ATLANTA - Opening statements in the trial of rapper Young Thug and associates resumed Tuesday. The Grammy Award winner and five others face charges for violating Georgia’s anti-racketeering and gang laws.
For day two of the trial, Attorney Brian Steel, lawyer for Young Thug, spent hours on his opening statement. Steel pushed back against prosecutors' accusations that the Atlanta-based artist used his music to promote violent gang activity and claims the rapper's song lyrics are just art.
Steel explained to jurors how Young Thug, whose given name is Jeffrey Williams, grew up in poverty and had a distrust of the police.
"It got to the point where when people saw police, they just ran," said Steel. "It's a different experience for different parts of America."
He shared how his client looked up to rappers like Lil Wayne and Tupac and studied their content, branding and style.
"Gangster rap is a subset of rap. That was the most popular music at that time," stated Steel.
Steel touted Young Thug's many accomplishments since his career took off in 2014, including awards, endorsements, and his net worth. Steel told the jury the rapper isn't running any type of criminal activity to get money because he has plenty of it.
"He's not sitting there, telling people to kill people. He doesn't need their money," said Steel. "Jeffrey is worth tens of millions of dollars."
From there, Steel turned his focus to Young Thug's own lyrics. Some of which prosecutors were recently granted the ability to use as evidence.
Stell claims those lyrics are not admissions, they are art.
"Drive-by shootings. These are common themes," said Steel. "This is, you will learn, this is studio gangsters. They are in the studio. They are creating music for us to listen to," said Steel.
An attorney for Quamarvious Nichols says that he is reserving his opening statement, allowing the state to present its case first.
Young Thug, YSL RICO Trial: Day 1 Recap
Opening statements proved to be just as tedious as everything that led up to the trial. Fulton County Chief Judge Ural Glanville admonished one juror, who reportedly had car problems, for pushing the start back by nearly an hour and a half.
Fulton County Chief Deputy District Attorney Adriane Love finally began opening statements, telling jurors the evidence would lead them to conclude that the YSL organization is tied to the national Bloods gang and participated in organized violence.
"They committed crimes such as armed robbery, hijacking, motor vehicle theft, theft by receiving, stolen firearms, possession of a machine gun, and narcotic sales and last but certainly not least, murder," said Love.
It was during a slide show presentation by prosecutors that Young Thug's attorney objected and called for a mistrial because of multiple "inaccurate" slides on the prosecutor's PowerPoint. He also says the defense wasn't given the opportunity to review the material before Monday.
The judge paused the trial and broke the jury for lunch. Around 1:30 p.m., the court reconvened with the judge denying the motion for dismissal, but instead instructed the jury to disregard parts of the presentation and warned prosecutors it risked having the whole slideshow thrown out.
Defense attorneys are expected to continue outlining their case on Tuesday before witnesses are called.
The trial is projected to last months and will likely include testimony from a number of high-profile music industry figures.
Prosecutors are expected to take the controversial step of using Young Thug’s rap lyrics as evidence against him.
Who is Young Thug?
Young Thug’s eccentric style and mumble rap — along with breakout hits such as "Stoner" and "Best Friend" — have made him popular. His squeaky high-pitched vocals can be heard in the background of Childish Gambino’s "This is America," a social-political hit that became the first hip-hop track to win the Song of the Year Grammy Award.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - MARCH 25: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been processed using digital filters.) Rapper Young Thug attends the game between Golden State Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on March 25, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by P
Young Thug won a Grammy in 2019 for his co-writing efforts on the track, which included 21 Savage, Quavo, BlocBoy JB, and Slim Jxmmi of the duo Rae Sremmurd. He has had several mixtapes and three studio albums including his recent "Business is Business" music project, which was released in June while he was in custody.
Young Thug has collaborated with some of music’s best, including Drake, Chris Brown, T.I. and Travis Scott. Elton John called working with Young Thug an "amazing moment" after recording the song "Always Love You" featuring Nicki Minaj and Gunna.
Young Thug has three chart-topping songs, including "Havana" with Camila Cabello, "Way 2 Sexy" with Drake and Future and "Franchise" featuring Travis Scott and M.I.A.
He signed with Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records in 2013.
In a hyper-masculine hip-hop scene, Young Thug refused to play by traditional gender rules. He wore a dress on the cover of his 2016 mixtape "Jeffery" and said there’s no such thing as gender as part of a Calvin Klein campaign.
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 01: Young Thug performs during 2021 Lollapalooza at Grant Park on August 01, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage,)
On social media, some noticed Young Thug referencing his male friends as "bae," "lover" and "hubby."
Young Thug grew up in a rough suburban Atlanta housing project where crime was the norm. He became a father at the age of 17 and currently has six children.
Prosecutors have painted Young Thug as a gang leader known as King Slime, someone who calls the shots and directs others to engage in criminal activity.
What are the charges young Thug faces?
A Fulton County grand jury indicted Young Thug in May 2022, and more charges were added in a subsequent indictment in August of that year. The second indictment accuses Young Thug and 27 other people of conspiring to violate Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO. The rapper is also accused of participation in criminal street gang activity, as well as drug and gun charges.
Prosecutors say Young Thug and two other people co-founded a violent criminal street gang in 2012 called Young Slime Life, or YSL, which they say is associated with the national Bloods gang. The indictment says Young Thug "made YSL a well-known name by referring to it in his songs and on social media."
In addition to specific charges, the August indictment includes a wide-ranging list of 191 acts that prosecutors say were committed between 2013 and 2022 as part of the alleged conspiracy to further the gang’s interests.
Included in that list is an allegation that Young Thug threatened in July 2015 to shoot a security guard who was trying to get him to leave an Atlanta-area mall. The indictment also says Young Thug rented a silver Infiniti sedan that was used in the killing of a rival gang member. And, on numerous occasions, he and others are alleged to have possessed various illegal drugs that they intended to distribute.
Rapper Young Thug in court on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023.
What do Young Thug's defense lawyers say?
Young Thug’s lawyers have said in multiple court filings that he is innocent of all crimes charged in the indictment. They argue that YSL is simply a record label. The rapper has pleaded not guilty.
Multiple defense attorneys in the case have said prosecutors were overzealous in their use of the RICO statute and the anti-gang law, both of which carry heavy penalties.
Who else is charged in the Young Thug YSL RICO trial?
Rapper Gunna, whose given name is Sergio Kitchens, was charged with a single count of racketeering conspiracy. He entered an Alford plea in December, which means he maintains his innocence but recognizes that it’s in his best interest to plead guilty.
During Gunna’s plea hearing, the rapper responded, "Yes, ma’am" when a prosecutor said that "YSL is a music label and a gang" and that he had knowledge that its members or associates had committed crimes in furtherance of the gang.
The other two people accused of co-founding the YSL gang — Walter Murphy and Trontavious Stephens — were also charged. They each pleaded guilty in December to one count of conspiracy to violate the anti-racketeering law.
What has Young Thug been doing since his arrest?
Young Thug has been in jail since his arrest on May 9, 2022, having been denied bond several times since then.
More than a year after he was jailed, Young Thug surprisingly released his third studio album "Business is Business," which was executive produced by Metro Boomin. The album — which featured Drake, Future and Lil Uzi Vert — debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Young Thug’s album dropped a week after Gunna released his new project.
What penalties does Young Thug face if he's convicted?
Young Thug’s racketeering conspiracy charge and two gang charges each carry a penalty of five to 20 years in prison. The other five charges also carry potential prison time.
What's next in Young Thug's case?
Jury selection began in January. At that time, 14 of the 28 people charged in the indictment were set to be tried together. That number has dwindled to six after some defendants either took plea deals or were separated to be tried later.
It took nearly 10 months to seat a jury, which is highly unusual. It took so long for a variety of reasons. For one, the trial is expected to last for months, meaning many potential jurors had legitimate hardship excuses that allowed them to get out of hearing the case. There were also many complications that caused delays, including challenges in getting defendants housed in different jails to court each day, contraband brought to court, and the arrests of a defense attorney and a courtroom deputy.
A jury of 12 people — nine women and three men — and six alternates was finally selected on Nov. 1. Opening statements are set to begin Monday and the trial is expected to last anywhere from several months to a year.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.