US rapper Young Thug is set to go on trial today on accusations of co-founding a criminal street gang responsible for violent crimes and using his songs and social media to promote it.
The Atlanta-based artist, whose given name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, was charged along with more than two dozen other people in a sprawling indictment last May, with more charges added in a second indictment in August.
Fellow rapper Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, was also indicted and has since pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge.
Who is Young Thug?
Young Thug, 31, began rapping as a teenager and has become tremendously successful - performing around the world and starting his own record label, Young Stoner Life (YSL), where he serves as CEO.
He first gained widespread attention in 2013 with his mixtape "1017 Thug," which featured the popular track 'Picacho.'
He has since released a number of successful mixtapes and studio albums, including "Barter 6" (2015), "Jeffery" (2016), and "So Much Fun" (2019), which became his first number one album on the Billboard 200 chart.
The rapper, who currently has over 26 million monthly listeners on Spotify, has also been featured on numerous hit songs as a featured artist, including 'Havana' by Camila Cabello and 'I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)' by Jamie xx, and he helped write the hit 'This is America' with Childish Gambino, which became the first hip-hop track to win the song of the year Grammy in 2019.
Why is Young Thug facing charges?
In May 2022, Young Thug and 27 other associates of his record label Young Stoner Life were arrested and charged in an indictment that claims YSL is a violent street gang and affiliated with the national Bloods gang.
The alleged gang members named in the indictment are accused of committing violent crimes - including murders, shootings and carjackings - to collect money for the gang, burnish its reputation and expand its power and territory.
The charges includes rap lyrics that prosecutors allege are overt acts “in furtherance of the conspiracy,” including a line from a song they say Young Thug released on YouTube: “I'm in the VIP and I got that pistol on my hip, you prayin that you live I'm prayin that I hit."
Another of his lyrics quoted in the indictment says, “I never killed anybody but I got something to do with that body.”
The second indictment in August accused Young Thug of racketeering conspiracy and participation in criminal street gang activity, as well as drug and gun charges.
Included in the charges were an allegation that Young Thug threatened in July 2015 to shoot a security guard who was trying to get him to leave an Atlanta-area mall.
Williams’ lawyer says he is innocent of all charges.
Eight of Young Thug's associates, including "pushin P" rapper Gunna, have already taken plea deals in the case, and six - four of whom don't have lawyers and two who haven't been arrested - will be tried later.
Gunna said in a statement released by his lawyers that when he became affiliated with YSL in 2016, he did not consider it a “gang,” but rather “a group of people from metro Atlanta who had common interests and artistic aspirations.”
He was sentenced to five years with one year commuted to time served and the balance suspended.
It is currently unclear how much time Young Thug would face if charged guilty of his charges.
The other two alleged co-founders of the YSL gang - Walter Murphy and Trontavious Stephens - also each pleaded guilty last month to one count of conspiracy to violate the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) Act. Murphy was sentenced to 10 years, with one year commuted to time served and nine years of probation. Stephens also got 10 years, with two years commuted to time served and eight years of probation.
When lyrics become evidence
In a clip that surfaced on social media, Judge Ural Glanville is seen reciting lyrics from Young Thug’s 2016 single 'Slime Shit' in court proceedings on 4 January.
“Hey, this that slime shit, hey / YSL shit, hey / Killin’ 12 shit, hey / Fuck a jail shit, hey / … Cookin’ white brick, hey, hey / […] I’m not new to this, hey, I’m so true to this, hey I done put a whole slime on a hunnid licks" recites the Judge in front of the courtroom.
Young Thug has previously called on his fans to sign a petition condemning the use of rap lyrics in criminal proceedings. At the time of publication of this article, the petition has more than 74,000 signatures.