Rapper Young Thug to stand trial; accused of co-founding a criminal street gang that uses song lyrics to promote violent crime
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ATLANTA, Georgia — Rapper Young Thug, accused by prosecutors of co-founding a criminal street gang responsible for violent crimes and using his songs and social media to promote it, is scheduled to face trial starting Monday.
The Atlanta-based artist, whose first name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, was charged along with more than two dozen others in a broad indictment last May, with more charges added in a second indictment in August. Fellow rapper Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, was also charged.
Young Thug, 31, started rapping as a teenager and has become hugely successful – performing all over the world and founding his own record label, Young Stoner Life or YSL, where he serves as CEO. Artists from his record label are considered part of the Slime Family, and a compilation album, Slime Language 2, rose to #1 on the charts in April 2021.
He co-wrote the hit song “This is America” with Childish Gambino, which became the first hip-hop track to win Grammy Song of the Year in 2019, high-pitched vocals.
But prosecutors say YSL also has a darker connotation — a violent street gang called Young Slime Life, formed in 2012 by Young Thug and two others and linked to the national Bloods gang.
The suspected gang members named in the indictment are accused of committing violent crimes – including murders, shootings and car thefts – to raise money for the gang, improve their reputation and expand their power and territory.
The indictment contains rap lyrics that prosecutors claim were overt acts “in furtherance of the conspiracy,” including a line from a song Young Thug allegedly posted to YouTube: “I’m in the VIP and I Got that gun on my hip, you I pray you live, I pray I hit.”
Another of his texts quoted in the indictment reads: “I have never killed anyone, but I have something to do with this corpse.”
The original indictment charged 28 people with conspiring to violate Georgia’s Law on Racket-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO), and also included other charges against many of them. Fourteen of them are due to appear in court, which begins Monday and is expected to last months.
Eight others, including Gunna, have already completed pleadings in the case, and six — four of whom have no attorneys and two have not been arrested — will later appear in court, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The August indictment alleges Young Thug conspiracy and involvement in street gang criminal activities, drug and weapons offenses.
One of 11 siblings with six children of his own, Young Thug has deep roots in his hometown of Atlanta and works tirelessly on his art and other legitimate, lawful business ventures, his attorneys said in a May court filing that unsuccessfully sought his release on bail.
Attached to that file were letters from more than a dozen music industry executives who have worked with Young Thug. They describe him as one of the most successful hip-hop artists in the world, a dedicated father and friend, a generous donor to his community, and a nurturing mentor to other artists.
In addition to specific charges, the August indictment includes a lengthy list of 191 acts prosecutors say took place between 2013 and 2022 as part of the alleged RICO conspiracy to further the gang’s interests.
Included in that list is a claim that in July 2015, Young Thug threatened to shoot a security guard who was trying to get him out of an Atlanta-area mall. On numerous occasions he and others have been accused of possessing various illegal drugs which they intended to distribute.
The indictment alleges alleged gang members attempted to kill rapper YFN Lucci at the Fulton County Jail last February and says an alleged gang member shot at a bus carrying rapper Lil Wayne in 2015.
Gunna pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to break RICO law last month and entered an Alford plea, meaning he maintains his innocence but acknowledges it’s in his best interest to keep himself to plead guilty.
He said in a statement released by his attorneys that when he was linked to YSL in 2016, he didn’t see it as a “gang” but as “a group of people from Metro Atlanta who shared common interests and artistic ambitions.”
Gunna also stressed that he has not cooperated or agreed to testify for or against any party in the case.
When a prosecutor said in court that YSL was a music label and a gang and that Gunna knew its members or associates had committed crimes promoting the gang, Gunna replied before the judge accepted the lawsuit, “Yes Ma’. am.”
He was sentenced to five years, with one year commuted to time served and the balance suspended. He must also testify truthfully if subpoenaed by any party in the case and must complete 500 hours of community service, including speaking to young people about the “dangers and immorality of gangs and gang violence.”
The other two alleged co-founders of the YSL gang — Walter Murphy and Trontavious Stephens — also pleaded guilty last month to a charge of conspiracy to violate the RICO law. Murphy was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with one year commuted to time served and nine years probation.
Stephens also received 10 years, with two years commuted to time served and eight years commuted to probation.
Associated Press information was used in this story.
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