Prosecutors want to use Young Thug’s music against him in court

Federal prosecutors seem poised to paint Young Thug as a key figure in a sprawling criminal operation, and they rely heavily on his music to do so.

The rapper, whose real name is Jeffrey Williams, was one of 28 members or associates of the alleged “criminal street gang” Young Slime Life who was among the others arrested and charged on Monday, April 29). Williams, whom prosecutors identified as the founder of YSL, has been charged with two charges — violating the RICO Act and involvement in street gang criminal activity — and under those umbrellas are a handful of serious charges.

The indictment includes allegations that Williams was in possession of stolen guns and that he possessed them for the purpose of distributing methamphetamine, hydrocodone and marijuana. Inasmuch as Williams was allegedly a key figure within YSL, prosecutors charged two associates (Christian Eppinger and Antonio Sumlin) with conspiring to commit murder “by discussing how to obtain permission from ‘Slime,’ aka Jeffrey Williams, attempt a second murder” Atlanta rapper YFN Lucci while incarcerated. The most serious prosecution allegation against Williams comes from 2015, when he is accused of renting a car used “in the commission of the murder of Donovan Thomas Jr., a rival gang member.”

Brian Steel, an attorney for Williams, narrates Rolling StoneMr. Williams has not committed any violation of law. We will fight this case ethically, legally and zealously. Mr. Williams is acquitted.” (Williams will appear in court for the first time today, May 10.)

The exact nature of the evidence the government has in support of these allegations is not spelled out in the indictment. However, when scanning the document, prosecutors appeared to rely heavily on social media posts and song lyrics to portray Williams as a violent gang figure. (Williams wasn’t the only person prosecutors used this tactic on; social media photos of other suspected YSL employees holding up gang tags and/or wearing red clothing — since YSL is allegedly associated with the Bloods — were everywhere to see.)

In total, Young Thug lyrics from nine different songs were listed in the indictment, the earliest being 2014’s “Eww” and the most recent being last year’s Young Thug/Gunna collaboration “Ski”. Other text in the indictment is from Young Thug’s 2018 collaboration with Nicki Minaj, Anybody; 2018’s “Just How It Is” (“Gave the lawyer almost two million, he handles all the murders”); and 2020’s “Take It to Trial” (“For slimes you know, I kill, trial, I hit it twice, say I’m undefeated, like the feds came and got me”) .

In each case, prosecutors alleged that Williams’ lyrics constituted “an overt act of furthering the conspiracy.” Social media posts by Williams and others were flagged with the same allegation.

Using rappers’ lyrics against them in court has become a popular tactic among prosecutors, and it’s been used against everyone from successful artists to aspiring or part-time MCs. For example, in 2008, a New Jersey man named Vonte Skinner was found guilty of attempted murder after prosecutors used a number of ancient texts as evidence. The New Jersey Supreme Court later reversed that decision in 2014, and in a second trial, a jury convicted Skinner of two counts of aggravated assault but was deadlocked on attempted murder. More importantly, many are expecting Florida rapper YNW Melly’s 2017 hit “Murder on My Mind” to be included as evidence in his first-degree murder trial, even though the song was released a year and a half before he was allegedly involved in the shooting by two of his employees.

One of the most notorious examples of this tactic is the late rapper Drakeo the Ruler, who spent three years in prison as prosecutors tried to build a case against him for the 2016 murder of a man outside of a party. Drakeo – real name Darrel Caldwell – was not only acquitted, but investigators agreed from the start that he was not responsible for the murder. Still, prosecutors were pursuing a case arguing that the fatal shooting arose from Caldwell’s feud with another rapper named RJ. To do this, they introduced lyrics from Caldwell’s 2016 song “Flex Freestyle” to convince the jury that Caldwell brought armed employees to the party to target RJ. As it turns out, RJ wasn’t even at the party where the fatal shooting took place.

“I didn’t even think they could do that,” Caldwell said Rolling Stone in November 2021, shortly before his death. “I’ve heard of them doing it before, but that’s just how they did it. How they used it against me. It made no sense. It was just crazy.”

However, serious efforts have been made to curb the use of rap lyrics as evidence. Last year, New York lawmakers introduced the Rap Music on Trial bill that would bar prosecutors from using rap lyrics in court. In January, the bill garnered support from a number of hip-hop heavyweights, including Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Big Sean, Fat Joe and Killer Mike. While the draft law has flown through the committees so far, it still has to be voted on in the state parliament.

“Our lyrics are a creative form of self-expression and entertainment – just like any other genre,” said Fat Joe Rolling Stone back then. “We want our words to be recognized as art and not used as a weapon to get convictions in court. I hope the governor and all lawmakers in New York will heed our letter, protect our artistic rights, and make the right decision to pass this law.”

https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/young-thug-indictment-lyrics-music-1351170/ Prosecutors want to use Young Thug’s music against him in court

Brian Lowry

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