ATLANTA — Recording artist Young Thug is behind bars in Fulton County as part of the district attorney's crackdown on gang activity in Atlanta.
The Atlanta native, whose legal name is Jeffery Williams, was booked on Monday. He's accused of being the founder and leader of a violent Georgia street gang. Williams was named in an 88-page indictment along with rapper Gunna and 25 others -- all accused of participating in gang-related activity.
The rapper has been arrested several times over the years and has been under investigation for his alleged gang activity for around a decade.
Jail records show the rapper was booked Monday on charges dating as far back as 2013.
During Williams' court hearing on Tuesday, his legal team claimed his innocence. The rapper is currently being held without bond.
RICO charges and the indictment
"It was surprising, but it was also something that people in the Atlanta community who had the ears to the street knew about," A.R. Shaw said.
Shaw, the author of Trap History, is an expert on the genre and has studied events and musicians including the murder of rapper Nipsey Hussle and Young Thug's impact.
"As far as the indictment and the RICO charges, that really kind of shocked me because with RICO, the RICO charges, they can pretty much say if you're affiliated you can go down with everyone else," Shaw said.
Fulton County jail records show Williams is facing a gang activity charge from 2018 and a 2013 charge of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act.
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During a news conference on Tuesday, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said she is also building a case around Williams and his ties to Donovan Thomas, described in the indictment as a rival gang member. Thomas was shot dead outside of a barbershop in 2015. Willis said that murder "created violence like Atlanta has never seen" -- adding it largely started after the rapper rented a car to be used in the murder.
"With Young Thug, we don't know if there was any direct hits or any direct influence to cause violence," Shaw said. "But individuals who they are affiliated with have been arrested on numerous charges."
Community and youth impact
Shaw also shed light on how the charges and using the RICO Act to indict multiple people hurts the Atlanta community -- not just a rapper's image.
"Young Thug has done things as well," Shaw said. "He's worked with the Atlanta foodbank to provide food for individuals in the city. Also, Young Thug and Gunna, they teamed up last year to give bond for nonviolent inmates in the Fulton County Jail - so we've seen them give back."
Shaw added that as these artists have given back to the community, children who emulate them can take the arrests hard.
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"We've seen that these kids at McNail Middle School know that someone who comes from their community came back and gave them something that no one had ever given," he said. "It gave them an opportunity to have healthy food and healthy snacks and clothes and sneakers."
The author advised parents to talk to their children and explain the seriousness of the issue and help them pick their role models, adding it's a balancing act.
"At the end of the day, they're all entertainers," Shaw said about the rappers. "Hopefully the kids in this case who look up to them can see that (and) the good that they've done and actually take from that."
DA's indictment and election-year gains
The DA's indictment against the two rappers also cites social media posts and lyrics as proof of the alleged charges, emphasizing the notion that artists can legally be condemned for their lyrics as they are 'snitching on themselves.' Shaw said in this case, the lyrics are unique to rap and hip hop.
"We don't see this in any other entertainment except rap music where lyrics are used in the courtroom," Shaw said. "It is definitely worrisome because we don't know what the prosecutors will use as far as lyrics. And a lot of times when it comes to rap, a lof times (it's) hyperbole."
With the case built against Young Thug and the others named in the indictment, Shaw also wants people who hear of the indictment to remember who is leading the charge.
"This is an election year," he said. "We have to understand what this means in the grand scheme of things."
Shaw mentioned that Willis is not up for reelection but her work can have a larger political impact.
"This can be connected politically and we just have to look at the entire thing," he said.
The historian added that at this moment, it's just a case with alleged charges.
"Everything is alleged incidents," he said. "Accusations."