What G Herbo's timely reference to the ongoing Young Slime Life trial says about a larger bias against rap music

“I know foenemm wont tell on me like [n—z] told on Thug,” rapper G Herbo posted to his Instagram story, in the early morning of July 20. He was referencing the high-profile charges brought up against several signees of Young Slime Life (YSL) records—including Sergio Giavanni Kitchens, aka Gunna, and Jeffery Lamar Williams, aka Young Thug—under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The day prior, the Chicago Tribune reported that Herbo (government name Herbert Randall Wright III) was prepared to plead guilty to charges of identity theft and wire fraud—both of which carry maximum sentences of 20 years in federal prison.

These charges were initially brought up in 2020 when Herbo and members of his team were indicted for alleged identity theft over a period of four years. Rap-Up reported that as much as $1.5 million dollars of stolen goods and fraudulent services were uncovered during the investigation, including private jet trips to expensive villas in Jamaica, and designer puppies—allegations Herbo denied on his 2020 track “Statement.” Approval for his plea deal is set to be decided on July 27.

While Herbo’s and Young Thug’s respective cases are only connected by the former’s allusion to people “telling” on the latter, Herbo’s Instagram story reignites rumors about the YSL RICO case, which initially emerged following Gunna’s release from prison at the beginning of this year. (Notably, ahead of the other defendants.) Having taken a plea deal, the rapper “stressed that this does not mean he will be cooperating with the prosecution going forward.” Many took to the internet for social judgment; ‘Gunna Unfollowed’ emerged as a popular meme format—an act of allegiance to the YSL members who remain incarcerated.

“While his music may feature violent scenarios, they are not a sufficient basis for a court to objectively determine whether Young Thug actually does that which he depicts in his music.”

Young Thug is perhaps the highest-profile defendant in the YSL RICO case. In 2022, the New York Times reported that he and 27 other members of the label were charged as a part of a “criminal street gang,” allegedly involved in a series of murders and attempted armed robberies. Thug’s lyrics are now being used as evidence brought up against him and YSL at large, sparking debate as to whether or not they can be considered viable in a court of law.

Young Thug’s lawyer, Brian Steel, says of his client: “Mr. Williams came from an incredibly horrible upbringing, and he has conducted himself throughout his life in a way that is just to marvel at.” While his music may feature violent scenarios, they are not a sufficient basis for a court to objectively determine whether Young Thug actually does that which he depicts in his music. His lyrics are a form of artistic speech, which is protected by the First Amendment as a form of free speech; fellow Black rappers have noted that the selective application of the First Amendment rights in the YSL RICO case highlights an inherent bias against rap music.

The generalizing assumption that music that describes violence begets real-world crime isn’t a new phenomenon: In the ’90s, there was Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center; later, the FBI investigated N.W.A lyrics that were said to encourage violence against the police; in 2016, Pussy Riot fans in New York were arrested for wearing ski masks while protesting for the band’s release from Russian prison; and today, Young Thug’s “Eww,” is posed to implicate himself and his fellow YSL members. While behind bars, he released a new album, BUSINESS IS BUSINESS, with the help of longtime musical collaborator and producer Metro Boomin. Whether their lyrics serve as self-defense or self-implication in their respective trials, G Herbo and Young Thug refuse to let their legal circumstances affect their artistic practice.

Today, Williams and fellow YSL member Deamonte Kendrik, aka Yak Gotti, appear in a hearing to reconsider their release. Watch footage of today’s trial below: