record label was a front for a criminal organization with Thug at the head. If convicted of all charges, Thug faces life in prison.
The relevant lyrics, prosecutors claim, reference different crimes in the indictment. During a Wednesday hearing, prosecutor Symone Hilton brought up Young Thug’s 2016 song “Slime Shit,” a song with the lyrics “killin’ 12 shit” and “hundred rounds in a Tahoe.” The former lyric, Hilton contends, is a reference to the YSL-ordered death of a police officer, while the “hundred rounds” lyric alludes to the 2015 murder of Donovan Thomas, who was killed in his Chevrolet Tahoe.
“The issue here is not rap,” prosecutor Michael Carlson said in his argument for including the lyrics. “This is not randomly the state attempting to bring in Run-D.M.C. from the ’80s. This is specific. These are party admissions. They just happen to come in the form of lyrics.”
Thug’s attorney Brian Steel said the ruling was “targeting the right to free speech,” adding, “They are saying that just because he is singing about it, he is now part of a crime.” Glanville denied that including the lyrics would impinge on Thug’s First Amendment rights. “They’re not prosecuting your clients because of the songs they wrote,” Glanville said. “They’re using the songs to prove other things your clients may have been involved in.”
The controversy over the use of rap lyrics in criminal trials has prompted several states to pass or table bills aimed at reducing their admissibility. California adopted a “Rap On Trial” bill in August 2022, and New York is currently considering similar legislation. A bill at the federal level was brought up in the House of Representatives for a second time in April 2023.
Gunna, a rapper signed to YSL who was also named in the RICO indictment, was released from prison in December 2022 after accepting an Alford plea deal, allowing him to maintain his innocence while pleading guilty. Quantavious Grier, the YSL rapper known as Unfoonk, also took a deal for a reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea to one count of violating the RICO Act and one count of theft by receiving stolen property.
The FADER has reached out to Young Thug’s attorney for more information. Read The FADER’s explainer on the YSL RICO case here.