Young Thug has become a pop culture icon with his lyrics. Now the justice system is making him public enemy number one because of them.

Last Thursday, Thug was denied bond for his RICO charge in the YSL indictment. Judge Ural Glanville stated that he had fears that Thug was a flight risk and would intimidate witnesses if he was released on bond. The denial, which comes after bond denials for YSL Records artists Gunna and Yak Gotti, became the latest setback in a torrent of legal precarity for the 28 individuals who were ensnared on a 56-count indictment in May, including charges of murder, racketeering, armed robbery, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The indictment lists dozens of song lyrics and music videos as evidence.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis claimed in a May press conference that YSL isn’t just a label named Young Stoner Life, but a “criminal street gang” called Young Slime Life that she surmises is responsible for over 50 murders in the Atlanta area, “committing, conservatively, 75 to 80 percent of all of the violent crimes in our community.” 

Willis believes YSL has “to be rooted out of our community,” and says her number one focus as a DA is targeting gangs, warning that we can expect to see more RICO indictments against other street gangs in the near future. Her comments, and a leaked Georgia Bureau of Investigation document that mentioned YSL and Lil Baby’s 4PF as “criminal street gangs targeted for investigation,” spurred concerns that more Atlanta artists and crews would be ensnared in RICO cases. 

Predatory politicians and prosecutors all over the country have used rap lyrics and music videos as evidence in their investigations and court cases recently, criminalizing an art form that’s historically faced racist treatment. Gun violence has risen in economically deprived areas that have suffered even more deprivation over the course of the pandemic, but instead of blaming poverty—the root of criminality—many politicians like Willis are blaming the music. When citizens are desperately searching for answers to stop the violence, it’s easy for them to buy into prosecutors’ tales that artist’s violent songs are real-life admissions of violence and propose to get them off the streets. And it’s advantageous to court headlines by claiming that platinum acts like Young Thug and Gunna are using their resources to fund gangs that actualize the violence some of their music depicts. It’s not a difficult sell for citizens who never liked rap anyway, and the line between art and reality is delicate in hip-hop. But unfortunately, DAs like Willis are bulldozing through the notion of artistic license in furtherance of the justice system’s goal to disproportionately warehouse Black and Brown people. And because of that, RICO is becoming a too-common part of the rap lexicon.