The YSL RICO case could set a legal precedent in hip-hop. This comes after Judge Ural Glanville ruled that 17 different lyrics can be used as evidence against rapper Young Thug (whose legal name is Jeffrey Williams) and his co-defendants.
Young Thug’s lawyer Brian Steel said that the use of rap lyrics in court is a violation of the First Amendment. “They are targeting the right to free speech, and that’s wrong. They are saying that just because he his singing about it, he is now part of a crime.”
And Doug Weinstein, the attorney for defendant Yak Gotti, said that rap music is the only genre in entertainment that allows rap lyrics to be used as evidence in legal cases.
“We are asking essentially for the same thing that the state is, use the Georgia law,” Weinstein said. “As Professor Dennis at the University of Georgia says, ‘rap is the only fictional art form treated this way. No other musical genre and no other art is used in the same way and to the same extent. And there’s so many examples of that. Look at actor Kevin Spacey. Kevin Spacey is accused of felony sexual assault in 2018. He’s playing reprehensible characters in movies repeatedly in TV shows. None of that is dragged in. When it comes to rap, we’re ignoring the art. There is art here and the art has to be separated from the real life.”
However, Fulton County prosecutors claim that some lyrics are inspired by real events.
On the song “Slime S—,” the rap lyric “hundred rounds in a Tahoe” is a nod to the murder of Donovan Thomas Jr. in 2015. Yak Gotti and four other have been charged in that particular crime.
The use of rap lyrics in legal cases could change the dynamics of hip-hop. There have been multiple cases over the years where rap lyrics have been used against artists.
In August, Congressman Hank Johnson introduced a new proposal called the “Restoring Artistic Protections Act” or “RAP Act,” a proposal that would limit the use of lyrics as evidence in federal court.“The RAP Act creates a presumption that creative content is inadmissible until and unless the prosecution can establish certain facts,” Johnson said. “The RAP Act sets up a set of guidelines.”
Months before Glanville’s ruling, D.A. Fani Willis spoke about the use of rap lyrics in court by saying, “I have some legal advice. Don’t confess to crimes on rap lyrics if you do not want them used or at least get out of my county.”