Featured Photo: Young Thug in 2017. EVAN AGOSTINI/INVISION/AP

On Monday January 9, the Grammy-winning rap artist faced a jury trial in one of the most high-profile RICO cases in recent years. The Atlanta-based celebrity is suspected, along with 27 other people, of founding and leading the violent street gang known as YSL through its criminal activities spanning a decade, which includes drug dealings, violence, and murder. The defendants have decided to fight all charges in court, in what would likely be a long and arduous trial that will grab the nation’s attention for months to come.

For context, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a federal law dating back five decades, but it has only come in increasing use in recent years. The law ostensibly targets organized crime and has been used by the Department of Justice to dissolve multiple syndicates with collective punishments of up to 20 years in prison and fines starting with ‘$25,000 or three times the amount of pecuniary gain.’ It is a controversial piece of legislation because the proven crimes of only individual can mean indictments for anyone closely associated with them.

Similarly, many notable RICO trials in recent years have used the song lyrics of artists against them as evidence of crime confession. This egregious breach of freedom of speech was brought to the headlines in July by Representative Hank Johnson (D-Georgia), who introduced a bill which, if passed, would have barred courts from using singers’ lyrics against them.

The Young Thug trial is perhaps the most notable RICO case to date, simply because of the sheer number of music celebrities involved. The charges were filed in Fulton County, Georgia, in May, and accuse a total of 28 people of 56 separate crimes. The 88-file indictment lists a total of 181 recorded acts of illegal conduct connected to the group Young Slime Life or YSL. Ostensibly a Black-owned record studio, YSL is now alleged to be an organized crime syndicate involved in drugs, racketeering, and violent street fights.

By far the most well-known name associated with the YSL trial is Jeffrey Lamar Williams, professionally ‘Young Thug’. The 31-year-old Atlanta rapper has reached the top spot in rap charts for many years, and even won the Grammy Award for the Song of the Year in 2019 for his role in Childish Gambino’s piece “This Is America”. He is accused, along with Walter ‘DK’ Murphy and Trontavious ‘Tick’/’Slug’ Stephens, of founding the music group around 2012. Another nationally-acclaimed artist Gunna, legal name Sergio Kitchens, was also charged for allegedly participating in criminal activities of the YSL. Other people involved with the group and now accused of homicide, including the killing of a police officer, include Deamonte ‘Yak Gotti’ Kendrick, Miles Farley, and Christian ‘Bhris’ Eppinger.

The jury selection for the trial began last week, and further legal proceedings could take up to six or nine months, according to the estimate of the case judge. Some of the accused, including Gunna, pleaded guilty last month and were sentenced to varying periods in jail time, fines, and community service. ‘Young Thug’ Williams, who faces eight charges, has pleaded not guilty to all of them and will fight them in court. Some other music icons based in Georgia will also be called to the witness stand over the course of the trial, including Dwayne ‘Lil Wayne’ Carter and Dequantes ‘Rich Homie Quan’ Lamar.

Anthony Tilghman

Anthony Tilghman, is an 3x Award-winning Photojournalist, Education advocate, Mentor, and Published Author with years of experience in media, photography, marketing and branding. He is the Winner of the...