Judge rules rap lyrics are admissible in Young Thug’s trial

Jeffery Williams’ music become key focus in his organized crime, gang-related trial in Atlanta.
Published: Nov. 9, 2023 at 10:14 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 9, 2023 at 2:41 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - The judge overseeing Young Thug’s historic gang and organized-crime related trial in Atlanta ruled Thursday morning some of the rapper’s lyrics will be admissible in court.

Fulton County Chief Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville held a hearing that began Wednesday and lasted throughout the evening on whether the lyrics could be used as evidence.

Glanville ruled some of Young Thug’s lyrics can be used as evidence, but the judge said the lyrics are “conditionally” admitted. Defense attorneys have been arguing the rapper’s lyrics have nothing to do with his alleged crimes and that using the lyrics could sway the jury.

The judge overseeing Young Thug’s historic trial in Atlanta ruled Thursday morning some of the rapper’s lyrics will be admissible.

Last week, Glanville was set to hear motions as to whether lyrics from hip-hop songs can be used against the rapper - real name Jeffery Williams - in his RICO trial.

But instead, Glanville and attorneys seated an actual jury, more than nine months since jury selection and screening began.

“If you decide to admit your crimes over a beat, I’m going to use it,” Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has said. “I’m not targeting anyone. You do not get to commit crimes in my county, and then get to decide to brag on it, which you do that for a form of intimidation and to further the gain and to not be held responsible.”

“I believe in the First Amendment,” Willis has said. “It is one of our most precious rights. However, the First Amendment does not protect people from prosecutors using it as evidence if it is such. In this case, we put it as ‘overt, predicate act’ in the RICO count, because we believe that’s exactly what it is.”

Williams is on trial in Fulton County in a massive RICO case involving himself and five other defendants. Prosecutors allege Williams and his co-defendants are members of the Young Slime Life (YSL) gang, while defense attorneys argue YSL is simply the name of a record label, Young Stoner Life.

In 2022, Fulton County prosecutors included lyrics from the rapper, referencing drugs and violence, as evidence of an “overt act in furtherance of a (gang) conspiracy.”

Defense attorneys argued Wednesday that Williams’ lyrics had nothing to do with his alleged crimes and that use of the lyrics would sway the jury and prevent a fair trial.

“That’s why rap music is introduced, that’s why no other genre is introduced because rap music is inherently prejudicial,” attorneys said.

Jury selection lasted longer than any other trial in Georgia history, and was repeatedly plagued by arrests, charges, and disruptions. The trial itself could last for more than a year. Georgia’s longest jury selection and its longest trial both came in the Atlanta Public Schools teacher scandal of 2014-15.

Young Thug is facing eight criminal counts under a federal law that was originally enacted to fight organized crime. Georgia is one of 33 states that has its own RICO law, but in the Peach State, the alleged criminal enterprises do not have to have existed as long as the federal law.

“Black history is under attack, Black culture is under attack, rap music is under attack,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia), a Democratic sponsor of federal legislation that would protect artists from having their lyrics and creative expression used against them in court.

According to the Associated Press, Johnson spoke in support of the legislation to attendees of a Rolling Loud hip-hop music festival in Miami earlier this year.

In late April, Johnson and U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) reintroduced and sponsored the Restoring Artistic Protection Act, or RAP Act. Similar legislation in a handful of states would require prosecutors to prove a defendant’s lyrics aren’t figurative, exaggerated or out-right fictional.

The legislation, originally introduced in the 117th Congress, is the first bill of its kind at the federal level, according to Johnson’s office. The RAP Act adds a presumption to the Federal Rules of Evidence that would limit the admissibility of evidence of an artist’s creative or artistic expression against that artist in court.

The Atlanta City Council is also considering a proposal urging the Georgia General Assembly to pass laws limiting the use of rap lyrics in trials.

As of 2020, prosecutors in more than 500 criminal cases have used artists’ lyrics as evidence against the artist.

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