The use of Thug’s lyrics to portray him as a career criminal is a frequent tactic for prosecutors, said Dina LaPolt, a music industry attorney and member of the advocacy group Black Music Action Coalition. She cited cases such as George Forrester, whose rapping on a jailhouse phone call was introduced as evidence that helped convict him of second-degree murder and a firearm charge that led to a 50-year prison term.
“It would be like if Leo DiCaprio was charged with financial crimes and they present ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ as evidence,” LaPolt said. “Rap was born out of a reaction to urban decay, and for rap artists, it’s really important for your credibility to rap about things coming from the streets. To use that as evidence against them is very prejudicial.”
LaPolt reeled off country music songs that riffed on similar themes of violence that are obviously seen as storytelling from a distinct tradition and music culture. But in cases involving rappers such as L.A.'s late Drakeo the Ruler (who was acquitted of a murder charge and released on a plea deal) and New York’s Bobby Shmurda (convicted on conspiracy to murder, weapons and reckless endangerment charges), that same craft was thrown back at them as essentially an admission of guilt. While Young Thug’s involvement in any actual criminal activity will be decided in court, LaPolt worried that RICO laws are especially dangerous when applied to a music scene, and typical rap culture lyrical tropes could register as a confession in court.
“Most judges are older white men,” LaPort said. “They don’t understand the culture, they’re disconnected completely. Prosecutors want to bring in lyrics that correspond with what they’re charged with because to them, it’s a confession.”
Just days off of the indictment, Young Thug’s legacy in hip-hop is already being recast in light of the sweep of charges against him.
“YSL has a huge footprint on the culture in Atlanta, and the indictment is definitely going to have a chilling effect,” Carmichael said. “People talk about what makes Atlanta different, a Black mecca of sorts, with Black people in power. Rappers feel like they can come to Atlanta and not face the same police targeting they face in other cities. So many rappers came here to get away from that in their own towns. That may be the thing that takes the biggest hit.”
On Wednesday morning, Gunna — just days off his Met Gala appearance, with a No. 1 album and a “Saturday Night Live” gig behind him this year — was booked into Fulton County jail to face a charge of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act. After police raided Young Thug’s Buckhead home, prosecutors added seven more felonies to his list of charges.
“Now they’re going to feel a target on their backs,” Carmichael continued. “There’s no question that will have an effect on the culture.”
(L.A. Times staff writer Jenny Jarvie contributed to this report.)
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