The highly anticipated trial of rapper Young Thug is underway in an Atlanta, Georgia courtroom after nearly a year of delays.
In May 2022, Young Thug, real name Jeffery Williams, was arrested and charged in a sweeping RICO indictment, along with 27 other defendants.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis — who is using the same law to prosecute Donald Trump in his election interference case in Georgia — accused the suspects of being part of a criminal street gang called YSL.
Prosecutors say the gang is responsible for a series of violent crimes, including murders, shootings, carjackings and extortion.
Young Thug has denied the allegations and insists that YSL is simply Young Thug’s record label: Young Slime Life.
After several defendants took plea deals or had their cases separated, the Grammy Award-winning rapper and five others are finally on trial.
The trial got off to a rocky start on Monday, with a late juror delaying the start of the trial by an hour and a half, after which the defense filed a motion for mistrial; the offer was rejected. In their opening statements, prosecutors said the rapper’s lyrics will be used as evidence in the alleged crimes.
What did Young Thug’s lawyers say?
The defense team has not yet made opening statements today.
But in numerous court filings, the rapper’s attorneys have said he is innocent of all the crimes charged in the indictment. They claim that YSL is just a record label.
Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, has pleaded not guilty.
Kelly RissmanNovember 28, 2023 12:00 PM
ICYMI: What are the charges against YSL members?
The YSL members named in the indictment are accused of conspiring to violate Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
The law is similar to its federal counterpart, which is used to convict large-scale organizations such as the mafia.
According to the indictment, YSL associates “conspired to engage together and with others for the common purposes of illegally obtaining money and property through a pattern of racketeering activity.”
It alleges that YSL members were involved in murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, drug trafficking, carjacking and witness intimidation.
Other activities include “posting messages, images, videos and songs that demonstrate loyalty to the company and a willingness to commit violence on its behalf.”
Prosecutors say they can prove that some of the group’s lyrics are linked to crimes they are accused of.
Kelly RissmanNovember 28, 2023 10:00 am
Young Thug, also known as Jeffery Williams, is being portrayed by the state as the head of YSL.
“Defendant Jeffery Williams’ words and actions betrayed his participation in the conspiracy,” Love said.
He rented a car, despite owning one, which other YSL members used to “infamously shoot Donovan Thomas,” the prosecutor added.
Kelly RissmanNovember 28, 2023 8:00 am
YSL is Young Thug’s own record label: Young Slime Life. Artists on his record label are considered part of the ‘Slime Family’, and a compilation album, ‘Slime Language 2’, rose to number one on the US charts in April 2021.
Artists include Gunna and Lil Keed, although several contemporary artists including Future, Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, Lil Baby and Travis Scott have also expressed allegiance to YSL without being contractually signed.
However, according to prosecutors, YSL is actually a “criminal street gang” that started in Atlanta’s Cleveland Avenue neighborhood and claims to have ties to the national Bloods gang.
According to a lengthy 88-page indictment, YSL members use “a variety of identifiers, including colors, clothing, tattoos and hand gestures” to demonstrate their loyalty to the group.
The most predominant colors used by members of YSL are red for blood and green for slime.
Defense lawyers, meanwhile, emphasize that YSL is just a music label.
Kelly RissmanNovember 28, 2023 6:00 am
Where does Young Thug fit in?
The indictment portrays Young Thug as the leader of the criminal gang, which was responsible for multiple violent crimes, including murders, shootings and carjackings.
Prosecutors say the rapper also used his music and social media posts to promote the gang.
He is also suspected of committing several crimes, for which he has not been charged.
Although he is not charged with such “overt acts,” they lend credence to the claim that the group of defendants were jointly involved in a criminal conspiracy.
Brian Steel, Young Thug’s attorney, said The New York Times: “Mr. Williams had an incredibly terrible upbringing, and he has conducted himself throughout his life in a way that is nothing but admirable. He has not committed any crime.”
Kelly RissmanNovember 28, 2023 5:00 am
How has the music industry responded to the trial?
Several big names in the music industry have expressed their support for YSL and criticized the accusers’ attempts to use their own lyrics against them.
Canadian superstar Drake referenced the case in the track Sticky on his new album Honestly, Nevermind.
“Someone get paid and/or free Big Slime from the cage,” Drake says in the song.
Killer Mike of rap group Run The Jewels previously told ABC News: “Hip-hop is not respected as an art because black people in this country are not recognized as full human beings.
“If we allow the courts to prosecute these men based on the characters they created and the stories they tell in rhyme, then they will show up at your door.”
Kelly RissmanNovember 28, 2023 4:00 am
Prosecutor points to patterns
YSL uses a certain set of symbols and other quirks to identify itself, prosecutor Love said. These include:
- replacing the letter “C” with the letter “B,” such as “Bleveland” versus Cleveland or “Bhris” versus Chris
- using certain emojis: Green Heart, Green Snake, Blowing Nose and Green Vomit emojis
- use of certain hand gestures
Kelly RissmanNovember 28, 2023 3:00 am
ICYMI: What happened during the Young Thug trial
Today was a rocky start to the long-awaited trial of rapper Young Thug, aka Jeffery Williams, and 28 other suspects allegedly involved in the YSL criminal gang; the defense argues that YSL is just a record label.
The trial was immediately postponed for an hour and a half as the court waited for one late juror.
The prosecutor then began his opening statements, which were met with numerous objections, and some disagreement over whether the prosecutor provided the defense with slides that it showed to jurors.
The jury then had to leave, returning briefly before being released for a lunch break.
After the court returned from lunch, the judge snapped at attorneys from both sides for “wasting two hours.”
Hours after she began, prosecutor Adriane Love resumed her opening statement, which focused on laying out how YSL operates and portraying Mr. Williams as its leader. She has also already incorporated some of the defendants’ lyrics, the inclusion of which in itself was a heated topic prior to the trial.
Kelly RissmanNovember 28, 2023 2:00 am
WATCH: The prosecutor spoke about the discovery of certain texts, a pressure point ahead of the trial
Kelly RissmanNovember 28, 2023 1:00 am
Has the case been controversial?
The use of lyrics from rappers associated with YSL and Young Thug in the case is an ongoing point of contention.
Earlier this month, Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Ural Glanville ruled that he would allow prosecutors to introduce 17 sets of lyrics as long as they can prove the lyrics are related to crimes the rapper and other defendants are accused of.
Defense lawyers had asked the judge to exclude them, arguing that the texts are constitutionally protected expressions and would be unjustifiably harmful.
“The question isn’t the rap lyrics. The question is the gang’s lyrics,” prosecutor Mike Carlson said during a pre-trial hearing. “These are party admissions. They just happen to come in the form of song lyrics.
Mr. Carlson had argued that the First Amendment’s speech protections do not apply because the defendants are not prosecuted for their writing. Instead, he said, the lyrics refer to the criminal act or criminal intent associated with the charge.
Another prosecutor, Simone Hylton, also divided the texts into three categories: those that prove YSL’s existence as a corporation, those that show the gang’s behavior and actions, and those that show Young Thug as a leader of the gang.
Kelly RissmanNovember 28, 2023 12:00 AM