Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville has ruled that some of Young Thug ’s lyrics may be entered into evidence during his upcoming criminal trial, Billboard reports. The ruling is the latest development in the state’s ongoing case against Young Thug and members of his Young Stoner Life (YSL) network for alleged criminal activity. Pitchfork has reached out to Thug’s legal representatives for comment.
Young Thug, Gunna, Yak Gotti, and several of their YSL associates were arrested in May 2022 on charges of gang-related activity and conspiring to violate Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Thug was hit with seven additional felony charges shortly after the initial indictment was released.
Both Gunna and Young Thug were denied bond multiple times before the DS4Ever rapper was eventually released from jail after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act. In June of last year, Gunna released a statement addressing his incarceration, saying: “My art is not allowed to stand alone as entertainment, I’m not allowed that freedom as a Black Man in America.”
Judge Glanville’s ruling was entered today after a hearing debating the use of lyrics as evidence in the case that took place on Wednesday, November 8. According to Billboard, Thug’s legal representative, Brian Steel, condemned the use of lyrics in this context, saying, “They are targeting the right to free speech, and that’s wrong. They are saying that just because he his singing about it, he is now part of a crime.”
Prosecutor Michael Carson reportedly argued, however, that relevant lyrics amount to “proclamations of violence” by alleged YSL members. “People can look at that indictment and see one thing that’s for sure not fantasy: People are dead,” he reportedly stated.
Prosecutor Symone Hylton also reportedly detailed specific examples of Young Thug lyrics during the Wednesday hearing, pointing to the rapper’s 2016 song “Slime Shit” and 2018’s “Anybody.” Hylton alleged that both songs reference actual crimes, claiming that the “Slime Shit” line “hundred rounds in a Tahoe” is a nod to the 2015 death of Donovan Thomas Jr.; Yak Gotti and four others were charged with murder in connection to the incident, per the original indictment.
During the hearing, Judge Glanville reportedly pushed back against Steel, saying: “They’re 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.” He added: “I don’t think it’s an attack on free speech.”
The YSL case has triggered public reaction against the use of lyrics and social media to build cases against rappers, a tactic that prosecutors have leveraged successfully in several cases nationwide. Advocates of judicial reform have criticized the practice, saying that it perpetuates racial bias in the criminal justice system. During yesterday’s hearing, Steel reportedly said that that allowing the use of lyrics as evidence would have a “chilling effect” and criminalize Thug’s artistic output.
In September of 2022, California passed its Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act into law, restricting the use of rap lyrics as prosecutorial evidence. Congressional Representative Hank Johnson, whose district lies just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, introduced the Restoring Artistic Protection Act to install federal legislation months earlier. The bill was re-introduced this August.
Many rappers in the YSL trial have already accepted plea deals. In addition to Gunna’s plea deal, Quantavious Grier, Young Thug’s cousin and an Atlanta-based musician who performs under the name Unfoonk, pleaded guilty to one count of violating the RICO Act and another count of theft by receiving stolen property in exchange for a reduced sentence. Other YSL affiliates to take plea deals include Martinez Arnold (aka Lil Duke), Antonio Sledge (aka Mounk Tounk), Winnie Lee (aka Slimelife Shawty), Walter Murphy, and Antonio Sumlin (aka Obama).
A jury for the trial, which will start November 27, was seated last week. If fully convicted, Young Thug could face a life sentence.