Assassin Mike calls for protection of black art amid charges against Young Thug and Gunna

ABC News

(ATLANA) – Atlanta rappers Young Thug and Gunna have been charged with gang-related charges in a case that shocked the music industry and highlighted the controversial use of rap lyrics as evidence in court.

“[Young Thug] came out of a very desperate situation, “rapper and activist Killer Mike of Atlanta told Good Morning America.

“The country of the city he comes from – Cleveland Avenue, Southeast Atlanta – is surrounded by poverty forever – he managed to escape the streets using rap lyrics and helped people change their lives.”

But now some of these texts are cited in an extensive 56-point grand indictment in Fulton County, Georgia.

Young Thug, whose legal name is Jeffrey Williams, and Gunna, whose name is Sergio Kitchens, were charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Law on Organizations Influenced by Racketeers and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) and pleaded not guilty.

Young Thug is also charged with an additional charge of involvement in street gangs, according to indictment documents obtained from ABC News.

Top music executives launched the Change.org petition this week, calling for the protection of black art and legislation that criminalizes rap lyrics.

“In American courtrooms today, black creativity and artistry are being criminalized,” wrote Kevin Lyles, chief executive of 300 Entertainment. “Increasingly and alarmingly, prosecutors are trying to use rap lyrics as confessions. This practice is not simply a breach of the protection of the First Amendment on Speech and Creative Expression. It punishes already marginalized communities and silences their stories of family, struggle, survival and triumph. ”

The killer Mike, whose real name is Michael Render, has been a longtime advocate against the use of rap lyrics in court. He said it was important to remember that hip-hop is a form of entertainment and artists are performers who play characters.

“Young Thug is a character that Jeffrey Williams created, but Jeffrey Williams is a father,” he said. “He is a human being capable of love, care and compassion.”

Eric Nilsson, author of “Rap on Trial”, told GMA that he has advised and testified in nearly 100 cases across the country in which rap lyrics have been used as evidence in court, a practice that is often aimed at amateurs. local rappers.

“I was surprised that prosecutors were brazen enough to prosecute someone as famous as Young Thug,” Nilsson said. “But I was also surprised at the extent to which the texts appear to be part of the indictment as part of their early arguments that he was involved in criminal activity. .

Young Thug was among 28 people allegedly linked to the Atlanta-based band Young Slime Life (YSL), which authorities say co-founded in 2012. YSL is also the name of Young’s record label. Thug, Young Stoner Life, to which Gunna is also signed. This is a print of 300 Entertainment and is not mentioned in the indictment.

The court documents detail cases in which individuals allegedly linked to the YSL gang wear or display YSL symbols in music videos posted on social media between 2016 and 2021, and rap texts, which mention “YSL” and / or various descriptions of criminal activity.

“These lyrics are nothing more than laudatory rap lyrics,” said Killer Mike. “It’s nothing more than the killer Mike saying I’m a microphone killer.”

Prosecutors say YSL was responsible for three murders, including the 2015 murder of Donovan Thomas, an incident they say triggered additional gang-related killings in the city.

Grammy-winning Young Thug has been charged with various offenses, including theft and possession of illicit drugs with intent to distribute.

“Mr. Williams has not committed any violation of the law. We will fight this case ethically, legally and zealously. Mr. Williams will be released,” Young Thug’s lawyer Brian Steele told ABC News.

“Mr. Sergio Kitchens, known as Guna, is innocent. The indictment falsely presents his music as part of a criminal conspiracy,” rapper’s lawyers Steve Sadow and Don Samuel told ABC News.

“It is extremely problematic for the state to rely on lyrics as part of its claims. These texts are a creative expression of the artist, not a literal narration of facts and circumstances, “the lawyers said in a court file received from ABC News.

Fulton County Attorney Fanny Willis defended the inclusion of the text in the indictment.

“The First Amendment does not protect people from the use of prosecutors [lyrics] as evidence, “she told a news conference on May 10, when asked about concerns about the First Amendment. “We made it clear within RICO because we believe it is.” ABC News contacted the DA office for further comment.

Nilsson, a professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond, says hip-hop music is the only genre targeted in courtrooms in this way.

“Rap music is the only fictional form, musical or otherwise, that is directed in this way in the courts,” Nilsson said.

“This is absolutely racist,” he added. “… essentially what is happening is that rap music is deprived of art status.”

The killer Mike, who wrote the foreword to “Rap on Trial”, said the focus on black art speaks to the dehumanization of blacks in America.

“Hip-hop is not respected as an art because blacks in this country are not recognized as full-fledged human beings,” he said.

“If we allow the courts to prosecute these men based on the characters they have created and the pretense stories they tell in rhyme, then they will be at your door.”

Young Thug and Gunna have been denied a bet and their trial is scheduled for January 2023.

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