© 2022 WUTC
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rappers Young Thug and Gunna were charged with racketeering

Updated May 10, 2022 at 5:04 PM ET

ATLANTA — Atlanta rapper Young Thug co-founded a violent street gang that committed multiple murders, shootings and carjackings over roughly a decade and promoted its activities in songs and on social media, prosecutors allege in a sprawling indictment that charges him, rapper Gunna and 26 others with racketeering.

The 88-page indictment filed Monday in Georgia's Fulton County quotes lyrics from multiple music videos as evidence and accuses alleged gang members of committing violent crimes to collect money for the gang, promote its reputation and enhance its power and territory.

"It does not matter what your notoriety is, what your fame is, if you come to Fulton County, Georgia, and you commit crimes ... you are going to become a target and a focus of this district attorney's office, and we are going to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law," Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said Tuesday at a news conference announcing the charges.

Young Thug, whose given name is Jeffery Lamar Williams, co-wrote the hit "This is America" with Childish Gambino, making history when it became the first hip-hop track to win the song of the year Grammy in 2019. Fulton County prosecutors say that in late 2012, he and two others founded Young Slime Life, a violent criminal street gang that's commonly known as YSL and is affiliated with the national Bloods gang.

He was arrested Monday at his home in Buckhead, an upscale neighborhood north of downtown Atlanta. He was being held at the Fulton County Jail on charges of conspiracy to violate Georgia's RICO Act and participation in a criminal street gang.

Young Thug's lawyer, Brian Steel, told news outlets that "Mr. Williams committed no crime whatsoever" and he would "fight till his last drop of blood to clear him."

Also charged in the indictment were rapper Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, and aspiring rapper Christian Eppinger, who was already in jail and is accused of shooting an Atlanta police officer six times in February. Gunna, who is accused of conspiracy to violate the state's RICO Act, was not in custody as of Tuesday afternoon, Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said.

In addition to specific charges, the indictment includes a wide-ranging list of 181 acts that prosecutors say were committed starting in 2013 as part of the alleged RICO conspiracy to further the gang's interests.

In 2015, Williams rented an Infiniti sedan that five alleged gang members used when they shot and killed a rival gang member, the indictment says.

Williams and Kitchens in 2017 had methamphetamine, hydrocodone and marijuana that they intended to distribute and were involved in a traffic stop the following year in which one of the vehicles had numerous weapons with high capacity magazines, including an AK-47, according to the indictment.

It quotes lyrics from multiple music video appearances by Williams, including one from 2018 in which he says, "I never killed anybody but I got something to do with that body," and, "I told them to shoot hundred rounds."

Willis said she respects the First Amendment right to free speech, but she believes the song lyrics cited in the indictment are "overt and predicate acts" that support the RICO charge.

"The First Amendment does not protect people from prosecutors using it as evidence if it is so," she said.

The indictment also accuses members of the gang of trying to kill rapper YFN Lucci, whose given name is Rayshawn Bennett, by "stabbing and stabbing at" him with a shank in the Fulton County Jail. YFN Lucci was among a dozen people charged in another gang-related RICO indictment in Fulton County a year ago.

The indictment also says it was an alleged member of the gang who shot at a bus in 2015 that was carrying rapper Lil Wayne.

Willis said she plans to seek the maximum possible penalties for the people charged in the indictment. For at least some of them, that could mean life in prison.

With his squeaky high-pitched rap vocals, Young Thug became best known for his hits including "Stoner" and "Best Friend." In a hyper-masculine hip-hop scene, 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.

Gunna, who is signed to Thug's Young Stoner Life record label, scored his second No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart with "DS4Ever" this year. The Grammy-nominated artist is known for boosting the viral catchphrase "Pushin P," a term used regularly on social media by athletes such as LeBron James and Dez Bryant, along with professional sports teams such as the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors. The rapper said the term is based on "keeping it real."

In April 2021, Young Thug and Gunna posted bail for 30 low-level inmates who were unable to afford the costs themselves. Gunna opened a no-cost grocery and apparel store at his former middle school to students and their families in the area where he grew up.

Young Thug's record label refers to its artists as part of the "Slime Family," and a compilation album called "Slime Language 2" hit No. 1 on the charts in April 2021.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: May 10, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this AP story said Young Thug's first name is Jeffrey. In fact, it is Jeffery.