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.
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 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.
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. “I knew right away that he’s been targeted for 10 years by the prosecution. This is a wrong prosecution and I will defend him.”
“With the charges that are listed, which are very serious, you’re saying your client is completely innocent?” 11Alive asked Steel.
“Mr. Williams is wrongly charged on every single count,” he said.
WATCH JEFFERY: PART 1 BELOW
Rapper Gunna is also listed on the indictment. One charge for conspiring to violate RICO is keeping him behind bars without bond.
Fani Willis, the District Attorney of Fulton County, is spearheading the prosecution against Jeffery and the co-defendants.
“It does not matter what your notoriety is, what your fame is. If you come to Fulton County, Georgia, and you commit crimes … you are going to become a target,” Willis said in a May 2022 press conference announcing the charges.
The court documents refer to Jeffery’s lyrics and social media posts as evidence.
“Prosecutors and DAs are actually listening,” trap music historian A.R. Shaw said. “They’re watching social media accounts. They’re pretty much tracking these artists nationwide.”
The tale of two Jefferys
What we’re seeing play out ahead of this trial are the two different sides to Jeffery – one portrayed by prosecutors and one detailed by those who knew him.
Jeffery: The mentor
“To me, YSL is family,” said a young artist named Corey Jackson, testifying on Jeffery’s behalf at his bond hearing. “It’s been all love. My YSL stands for Young Successful Lives.”
Jackson, a young rapper from Atlanta, testified detailing the help Jeffery gave him over the years.
“Mr. Williams showed me and took me to where he was from,” Jackson told the judge.
“[Jeffery] said whatever knowledge you have, you have to spread it because this is who you are trying to inspire.”
Jeffery: The alleged gang member
“He is King Slime,” prosecutors described Jeffery in court. “He is the most dangerous of the 28 co-defendants.”
DA Willis is prioritizing a crackdown on gang-related crime in the metro.
“As the District Attorney of Fulton County, my number one focus is targeting gangs,” she told the media while announcing her charges against the rapper.
Jeffery filed motions to be released on bond. A judge denied his requests three times.
“A danger to others and a danger to the community, given what has been offered thus far, I’m going to set him for no bond,” the judge declared.
Jeffery: A family man and partner
“Jeffery Williams is a father. He’s a son,” attorney Brian Steel said.
Steel has legally represented Jeffery over the years. And Kevin Liles represents and advocates for Jeffery on the music front.
“I started a company with Jeffery called ‘Young Stoner Life,’” Liles said at Jeffery’s bond hearing. “He signed to us. I hate to say he signed to us because it’s my partner.”
When questioned about the financial toll of this trial, Liles teared up in his testimony, declaring he would help support Jeffery throughout the case.
“I am willing to back him personally and professionally,” Liles told the court.
Liles and Jeffery built a hip-hop empire, but more importantly a friendship that transcends their passion for music.
“The Jeffery I know would take care of my kids. The Jeffery I know would make sure that my family is taken care of,” Liles told 11Alive. “The Jeffery I know will make sure that his nieces and nephews, and your nieces and nephews, had the opportunity to go to school. The Jeffery I know would fund a local football team and a young entrepreneur trying to take kids off the street. The Jeffery I know would build the business and create multimillionaires.”
“The Jeffery they’re talking about, I just don’t know that Jeffery,” Liles said. “All I could do is say I’m willing to risk everything on the Jeffery that I know.”
Jeffery: The target
Attorney Brian Steel called Jeffery an “easy target.”
“So somebody gets arrested and gets in trouble and they want to deal,” Steel explained. “Law enforcement officers are all too eager to say, well, tell us about Mr. Williams. Is he involved in this? What do you know about him? That’s the problem with this case.”
Who is really on trial?
Kevin Liles told 11Alive there’s a lot on the line when it comes to Jeffery’s time in court next year.
“This is not about YSL. This is not about Gunna or Thug,” Liles said. “This is about freedom of speech. This is about protecting the very things that have come from blood, sweat and tears.”
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