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Rap lyrics become key focus in Young Thug’s trial

By Tim Darnell

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    ATLANTA, Georgia (WANF) — With 49 jurors selected thus far as a potential pool, attention is turning whether rap lyrics can be used as evidence in Young Thug’s massive organized crime trial in Atlanta.

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 began seating an actual jury, more than nine months since jury selection and screening began. A court spokesperson said opening statements could begin Nov. 27 in what has already become an internationally watched trial.

“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 eight 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.”

The jury selection has already lasted longer than any other trial in Georgia history, and has been 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Young Thug is facing eight criminal counts under a federal law that was originally enacted to fight organized crime.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 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.

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