The YSL RICO case involving mainstream rappers Young Thug and Gunna delved into the additional legislative argument of whether rap lyrics should be admissible as evidence of criminal intent or action.
300 Entertainment co-founder Kevin Liles and Atlantic Records COO Julie Greenwald distributed a petition against the use of rap lyrics titled Rap Music on Trial: A Petition to Protect Black Art .
Part of Liles and Greenwald’s letter reads: “As you may be aware, currently in Georgia, several artists belonging to Young Stoner Life Records – including famous artists like Young Thug and Gunna – are facing over 50 allegations, including RICO accusations that claim the label is a criminal gang. The allegations lean heavily on the artists’ words, which prosecutors say are “clear evidence of conspiracy.”
“Arming creative expression against artists is obviously a mistake. But what pisses us off so much is what happens to Young Thug, Gunna and YSL is just the most high profile case. In courtrooms across America, black creativity and art are criminalized. With increasing and disturbing frequency, prosecutors are attempting to use rap lyrics as confessions, just as they are doing in this case. Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda supports the petition across the board.
The petition comes as last month the New York State Senate approved S.7527/A.8681, aka the rap music bill on trial. If Gov. Kathy Hochul signs the bill, prosecutors will have to specifically prove that a lyric and/or song is definitive evidence of a crime before going before a jury. In the past, rap lyrics have been used in a detrimental way to show the character of an accused.
Attorney Joseph Willmore, a well-known Southern California family attorney, said of the case, “People are often surprised at what is and isn’t admissible in court right now. Often in divorces etc. one partner will send the other angry messages or act in noticeable negative ways and this can be used in court. They are often surprised.
“The number of times I’ve seen text messages used as character reference is certainly not small. However, artistic expression shouldn’t be used in this way. It’s an archaic thought process of using art as a character tag What’s more troubling is that it’s specifically rap music that’s being targeted… not heavy metal, rock or any other kind of music that has – what some would interpret – as a “meaningful dark language”. Which then brings forward-looking racial implications. This could end up being another example of a huge gap in the understanding of cultures across socio-economic boundaries.
For more context and understanding of where YSL and rap music is seen as reflecting a crime or character, I spoke with former FBI Unit Chief Mark Rossini.
Throughout his career, Rossini has handled complex criminal and counter-terrorism cases. He has worked on international terrorism issues involving the FARC, ETA, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda. He served as the FBI Representative to the CIA Counterterrorism Center (CTC) at CIA Headquarters and was one of the founding leaders of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).
He was also responsible for producing the Presidential Terrorism Threat Report (PTTR) and the Threat Matrix, which detail emerging terrorist threats.
In releasing a full statement on his thoughts on the matter, Rossini said:
“Artists throughout history have challenged the viewer to reflect. To open their minds to the known and the unknown. Make the observer come out of his 4 walls and enter the universe of the artist. Art should not be repressed or oppressed. Artists have sought to speak to us about themselves or to show us the world in which we live. Their messages were personal and political.
“We see Van Gogh laying bare his depression and pain, and the beauty of the world around him. A study of many great masterpieces by European Renaissance artists reveals many subtle and less subtle political moves. The cartoonists in our newspapers denounce the hypocrisy of our politicians. The list goes on.”
“Art is not just sculptures, paintings and cartoons. It is music, poems and lyrics. Rap and Hip Hop send us a message of the frustration of our youth. Especially those from African American and minority communities.
“We are listening and hopefully opening our minds to understand and interpret the message. Rap like all art offers an outlet. Which brings us to the trial in Fulton County, Georgia.
“In Fulton County, multiple rap artists have been arrested and charged in a 58-count RICO case. What has been covered in the press is that prosecutors are using the rappers’ lyrics against them in a compelling way. This in turn has caused other artists and music industry executives to sound the proverbial alarm bells that African-American rappers are being labeled as criminals for expressing themselves, and the potential for all African-American artists. Americans to be lumped together and viewed by society as nothing more than “thugs”. ‘ just to be a rapper.
“I understand their fears and frustrations, especially in this time of polarization in which we live. It seems that every day there are news reports of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups committing or planning to commit acts of violence against minorities. The mass murders in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York are Exhibit A of this reality. That said, Fulton County prosecutors have not charged those arrested for their words. They were arrested for their violent and criminal acts.
“Prosecutors are seeking to show a potential jury that the arrested rappers used their lyrics to confess to a crime, plan a future criminal act and/or send a message to a victim. The goal (and the challenge for prosecutors) is to use the rapper’s own words to show a jury the direct correlation between the lyrics and the criminal act(s). I don’t think rappers or any other artists have anything to fear by continuing to express themselves and send a message to us listeners.”
“No one is ‘weaponizing’ black music as several industry executives have claimed. There is a clear distinction between an entertainer, black or white, speaking out, and a prosecutor who can show a jury the direct connection between an entertainer’s words and his or her criminal acts or overt acts committed to commit said acts. criminals. All of these activities can be aggregated to determine that an individual or individuals are engaged in a criminal enterprise that is central to a RICO charge. As always, let the jury decide.
Both Gunna and Young Thug were denied bail, with the latter having been denied bail twice. The trial date is currently set for January 9, 2023.