300 Entertainment CEO/founder Kevin Liles and Atlantic Records chairman/COO Julie Greenwald are urging the music community to “help us protect Black art” after Young Thug, Gunna and other Young Stoner Life Records artists were indicted in a sweeping criminal case.
In an email addressed to friends and family sent out Thursday (June 9) with the subject line “Rap Music on Trial: A Petition to Protect Black Art,” the label executives outline how YSL Records — founded by Young Thug in 2016 as an imprint at 300 Entertainment — is being labeled as “a criminal gang” and criticize how “the allegations heavily rely on the artists’ lyrics that prosecutors claim are ‘overt evidence of conspiracy.'” The letter also includes a link to the Change.org petition to support their efforts.
Young Thug (real name Jeffery Lamar Williams) was arrested on May 9, after being accused of participating in an illegal gang and conspiring to violate Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a state version of the federal law that’s been famously used to target the mafia and other large criminal enterprises. Controversially, his lyrics are heavily quoted as evidence, with examples of his music used in at least five of the acts listed in the indictment. The attorneys for Gunna (real name Sergio Giavanni Kitchens) also blasted the Atlanta DA for the “intensely problematic” practice in regards to his own allegations.
Soon after Young Thug’s indictment, New York’s state Senate passed a first-in-the-nation law known as Senate Bill S7527, or “Rap Music on Trial,” which Jay-Z and Meek Mill have championed. The legislation would restrict when prosecutors can cite rap lyrics as evidence during criminal cases. Despite the Senate passage, a version of the bill would have needed to be approved by the state assembly before it could be signed into law, and lawmakers in Albany adjourned for the year last week without putting the bill up for a vote. The legislature will reconvene in January for the next session.
“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,” said Liles and Greenwald in their letter. “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.”
Last week, Lilies testified in support of Thug’s release on bail — which was denied — at a hearing in Fulton County Superior Court. The music executive sharply criticized the DA’s use of Thug’s rap lyrics as evidence in the RICO case. “We don’t argue about movies or other genres of music. We don’t bring those things to court. But our music, we’ve been on trial and we’re constantly on trial over what we are and who we are.”
Read their entire 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