Rapper Young Thug’s Lyrics Used as Evidence in Trial

Rapper Young Thug (née Jeffery Lamar Williams) was arrested in May of 2022 on charges including racketeering and gang-related offences. That month also saw the arrest of twenty-seven other artists from Williams’ label ‘Young Stoner Life Records’ (‘YSL’) under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) Act. Prosecutors allege that Young Thug’s rap lyrics are proof that he is part of an organized crime syndicate. 

The indictment alleges that YSL is a ‘criminal street gang’ and has affiliation with the Bloods gang. There are 55 listed offenses on the indictment, with individual charges ranging from 1 to 19, for a total of 113 cumulative charges. The offenses range from conspiracy to violate the RICO Act, to participation in criminal street gang activity, to attempted murder. The indictment also contains a chart with 182 acts that were allegedly committed “in furtherance of the conspiracy alleged above.” Many of these acts include images, including screenshots of Instagram posts, captions, and comments.

Unfortunately, these arrests are part of a deeper pattern within the United States justice system wherein prosecutors use the rap lyrics of these artists as evidence in criminal prosecutions. And these issues are not unique to the United States – prosecutors in Canada have attempted to admit artistic expressions into evidence before. Notably, in the case R v Terry, the accused was charged with the murder of his roommate, and an undated, unsigned poem was admitted into evidence; the Supreme Court found that this evidence was admissible. 

Professors Erik Nielson and Andrea L. Dennis wrote a book on this issue, Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America. This book explores the complex issues which are at the root of this case against Young Thug – are artistic expressions a reliable source of evidence in criminal proceedings? Is the continued use of rap lyrics as evidence in cases such as this one yet another example of racial profiling in the justice system? The rapper himself believes this to be the case, saying, “You know, this isn’t about me or YSL. I always use my music as a form of artistic expression, and I see now that Black artists and rappers don’t have that freedom.”

In August of 2022, Williams was denied bail for a third time. The trial began in January of 2023 and is expected to be a lengthy process. 

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