Young Thug‘s lawyer Brian Steel claims that the ‘Thug’ portion of the Grammy-winning rapper’s name stands for ‘Truly Humble under God.’ This certainly wasn’t on anyone’s bingo card for 2023, but his opening statement for the YSL trial on Tuesday resounded just that fact.
When the trial started Monday, prosecutors pegged Jeffery Williams, most well known by the rap moniker Young Thug, as a ruthless gang leader. But the defense had a different story to paint.
Steel argued Tuesday that Williams is “a kind, intelligent, hard-working, moral and thoughtful person” who “has been able to cultivate genius to lawfully and ethically attain phenomenal worldwide success” despite the “cruel conditions of his upbringing.”
Steel proceeded to reference Williams’ older sister Dora William’s tweet from Dec. 20, 2022, on the meaning of ‘Thug’ as he said, “If [Williams] could ever make it as a musical artist and help his family, himself and as many others out of this endless cycle of hopelessness, he would be truly humbled under God. That’s what thug means.”
This was amongst other claims of the true meaning behind the Young Thug brand. The song “Pushin P” featured Young Thug, standing for ‘pushing positivity.’
The YSL racketeering case moves onward to its fourth day of trial. Williams and lawyers continue his plea of innocence against the charges.
The trial focuses on the indictment of 28 individuals, nine of whom have already pleaded guilty earlier this year. They face counts under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
Williams faces counts of racketeering on top of possession of illegal firearms and substances as leader of the YSL record. The prosecution is accusing YSL of being not only the spearheaded renowned rap label known as ‘Young Stoner Life’ but also a street gang collective under the name ‘Young Slime Life.’
But Steel claims the YSL acronym for the record is an homage to Yves Saint Laurent, reflective of the group’s fashion, rather than any gang associations, despite the matching acronym.
If accusations are proven to be true, Williams will face up to 120 years in prison. For that to happen, under RICO law, the prosecution must provide evidence that Williams was the head of the gang that committed said crimes.
However, the forefront of this case rests on the intertwinement of race, rap and the criminal justice system. The prosecution received approval from the judge to use 17 of Young Thug’s lyrics. This caused the public and defense lawyers to voice backlash for the decision. They believe it’s a reflection of the continuous racist ideologies when it comes to the perception of the hip-hop genre.
A primarily Black-dominated music genre, rap has long faced allegations of influencing violence due to references within lyrics. For example, in Young Thug’s “Slime Shit” featuring Yak Gotti where he raps, “Hey, this that slime shit, hey, YSL shit, hey, killin’ 12 shit, hey, fuck jail shit, hey,” lyrics, that are currently being used on trial.
It incites questions on whether music or song lyrics, should be utilized as evidence. For many artists, their lyrics reflect what sells and their musical persona rather than reality. But sometimes, the lines can overlap.
According to University of Georgia School of Law professor Andrea Dennis, nearly 500 court cases have been documented using rap lyrics in court as evidence. This fact has propelled an open letter published in The New York Times and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution titled “Art on Trial: Protect Black Art.” The letter includes signatures from notable artists such as Drake and Megan Thee Stallion.
It addresses the use of lyrics on trial with criticism, stating, “Rappers are storytellers, creating entire worlds populated with complex characters who can play both hero and villain. But more than any other art form, rap lyrics are essentially being used as confessions in an attempt to criminalize Black creativity and artistry.”
The potential underlying racism is currently coming into question with the proceeding YSL case.
But deputy district attorney Adriane Love touched on the outcry in her opening statement Monday, noting, “We didn’t chase the lyrics to solve the murder, we chased the murder and found the lyrics.”
The trial hit a blip Wednesday due to jurors being exposed on camera. Still, the trial continues on as law officials take to the stand.
Ultimately, Young Thug continues a fight for innocence in a hefty trial with no end in sight any time soon.