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Gunna’s Release, the RAP Act & the Protection Of Black Art

The Atlanta rapper reportedly reached a plea deal for the RICO charge, resulting in his release from jail – but what does this mean for the future of convicted rappers and the protection of their lyrics?

Grammy-nominated rapper Gunna, whose real name is Sergio Kitchens, was released from Fulton County Jail on Wednesday after pleading guilty to a racketeering charge. In the plea, he admitted that the rap collective known as Young Slime Life, commonly referred to as YSL, is also a criminal street gang.

As part of the deal, Kitchens will not serve any time as long as he completes 500 hours of community service with 350 of those hours speaking to young men and women about the danger of gangs. Gunna had been in jail for 218 days, dating back to May 11 when he was originally arrested, during which time the rapper was also nominated for a Grammy.

“While I have agreed to always be truthful, I want to make it perfectly clear that I have NOT made any statements, have NOT been interviewed, have NOT cooperated, have NOT agreed to testify or be a witness for or against any party in the case and have absolutely NO intention of being involved in the trial process in any way,” Gunna said in a statement that was provided by his attorney.

As the statement continued:

“When I became affiliated with YSL in 2016, I did not consider it a “gang”; more like a group of people from metro Atlanta who had common interests and artistic aspirations. My focus of YSL was entertainment — rap artists who wrote and performed music that exaggerated and “glorified” urban life in the Black community.”

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Prosecutors say Gunna’s mentor, rapper Young Thug, founded and serves as the leader of YSL. They allege that members of Williams’ gang have committed violent crimes, including murder and attempted armed robbery. Williams’ defense attorneys say YSL is simply a music collective and record label.

The RICO case that still hangs above YSL’s head has moved federal legislators to act through a proposed bill called the Restoring Artistic Protection Act, or simply the “RAP Act.” Congressmen Hank Johnson and Jamaal Bowman, the bill’s cosponsors, aim to limit the ability of prosecutors to use “creative or artistic impression” to incriminate a defendant.

As the draft legislation reads, “this bill limits the admissibility of evidence of a defendant’s creative or artistic expression against the defendant in a federal criminal case. The term creative or artistic expression means the expression or application of creativity or imagination in the production or arrangement of forms, sounds, words, movements, or symbols, including music, dance, performance art, visual art, poetry, literature, film, and other such objects or media.”

As Rep. Johnson said in a statement to CNN, “without further Congressional action, the freedom of speech and of artistic expression present in music will continue to be stifled, and that expression will be chilled, until the voices behind that protected speech are silenced.”

“We cannot imprison our talented artists for expressing their experiences nor will we let their creativity be suppressed,” Rep. Bowman added.

As for how the bill could affect Gunna and Young Thug, it’s critical to note that it does not protect the artists from all manner of charges at the state level, as a federal bill would not apply. However, the bill’s passage could swiftly and immediately protect them from being prosecuted under the RICO Act, which concerns federal-level racketeering.

The YSL trial is set to begin nine days into 2023 in Fulton County Superior Court. Should the RAP Act earn passage into law, the conversation around these proceedings stands to change considerably.

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About The Author
Randall Williams
Randall Williams
Randall Williams is a former Staff Writer at Boardroom specializing in sports business and music. He previously worked for Sportico, Andscape and Bloomberg. His byline has also been syndicated in the Boston Globe and Time Magazine. Williams' notable profile features include NFL Executive VP Troy Vincent, Dreamville co-founder Ibrahim Hamad, BMX biker Nigel Sylvester, and both Shedeur and Shilo Sanders. Randall, a graduate of "The Real HU" -- Hampton University — is most proud of scooping Howard University joining Jordan Brand nearly three months before the official announcement.