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Rapper Young Thug's RICO trial begins

Rapper Young Thug is accused of helping found a violent street gang.
Michael Tullberg
/
Getty Images
Rapper Young Thug is accused of helping found a violent street gang.

Jeffery Lamar Williams, professionally known as Young Thug, is set to go to trial on Monday. The 31-year-old Atlanta rapper, along with fellow rapper Sergio Kitchens, known professionally as Gunna, and dozens of others, stand accused of helping found a violent street gang, known as Young Slime Life, or YSL.

In May, authorities arrested and charged Williams with conspiracy to violate Georgia's RICO Act and participating in a criminal street gang. The 88-page indictment, filed in Fulton County, Georgia, includes references to lyrics found in Williams' music. The indictment also includes a list of 181 acts, dating back to 2013.

The high-profile arrest of Williams, who now is facing eight separate charges, is part of a growing trend of criminalizing hip hop artists under RICO acts, a measure intended to stop organized crime, like the mafia. Under these laws, the authorities are able to accuse multiple people in someone's circle, from a rapper, to their entourage, and other members of their crew, of gang-related activity if at least one person is connected to criminal activity.

The trial also calls into question the use of lyrics in charging musicians with crimes. In July, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., introduced a bill in the House to protect artists from having their lyrics used against them, inspired by Williams' arrest.

Jury selection for the trial against Williams, who has pleaded not guilty to all eight counts, began last week. Several high-profile artists, including Lil Wayne and Rich Homie Quan, could be called to the witness stand during the trial.

"Mr. Williams has committed no crime whatsoever," Brian Steel, his attorney, told ABC News. "We will fight this case ethically, legally and zealously. Mr. Williams will be cleared."

Williams won a Grammy in 2019 for co-writing the song "This is America" with Childish Gambino. Three of his songs — including "Way 2 Sexy," with rappers Future and Drake, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.