Young Thug, one of the most influential and successful rappers in the US who has twice topped the Billboard album chart, has been arrested on suspicion of gang involvement, and accused of a number of other alleged offences.
Twenty-seven other associates of his record label Young Stoner Life (YSL, also known as Young Slime Life) are named in the indictment, with YSL characterised as a street gang. Members are accused of a range of crimes, including murder and attempted murder, plus robbery, witness intimidation and drug dealing. In a TV interview, Young Thug’s lawyer Brian Steel said the rapper had “committed no crime whatsoever and we will fight to my last drop of blood to clear him”.
Young Thug, real name Jeffery Williams, has been detained at an Atlanta jail and will appear at an initial hearing on Tuesday. He is charged with “participation in criminal street gang activity”.
In the indictment document, he is also accused of threatening to kill a man at a shopping mall; renting a car that was used during the murder of a man in 2015, Donovan Thomas Jr; and intending to distribute methamphetamine – but he has not been charged with these individual offences, described as “overt acts” that furthered the broader criminal conspiracy.
All 28 defendants are also charged with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Rico) – which was passed to help bring charges against gangs and organised crime – with YSL.
Another successful rapper named in the indictment is Gunna, real name Sergio Kitchens, who is indicted on a single count of violating the Rico act. He has also twice topped the US album chart, most recently in January with his album DS4Ever.
Gunna has not been arrested, but a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office confirmed to the New York Times that others among the 28 defendants had been.
Another YSL rapper, Yak Gotti – real name Deamonte Kendrick – is one of five accused of the murder of Donovan Thomas Jr. Three people accused of being YSL members are also accused of the attempted murder of rapper YFN Lucci, who was later stabbed in jail after he was indicted on a murder charge.
Named as a victim in the 88-page indictment is Lil Wayne, whose tour bus was allegedly shot at by a YSL associate in 2015.
Rap lyrics by Young Thug are mentioned in the indictment, accused of being “an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy”. Select Gunna lyrics, and even his YSL-branded jewellery, are accused of the same offence.
The citing of lyrics as evidence of criminality is controversial. In January, rappers including Jay-Z, Meek Mill and Killer Mike called for a change in New York law that would prevent rap lyrics being used as evidence in criminal trials. The rappers Tekashi 6ix9ine, Tay-K and the late Drakeo the Ruler have all seen their lyrics cited during their respective trials in recent years.
Celebrated for his expressive, inventively melodic flow, Young Thug is a musical figurehead in Atlanta, the city that has become arguably the centre of US rap in recent years. As well as scoring US No 1 singles with Drake and Travis Scott, he has appeared on hits with Post Malone, Migos and Megan Thee Stallion, and crossed over into the pop world in 2017 with his appearance on Camila Cabello’s US and UK No 1 hit Havana.