After the arrests and indictments of multiple Young Stoner Life Records (YSL) artists and label pioneers Young Thug and Gunna, 300 CEO and founder Kevin Liles and Atlantic Records COO Julie Greenwald are asking the music community to help fight against the use of rap lyrics in artist criminal cases.
On Thursday (June 9), Liles and Greenwald issued a letter to family and friends asking them to support their “Rap Music on Trial” petition. In the letter obtained by VIBE, the music executives give an overview of how YSL Records is being characterized as “a gang” and how the prosecutors’ evidence is “heavily relying on the artists’ lyrics” as “overt evidence of conspiracy.”
“Weaponizing creative expression against artists is obviously wrong. But what gets us so upset is what’s happening to Young Thug, Gunna, and YSL is just the most high-profile case,” it reads. “In courtrooms across America, Black creativity and artistry is being criminalized. With increasing and troubling frequency, prosecutors are attempting to use rap lyrics as confessions, just like they’re doing in this case.”
The letter concludes with a call-to-action for supporters to sign their petition as well as call their local assembly representatives in their cities.
The first YSL artist to be indicted in the sweep, Young Thug (whose legal name is Jeffery Lamar Williams), is accused of participating in gang activity and also conspiring to violate Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which is an operation infamously known for cracking down on mafia and criminal enterprise activity. Contentiously, Thugger’s rap lyrics from 2016 to 2021 were thrown into prosecutors’ evidence, including the songs, “Anybody,” “Take It To Trial,” “Ski” featuring Gunna, and “Slatty.” Several of the lyrics were not only recited aloud in court by prosecutors, but were used in at least five acts of the 56-count-indictment. Gunna’s attorneys also spoke out against the Atlanta district attorneys in regards to the controversial practice.
Last month, New York’s state Senate passed the inaugural law known as Senate Bill S7527 or “Rap Music on Trial,” which is backed by mogul Jay-Z and Meek Mill, who has had his own debacles with the Philadelphia justice system. Without ceasing the use of rap lyrics in court indefinitely, the bill would limit how prosecutors cite lyrics as evidence during criminal cases. As the Senate’s passing of the bill marks a step in the right direction, the bill would still need approval by New York state assembly reps before it’s written into law. Unfortunately, the city of Albany adjourned for the rest of the year without including the bill for voting. The “Rap Music on Trial” bill will have another chance to be voted on in January 2023.
Liles actually testified for Young Thug‘s access to bail last week in Fulton County Superior Court, but it was denied. Liles passionately spoke on Young Thug’s character as well as castigated the DA’s use of music lyrics in the YSL case.
In the letter from Liles and Greenwald, they note, “This practice isn’t just a violation of First Amendment protections for speech and creative expression. It punishes already marginalized communities and silences their stories of family, struggle, survival, and triumph. It is a racially targeted attack, and this shameful and un-American practice must end.”
Read the compelling letter below.
Friends and Family,
Those of you who know us well know that we have a hard time seeing wrong done in front of our eyes and not doing something about it. That’s why we’ve created a petition we would ask you to sign and share to help us protect Black art.
Sign Here: https://chng.it/HLPmYr96
As you may know, currently in Georgia, multiple artists belonging to Young Stoner Life Records – including celebrated artists like Young Thug and Gunna – are facing more than 50 allegations, including RICO charges which claim the record label is a criminal gang. The allegations heavily rely on the artists’ lyrics that prosecutors claim are “overt evidence of conspiracy.”
Weaponizing creative expression against artists is obviously wrong. But what gets us so upset is what’s happening to Young Thug, Gunna, and YSL is just the most high-profile case. In courtrooms across America, Black creativity and artistry is being criminalized. With increasing and troubling frequency, prosecutors are attempting to use rap lyrics as confessions, just like they’re doing in this case.
This practice isn’t just a violation of First Amendment protections for speech and creative expression. It punishes already marginalized communities and silences their stories of family, struggle, survival, and triumph. It is a racially targeted attack, and this shameful and un-American practice must end.
Others like our friends Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Reform Alliance, and many more have been working on this issue for some time, and there’s a bill recently passed by the New York State Senate – S.7527/A.8681, better known as the “Rap Music on Trial” Bill – that’s now up for vote in the New York State Assembly. We need to step up, support these efforts, and get this bill across the finish line.
We need to urge the prompt adoption of legislation at the Federal and State level that would limit how prosecutors can use creative and artistic expression as evidence against defendants in criminal trials. It’s our hope that this legislation and similar Bills will become law across America to end this attack on our First Amendment freedoms that disproportionately harms Black and other minority artists. We ask you to sign and share with others you know. And if you live in New York, call your representative in the Assembly and encourage them to co-sponsor the bill and vote yes in the next session.
Enough is enough. We must protect Black art, creativity, and communities.
Thank you and God Bless,
Kevin Liles and Julie Greenwald