As the YSL gang RICO case continues, several high-profile rappers have been caught up in the mix including Young Thug and Gunna, the latter of which recently accepted a plea deal. While things are looking up for Gunna, the same cannot be said of Young Thug who faces serious charges of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act and participation in criminal street gang activity. Thug’s attorney, Brian Steel, maintains his client’s innocence and argues that the prosecutions attempt to use the rapper’s lyrics as evidence of wrongdoing isn’t fair.
Speaking to 11Alive, Steel believes that “unless the lyric has a direct relation to the supposed crime on trial and there’s evidence to support that, the fact that somebody has created words that are in a song or in a book or in a movie, they should not be judged by their work performance because that’s storytelling.”
In addition, Steel has questioned why there seems to be a double standard in this practice against rappers but not against country singers or rockstars or any other entertainers.
“So, the problem I really have with lyrics from rap music throughout our country and right here in Fulton County is we don’t do that with other types of entertainment or artistry. And that’s really my problem because to me, rap music has been birthed by the struggle of the inner city, poverty stricken, oftentimes people of color. Why are we targeting that group rather than a writer who talks about a killing or drug dealing? Or how about the white songwriters?”
When asked why rap as genre is constantly “under trial”, Steel explained that, “It seems like it’s racist. Because I don’t know why other forms of violent lyrics in country music or in rock-n-roll don’t seem to get this type of attention.”
Some lyrics used as evidence against Young Thug include, “I never killed nobody but I got something to do with that body” and “I told them to shoot hundred rounds.”
Why Using Rap Lyrics as Evidence is Controversial
Critics have argued that the practice of using rap lyrics as evidence because it unfairly targets Black men, regardless of their guilt, as it hits on stereotypes surrounding the genre. This is not to say that YSL or Young Thug didn’t commit these crimes, but this practice could lead to other musicians in a variety of genres becoming liable for their lyrics, be they fact or fiction.
As Toronto rapper, Dinah SB, told CBC, rap artists take on alternate personas or egos in order to tell stories from their community, whether they were involved or not. As a result, there’s a misconception that their lyrics are autobiographical.
“As much as people like to think that everything a rapper says is directly something that they’ve experienced or they’ve gone through,” said Dinah SB. “A lot of the times it’s just, more so, a tool to express ourselves.”
Why can Johnny Cash sing the line “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” and not face prosecution? But if a rapper writes something similar, it’s evidence.
Prominent artists in the rap community, like Jay-Z and Meek Mill, are pressing lawmakers in New York to pass legislation that would limit a prosecutor’s ability to use lyrics as evidence in criminal cases.
Brian Steel says that he has defended Young Thug for a decade and argues that his client has been targeted by the prosecution for the better part of that decade and will continue to defend and proclaim his innocence.
“I’m concerned with a human being who’s wrongly charged,” he said. “And I’ve had the pleasure of defending Mr. Williams [Young Thug] for approximately a decade, maybe a little more. So to me, I know his family, I’ve defended him in courtrooms multiple times. I knew right away that he’d been targeted for ten years by the prosecution. So, my feeling was exactly what I said, that his is a wrong prosecution and I will defend him.”