RICO YSL & Why Lyrics Deserve Free Speech Protection

You do the crime – you pay the time. But what about the oppressive forces who tack on time? Since the beginning of time, any movement that gives black people a voice has been met with opposition. More often than not, hip-hop artists fabricate, fascinate, and create fantasies within their discographies. 

Now, the cornerstone of our country – free speech and assembly – is being put into question with the most recent RICO charges brought against Young Thug and his Young Stoner Life (YSL) group.

YSL is a hip-hop group but for the purposes of this indictment they are being considered a gang. Their rivalry with other Atlanta hip-hop group YFN has escalated in recent years. Some of the charges against Jeffery Williams (Young Thug) deal with renting an Infiniti Q50 which was used to carry out a homicide and approving a hit on Fulton County inmate YFN Lucci. 

“These artists often express dramatizations of stories/events that persist in their communities. The U.S. govt. knows that song lyrics are rarely a narration of actual events, yet they seek to exploit unfounded race-based stereotypes to achieve an unjust end. To use these artist expressions as a sword is a stifling form of censorship, which flies in the face of our country’s most rudimentary values.”

Jovan Blacknell (Drakeo the Ruler lawyer)

Growing up, Young Thug and Lil Baby both went to Booker T. Washington High School. By now, it is common knowledge that Thug paid for studio time and gave Baby touring gigs to push him to leave the street life alone. It was Young Thug’s own legal problems that ultimately led him to miss out on the opportunity to sign Lil Baby. At the time, he was busy clearing YSL’s name and all of the gang connotations affiliated with them. 

Jeffery had it rough growing up in Atlanta, GA. The survival mechanisms ingrained into his being clearly caused him to consistently gauge the risk versus reward scenario. Regardless, if him, Yak Gotti, his brother Unfoonk or anyone else listed in case (28 defendants) did commit these heinous crimes they obviously deserve incarceration. 

Intellectual Property & Artistic Rights

The fundamental disagreement here stems from whether or not lyrics should be admissible within a court of law. Given the severity of these charges, if lyrics carry any weight YSL will face an uphill battle. The fact of the matter is hip-hop music is art and should never be allowed to be considered actual accounts of reality. 

In November 2021, two Senators from the Bronx & Manhattan proposed the Rap Music on Trial Bill S7527. This would require a judge or jury to possess clear and convincing evidence that the lyrics are literal as opposed to figurative or fictional. This bill has been scheduled to reach the Senate floor as of January 2022.

Draconian Laws that Require Reformation

The prosecuting forces at play here are down to consider YSL’s entire brand as criminal:

“Their videos, songs, messages and images protect and enhance the reputation, power and territory of the enterprise and demonstrate allegiance to the enterprise and a willingness to engage in violence on its behalf.”

It just seems incredibly unjust to consider appearance as a means to incriminate. Yet, it is unsurprising in a country propelled to superpower status on the backs of black slave labor. 

Much of this deals with morality. When individuals unfamiliar with hip-hop listen to these lyrics it often elicits some sort of moral panic from what they decipher/decode from the lyrics, images, messages etc. Yet, individuals hip to the genre may relate or be more accustomed to hearing this type of content. 

Regardless, the entire basis of ART is the fact that interpretations vary from person to person. What one person heard/concluded from a song could be monumentally different from their colleague. 

This act of kindness was almost certainly recognized by the Feds

It all reverts back to the systemic oppression that was baked into our justice system from inception. Now, don’t get me wrong I am a firm believer that individuals who endanger communities deserve jail time. It is just incredibly difficult to fathom how some of these man made laws came into existence.

Also, it is a damn shame that prosecutors are able to pick and choose which lines they admit for evidence. Perhaps, if they choose to use lyrics against them they should consume the entire catalog for context. But who am I joking?

“Man made laws break em they’ll violate you”

YG Laugh Now Kry Later

In a RICO case gangs do not have to operate with any structure, rituals or protocols to be considered a gang. The RICO statute defines gangs by their signs, clothing and methods of communication. Which begs the question – why is the KKK or Stephen King not being tried for RICO? It won’t take a trip to the Caucasus Mountains to figure out the answer to that one ^

When the Lines Blur

The line between art and reality blurs when individuals fail to create space between the character an artist tries to portray and what they actually do. 

The line between art and reality blurs when the audience is assumed to consume passively and mimic obediently. 

Gunna appears on Crime Stoppers

At an impressionable age, youngsters tend to carry out their actions solely based upon the expectations of their peers. It is impossible to determine that violence within any art form (video games, music, cinema) causes criminal activity. There is zero conclusive scientific evidence that definitively proves violent art makes somebody commit a crime. The only person capable of making someone do something is that person.

Thugger’s being held in a penitentiary with no bond as he has an outstanding related case, has been deemed a flight risk (interstate travel, passport confiscated) and they believe he could be capable of committing additional felonies. Gunna is also in there with him but his charges are highly unlikely to stick. 

Pushin Point

Tongue As Sword

Young Thug’s lawyer Brian Steel has stated that he will fight to his last drop of blood to defend Thug. It is an ironic choice of words given that YSL is considered Blood affiliated and accused of shedding blood in Atlanta streets. 

Nevertheless, the tongue is mighty powerful. Between the phrases put forth into the universe and their monikers it is no wonder they are in this situation. 

In order to acquit his client, Steel must realize the state does not care about Jeffery and his celebrity status. He must point out the flaws in their case and it will be interesting to see how he addresses lyrical matters.

“I deal with problems head on. [As for lingering problems] I thought I had got to know God but it hasn’t been good enough yet.”

Young Thug on Breakfast Club

The state of Georgia claims that the first amendment is our most precious right. Yet, they also state that “overt and predicate acts” described in lyrics cannot be ignored when weighing innocence. 

Almost every artist utilizes hyperbole and shock value as these literary devices help sell the art. They may describe familiar scenes from a perspective that makes them seem like it was them who went through the experience or committed the act. 

All the while, they may have based it off of urban legend or countless times they saw it take place. Still, this does not mean that they actually did the thing they were rapping about as music is a form of expression.


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