Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis defended her use of rap lyrics in criminal cases Monday after the office released an indictment targeting alleged members of what she said is a violent street gang connected to a string of home invasions in Atlanta.
In an indictment filed Aug. 22, Atlanta officials accused alleged members of the Drug Rich gang of targeting the homes of celebrities and some social media influencers, including singer Mariah Carey, Marlo Hampton of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and Atlanta United player Brad Guzan. The 220-count indictment charges 26 people, most of whom are accused of violating Georgia’s anti-gang and racketeering laws.
Willis said those listed in the indictment spoke about the offenses in their music.
“I think if you decide to admit your crimes over a beat, I’m going to use it,” Willis told reporters at the news conference. “I’m going to continue to do that; people can continue to be angry about it. I have some legal advice: Don’t confess to crimes on rap lyrics if you do not want them used — or at least get out of my county.”
Willis denied claims that her comments were aimed at rappers.
“I’m not targeting anyone, but you do not get to commit crimes in my county and then decide to brag on it, which you do as a form of intimidation, and not be held responsible,” she said.
Her comments come after her office used similar evidence in an indictment on Aug. 5 against Atlanta rapper Young Thug, born Jeffery Williams, and more than a dozen others who are accused of various charges, such as gang activity along with drug and firearm charges.
Williams’ attorney, Brian Steel, maintains his client’s innocence.
“Mr. Williams has committed absolutely no crimes,” Steel told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We cannot wait for a trial date.”
A spokesperson for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office did not return NBC News’ request for comment on the indictment filed Aug. 22.
Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur, the CEO and founder of AllHipHop.com, said there has been a rise in hip-hop artists using their music to amplify illegal activity.
“In this day and age, I think it’s a little more complicated,” Creekmur said of Willis’ decision to use rap lyrics in criminal cases. “What seems to be the case is that we’re seeing an increase in criminal behavior that seems to exist within hip-hop. … It seems like the lyrics are more reflective of reality than we’ve seen in the past.”
While Creekmur admitted he does not have a hard stance on the issue, he said artists should be able to express themselves.
“Do I think that lyrics in a general sense … should be excluded from legal matters and prosecution? Yeah, typically, I think that creative expression should be free,” he said. “The problem really is that there are artists that actually rap about what they’re doing … so it gets very difficult to discern between one or the other.”
This is not the first time public officials have made a case that acts of violence are linked to rap music and lyrics.
In February, New York City Mayor Eric Adams called for a ban on drill music following the killing of 18-year-old rapper Chii Wvttz. He blamed the battle-infused subgenre of rap for contributing to the city’s recent uptick in violence and went as far as to meet with some of those rappers to talk about potential solutions. Adams is a former New York City Police Department officer who touted a tough-on-crime mayoral agenda when he ran for office.
However, other officials such as Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., have fought against connecting rap music to crime. In July, Bowman introduced the Restoring Artistic Protection Act, or RAP Act, to prohibit the use of lyrics in criminal and civil proceedings. Meanwhile, in California, the state Senate and Assembly both unanimously approved a similar bill in August that would prevent prosecutors from citing lyrics as evidence. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is reportedly expected to sign this bill into law this month.
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