The RICO charge–a rapper’s most nightmare. Meek and Drake even warned the rap world in 2015 with their hit song R.I.C.O, not to play with those RICO cases.
It seems recently, more and more rappers are being hit with RICO charges.
On Monday, May 9, Atlanta rapper Young Thug, born Jeffrey Lamar Williams, was arrested and charged with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, citing his participation in street gang activity. Williams and 28 members of his YSL team were named in the indictment, including popular Atlanta rapper Gunna.
I know you may be asking yourself, how can so many people be arrested for the same offenses in one big arrest party? (It’s seriously a valid question.) To understand RICO charges better, lets’ take a look at what they actually mean and how they transformed from a law to stop mobsters, into one that puts rappers behind bars.
RICO, which stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, is US federal law that was primarily used in the 70s to prosecute mafia and mob bosses. The law prohibits individuals or organizations (known as “racketeers”) from conducting organized criminal acts (known as a “racket”) as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. The charges come with a wide variety of criminal offenses, ranging from kidnapping and murder to more white-collar crimes like bank fraud and money laundering. Where it gets interesting is the law allows federal authorities to charge individuals or groups of individuals, even if they didn’t commit the racketeering acts themselves. And the penalties are even scary just writing about them. If convicted, each count could get you up to 20 years to life in prison, depending on how serious the charge is. Remember, that’s for each charge.
Twitter user @Sega__JEANAsis breaks it down beautifully:
“Let’s say there are 10 people in a gang. Three people commit arson to collect insurance money for the gang. Three other people do a murder for hire for the gang. Two people do a carjacking. And two people use the carjacked car to commit a robbery of a 7-11.”
“The feds can now charge all 10 people with arson, murder, carjacking, and Hobbs Act Robbery, regardless who which of the 10 people actually did which act. Because with RICO the thought is—everyone benefited from the acts of others, therefore everyone is charged with everything.”
So how did this mess work its way into Hip Hop? Gang culture.
Hip-Hop and gang culture are like the two brothers of the family that everybody loves, but one makes you proud and the other is reckless and confusing–but they’re inseparable. Gangs are just as much a part of the culture as dance and art are, and as much as you might not like it, it’s true all the same.
Most of our favorite rappers rep some gang or another, and some believe it’s even a right of passage. Many openly flaunt their affiliations and their music is often laced with gang-related wordplay and or activities. Many rappers come from worlds where gangs are the only thing they know, so it makes sense for it to be in the music. But rapping about ‘the life’ has left nothing but space and opportunity for the Feds to scream RICO!
In Dec 2014, rapper Bobby Shmurda and 13 GS9 members were arrested and charged with conspiracy to violate the RICO Act. The crew faced 101 charges, including narcotics sales, murder, assault, and weapons possession. In 2016, Shmurda and four other co-defendants took plea deals and were sentenced to seven years in prison. Shmurda was released from prison in Feb 2021.
In 2019, Tekashi69 was arrested and charged in a RICO case for his affiliation with gang associates in the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 69 famously ‘snitched’ on other members of the group and was only sentenced to two years in prison.
In May 2021, rapper YFN Lucci and eleven other associates were also charged in a RICO case. According to the AP, charges include racketeering, aggravated assault, murder, gun, armed robbery, property damage, theft, and other gang-related charges.
What’s interesting is YFN Lucci had a long-standing beef with fellow Atlanta rapper Young Thug, who was indicted on very similar charges almost one year to the day Lucci was charged.
The sad thing about any of the RICO cases charging these so-called ‘rap gangs’ is that not everyone involved is a criminal. Some of these young kids are looking for a way out and being affiliated with the hottest rapper from your neighborhood is just that, a way out. But it does give a real-life perspective to the old saying ‘wrong place, wrong time.’ Do we need to destroy possible innocent lives for the actions of others? RICO cases are complicated, and there is no answer I can give to say if they are right or wrong. But, it does seem like they’ve more frequently been targeted at young Black males in the hip-hop space. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but I doubt it.