JEFFERY: Young Thug from fame to RICO trial | Full documentary series
As Young Thug's case nears a trial date, 11Alive’s ‘Jeffery’ series gives an exclusive lens into what this case means – legally, artistically and culturally.
The 11Alive exclusive ‘Jeffery’ series unravels the high-profile grand jury indictment of Atlanta rapper Jeffery Williams, better known as Young Thug. We explore the impact of the controversial indictment, which alleges that his prominent record label, YSL, is allegedly connected to street gang activity, according to Fulton County prosecutors.
The recent events reignited a decades-long conversation about the use of rap lyrics in courtrooms across the country, the movement to protect Black art, and the precedent this case could set.
As this notorious case nears a trial date, 11Alive’s ‘Jeffery’ series gives an exclusive lens into what this case means – legally, artistically and culturally. And where do the lines blur between art and reality?
The rest of this series will premiere soon exclusively on 11Alive+, available on Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Text "plus" to 404-885-7600 to download 11Alive+. For more info, visit: https://www.11alive.com/watch.
Part 1: Jeffery Williams from Cleveland Avenue
In the heart of Atlanta's southside community is a distinct area that is not only rich with history, but has contributed significantly to the landscape of Atlanta’s hip-hop identity.
Cleveland Avenue stretches through the southside horizontally with roughly a four-mile distance that cuts through I-75 and I-85, bridging a cluster of vibrant neighborhoods through one linear pathway.
Near the Cleveland Avenue and Jonesboro Road intersection is where Young Thug’s journey began. The young artist, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, was raised at the Jonesboro South Apartments, part of the Atlanta Housing Authority.
Part 2: 'Take it to trial'
Jeffery’s career climb reached a controversial state of emergency in May 2022.
Jeffery appeared on a virtual video monitor wearing a blue jumpsuit for his court appearance with Fulton County Judge Ural Glanville.
"Good morning Mr. Jeffery Williams. Be aware you are indicted under 22 SC 182273 for conspiracy to violate racketeer and influence criminal street gang activity,” the judge said to the artist.
The Grammy-winning musician is one of 28 defendants indicted in Fulton County. Prosecutors accuse Jeffery Williams of founding an alleged gang linked to several murders in the city.
A nearly 90-page indictment accuses him of racketeering, making terroristic threats, theft, renting a car used in a murder and participating in a criminal street gang as one of its organizers.
“I'm concerned with a human being who's wrongly charged,” Jeffery’s attorney Brian Steel told 11Alive’s Neima Abdulahi in an exclusive sit-down interview.
Part 3: Protect Black Art
Young Thug’s arrest sparked a nationwide movement to protect lyrics from being used in courtrooms.
His label and music executive Kevin Liles, who is also his business partner, launched a petition to #ProtectBlackArt. The movement quickly spread, garnering more than 65,000 signatures.
“Today in courtrooms across America, Black creativity and artistry is being criminalized,” the Change.org petition reads. “With increasing and troubling frequency, prosecutors are attempting to use rap lyrics as confessions. This practice isn’t just a violation of First Amendment protections for speech and creative expression. It punishes already marginalized communities and silences their stories of family, struggle, survival and triumph.”
Part 4: The bigger picture
During interviews for 11Alive’s "Jeffery" series, two common themes came up in several conversations: the bigger picture and the impact this case will have on hip-hop culture.
Hip-hop music’s influence on America’s culture and on our country’s youth sparked many discussions over the decades, with debates on the positive and negative correlations that could potentially exist. The hip-hop cultural movement reaches a global audience and is considered one of the most influential music genres in the world.
The correlations also shed light on the Black communities where the art is produced, and how it is an interpretation of the challenges that Black men and women face in society.
Exclusive extras: Kevin Liles interview
As part of the four-part Young Thug documentary series, "Jeffery," 11Alive's Neima Abdulahi sat down exclusively with Kevin Liles, CEO of 300 ENT. Liles co-founded Young Stoner Life Records with Young Thug -- whose legal name is Jeffery Williams.
Liles earlier this year gave testimony in a bond hearing for Williams, some of the most-watched court proceedings that have occurred ahead of the trial itself.
His words were equally illuminating to the production of the "Jeffery" series.
Exclusive extras: Brian Steel interview
As part of the four-part Young Thug documentary series, "Jeffery," 11Alive's Neima Abdulahi sat down exclusively with Brian Steel, the lead attorney representing Young Thug in the RICO case.
Steel, a longtime attorney with deep experience in high-profile cases, will be one of the central players in the trial when it begins in January as he mounts a defense for Jeffery Williams.