Focus in Young Thug’s trial moves to admissibility of rap lyrics – Atlanta News First

ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) – With a jury finally seated and opening statements set for Nov. 27, the use of rap lyrics in Young Thug’s trial are the focus of a Wednesday hearing.

Last week, Fulton County Chief Superior Court Judge Ural 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.

Now, the trial’s focus moves to whether the rapper’s lyrics can be used as evidence against him.

“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 prosecutor’s 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.”

A jury was chosen Nov. 1 in the trial of Young Thug (center), shown with his attorneys.

Jury selection lasted longer than any other trial in Georgia history, and was repeatedly plagued by arrestscharges, 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Young Thug is facing eight criminal counts under a federal law that was originally enacted to fight organized crime.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 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, exaggeration 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.

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

FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2017 file photo Young Thug attends the 3rd Annual Diamond Ball in New...

More from the Associated Press:

A study by University of Georgia law professor Andrea Dennis, who co-authored the 2019 book “Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics and Guilt in America,” found roughly 500 criminal trial cases dating to the late 1980s in which rap lyrics were successfully used as evidence. Dennis and other advocates believe the cases, brought against mostly Black defendants, have led to unjust incarceration.

Some have pointed to the criminal street gang conspiracy case, brought under Georgia’s criminal racketeering law, against Young Thug and over two dozen purported affiliates of the rapper’s YSL record label.

Young Thug co-wrote the Childish Gambino hit “This is America,” which is a commentary on violence and systemic racism in the U.S. The song made history in 2019 as the first hip-hop track to win the song of the year Grammy, and it was parodied by global artists to speak to corruption and injustice in Nigeria, Malaysia and Australia.

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