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Bail Denials, Shootings, and Incriminating Lyrics: Here’s What’s Been Happening in Young Thug and Gunna’s RICO Case

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It looks like this case is going to stretch well into 2023.

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Gunna and Young Thug Young Thug perform at half time at the game between the Atlanta Hawks and the Boston Celtics on November 17, 2021 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.Courtesy of Adam Hagy via Getty Images

Court proceedings for the colossal, 56-count RICO case against Young Thug and his YSL collective are underway in Georgia, where initial pretrial release proceedings are beginning to give us a sense of the prosecution’s approach, which includes using Thug and Gunna’s song lyrics and social media posts.

Here’s what to know from the reporting around the trial, as well as a sense of what may come next.

A police shooting could have been the case’s inciting incident. In an interview with DJ Vlad, journalist George Chidi, who covers crime in Atlanta and has reported on Thug and his associates, claimed that YSL member Big Bhris shooting a police officer “set off the chain” of events leading to the arrests. Chidi also said he believes Thug “was aware that there was legal trouble brewing, that the cops were looking at him.”

The Big Bhris shooting Chidi referenced took place in February, when Bhris (a.k.a. Christian Eppinger) shot an officer who was going to arrest him for an alleged robbery committed in October 2021. According to WXIA-TV, that warrant referenced Bhris’ involvement with YSL, and the Atlanta Police Department claimed that the group committed “home invasion style robberies,” “drive-by shootings,” and sold drugs.

Chidi said that while the Fulton County District Attorney had been compiling information and monitoring YSL, he did not think they were “getting ready to act” until the shooting. He also believes that Big Bhris is likely to spend the rest of his life incarcerated.

Thug will retain his preferred counsel, for now. According to New York Times reporter Joe Coscarelli, the prosecution attempted to have Brian Steel, who has been Thug’s lawyer for years, removed from his position. They “[cited] a potential conflict of interest due to his involvement, past and present, with others in the YSL RICO [case].” Steel was allowed to remain on the case. Per Billboard, the issue came up because prosecutors are concerned some of the other indicted persons may decide to cooperate with law enforcement against Thug, but be discouraged from doing so by Steel due to their prior history. Judge Ural Glanville wrote, “I understand about the serious potential for conflict…I don’t think that we have that yet as to Mr. Steel.”

Steel also argued on his own behalf briefly, saying, “I have been with Mr. Williams for countless days, weeks, months and hours. I know his entire life…That is the bond of an attorney-client relationship,” as Billboard reported.

Thug is essentially in solitary confinement. Steel, in arguing for Thug’s expedited bond hearing, said that his client is in a “windowless cement compartment with only a bed and a toilet and an overhead light which remains on 24 hours per day, preventing any sleep, rest or meditation”; with “no access to any type of media,”; and being unable to “exercise, shower or have human contact.”

Song lyrics and social media posts are a major backbone of the case. Coscarelli also noted that lyrics and social media posts were once again brought up, and that the prosecution said, “We believe that Mr. Williams doesn’t sing about random theoretical acts–he sings about acts that his gang participates in.” Dozens of examples are mentioned in the indictment, some of which seem tenuous, including citing photos of the defendants wearing YSL jewelry as “an overt act in furtherance of conspiracy.” Lyrics from Thug songs like “Eww” and “Slime Shit” are referenced, as well as Gunna records like “Fox 5.”

According to Billboard, Liles argued against the use of lyrics as evidence in the case, saying, “We don’t argue about movies or other genres of music. We don’t bring those things to court. But our music, we’ve been on trial and we’re constantly on trial over what we are and who we are.” The practice of using rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials has become an increasingly controversial, hot button issue.

E. Jay Abt, the lawyer for YSL rapper and defendant Yak Gotti, spoke passionately about why he felt entering songs into evidence was wrong and how it could hurt Atlanta’s impact on the arts. “What the government is doing here, in this case, is sending a message to the music industry and the entertainment industry in Atlanta that is going to have a massive chilling effect…The message that the district attorney’s office is sending to our community and to our country is that you better not come to Atlanta and make rap videos, because we’re going to use those against you in court.”

Machine Gun Kelly spoke on Thug’s behalf, to no avail. Despite pre-taped testimony from Kevin Liles and Lyor Cohen, co-founders of Thug’s label 300 Entertainment, and Machine Gun Kelly, supporting Thug’s request for bond, he was ultimately denied. Per Coscarelli, Judge Ural D. Glanville declined, “citing potential danger to the community/witnesses and, less so, flight risk.”

Also per Billboard, Gunna was also denied pretrial release in late May, meaning the pair will presumably remain incarcerated until their trial begins in January 2023.

“The court was obviously concerned about threats and intimidation of witnesses. We believe when the court hears evidence, not just the words of the prosecutor, it will find that Sergio’s release on bond will not, directly or indirectly, pose a significant risk to witnesses,” Gunna’s lawyer told Billboard. “We look forward to having an evidentiary hearing on this as soon as the court permits.”

The rumor that YSL member Yak Gotti is rumored to be cooperating has been greatly exaggerated , despite minimal evidence. Another YSL artist who was indicted, Yak Gotti, has been at the center of controversy related to the case, too. Questionably sourced rumors around the internet indicated that Gotti agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, and the rapper bristled at those claims on Instagram.

According to Chidi, the confusion came because Gotti had “plead guilty when he and YSL Duke were caught with rifles a few years ago as they were on the way to a retaliation hit after a fight at [local strip club] Magic City.” Gotti wound up serving four years for the charge.

“[In] 2015, my brudda never did a day in jail because I claimed my shit,” Gotti wrote on Instagram. “I did four years fed with no tears! Stop the cap.”

And in the spirit of debunking things, Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow is most assuredly not a member of YSL and thus, not involved in the case in any form. Memes be damned.

There may not be much movement on the case for the rest of the year. Per WXIA-TV, the trial is slated to begin on January 9, 2023, although there is a possibility it could begin sooner. “If I can get it on the calendar before the 9th of January I will endeavor to do so,” Glanville said. In the meantime, Thug’s attorneys could file other motions in an attempt to get him out on bond, though it seems unlikely those would be successful.

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