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Young Thug’s lyrics tell stories, not crimes, lawyer says

By AFP - Nov 29,2023 - Last updated at Nov 29,2023

Brian Steel, attorney for rapper Young Thug (right) arrives at the Fulton County Courthouse on Monday in Atlanta, Georgia (AFP photo)

ATLANTA — Young Thug’s lyrics describe the violence-plagued and poverty-stricken environment the rapper grew up in, but are not  evidence of criminal activity, his lawyer Brian Steel said in court on Tuesday.

Attorney Brian Steel detailed the artist’s rags-to-riches trajectory as part of the defence’s opening statements in a sprawling racketeering trial targeting the rapper and others, which began in earnest this week after months of painstaking jury selection, courtroom dramas and myriad delays.

The US state of Georgia accuses the Grammy-winning rapper of leading a street gang fronted by his record label, YSL, and is prepared to controversially present rap verses as proof of real-life crimes.

The defence insists no such crime ring exists, and that presenting lyrics in court as confessions amounts to a violation of free speech and artistic licence.

In a lengthy opening, Steel described Young Thug’s upbringing in since-closed housing projects in Atlanta, where his family could barely afford food or utilities and lived in a community riven by violence fueled by severe poverty.

His raps detail murders, shootings and drug use because “this is the environment that he grew up, these are the people he knew, these are stories he knew”, Steel said.

The attorney said the artist aspired to fame to “break the generational hopelessness” experienced by his family.

The lawyer also said the rapper, born Jeffrey Williams, developed “deep embedded beliefs about our criminal justice system” — namely that it “was not just — at least not for the people that he saw.”

Steel described one scene where the rapper’s then-20-year-old brother was shot near their building, and when police arrived, they handcuffed his overwrought mother and put a sheet over his brother, even though he was still breathing.

Once he gained celebrity for his art, Steel said Young Thug became a mythical figure in his community, and engaged in rivalries online not as part of a gang but to “generate interest” in his work, as is common in the industry.

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