Atlanta rapper Young Thug, one of the country’s most successful hip-hop artists, is facing 20 years to life in prison after being arrested and charged on May 9 for gang activity as part of a 52-count RICO indictment, along with fellow rapper Gunna and other associates.
Prosecutors claim his label YSL (Young Stoner Life) Records is, in fact, a criminal organization responsible for an array of crimes including murder.
RICO — the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — is a federal law that allows for prosecution and civil penalties for gang activity. It was originally used in the 1970s to prosecute the Mafia and others involved in ongoing organized crime.
About 90 percent of the city of Atlanta is in Fulton County, where District Attorney Fani Willis said she has made it a priority to target gangs. More than 75 percent of violent crimes in Fulton County are connected with street gangs, Willis said.
The indictment alleges that Jeffery Lamar “Young Thug” Williams is a founder of Young Slime Life, a criminal street gang that began in Atlanta in 2012 and is affiliated with the national Bloods gang. Young Thug’s record label, YSL, often refers to the artists on its roster as part of the “Slime Family.” The compilation album, “Slime Language 2,” hit No. 1 on the charts in April 2021.
Atlanta-based YSL Records, which Thug launched in 2016, is a label imprint of 300 Entertainment, which is now part of the Warner Bros. Records group. Lyor Cohen’s 300 Entertainment Records is the distributor of YSL.
YSL artists include Gunna, Lil Keed, and more. Lil Baby used to be signed to the label as well.
So some are wondering: if YSL has been indicted for crimes, why haven’t the labels associated with it been indicted as well?
“If the record label is funding a criminal enterprise and an outright gang allegedly committing murders according to the GOV, why isn’t the label included with the RICO?” asked The Moguldom Nation CEO Jamarlin Martin.
To try and answer that question, The Moguldom Nation spoke to Patrick A. Mullin, a New York City-based white-collar criminal defense attorney.
“In order to pursue someone criminally you have to have intent to commit a crime among other things,” Mullin told Moguldom.com. “With RICO, there’s enterprise involved and each player has to be knowingly involved in doing something criminal. That may be why some of these labels aren’t involved — because they did not do something criminal.”
However, Mullin added, new evidence could come to light and “they may well be brought in. It happens all the time. It’s called a superseding indictment. You should not take it as Gospel that just because someone hasn’t been brought in, they will never be brought in. It’s one thing to be accused, it’s another for the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty.”
In his experience, Mullin said, the Feds don’t go after someone unless they are convinced they can win a case beyond a reasonable doubt against that person or entity.
Young Thug, who, throughout his decade-plus career has seen three of his albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard chart, has an estimated net worth of $8 million.
The 300 Entertainment label has an estimated net worth of $43 million.
Born in New York to Israeli immigrants, Cohen has been involved in hip-hop at various labels for more than 30 years. He started out managing rappers for the pioneering firm Rush Productions, then led Def Jam Recordings, according to Jewish Virtual Library. In September 2012, he left Warner Music Group to start his own independent label, 300 Entertainment.
In 2016, Cohen chastised Young Thug during an interview on CNBC’s “Follow the Leader” show for not following through on various records.
He told YSL, “You just record so many songs and leave them like little orphans out there. You have to come back to them.”
That same year, he and Thug are at the Beverly Hills Hotel in California. In a YouTube video entitled “Young Thug Turns His Manager Gangster Lyor Cohen Is A Blood Now,” you can hear an off-camera Thug egging on Cohen to introduce his upcoming tour in a hardcore style. Cohen, who is on camera, announces the “Young Thug and 21 Savage LIVE: High Horse’d Tour” in his best “thug” voice. The video was posted by All Urban Central, a YouTube channel covering hip-hop music and culture.
Cohen founded New York City-based 300 Entertainment, launched in 2012, with fellow hip-hop music business veterans Roger Gold, Kevin Liles, and Todd Moscowitz. The label’s roster includes acts across multiple genres including hip-hop, rock, pop, electronic, alternative, and country. Current artists include Young Thug, Fetty Wap, YNW Melly, Megan Thee Stallion, No Savage, and Mary J Blige, among others.
In December 2021, Warner Music Group acquired 300 Entertainment for $400 million. Some of the founders remain in leadership roles in the company.
Moguldom writer Dana Sanchez contributed to this report.
Photos: Lyor Cohen screenshot from YouTube All Urban Central video, Nov. 30, 2016 “Young Thug Turns His Manager Gangster: Lyor Cohen Is A Blood Now,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvfVeb4CO7w
/ Young Thug attends the Young Thug “No, My Name Is Jeffery” Listening Event Hosted By Lyor Cohen, pictured at YouTube Space, Aug. 25, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty)