The arrest of Young Thug, Gunna, and other YSL associates in last May’s RICO (short for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) indictment elicited a unified response from within the rap world. Fans and other musicians resoundingly proclaimed “Free Gunna.” But after his release in December, following an Alford plea deal that gave him time served and a five-year suspended sentence, few people in the rap world celebrated. Since footage of the Georgia plea hearing leaked, and the world saw him affirm Fulton County prosecutors’ assertion that YSL is a gang and “YSL must end,” he’s been demeaned as a “snitch.”
YSL members, as well as rappers Polo G, Meek Mill, and Lil Baby, a close collaborator who Gunna taught how to rap, have unfollowed him on Instagram. Fans believe Lil Durk threw a sly diss at Gunna “telling” in a recent song snippet. Gunna’s first Instagram post of 2023 was derided by those who called him out for putting “YSL the label” in his caption after his Alford plea statement declared YSL a gang. Rap fans, few of whom have any proximity to the criminal lifestyle that fascinates them, have relentlessly ridiculed him as “a rat.”
To be clear, Gunna stated that he has no plans to testify against YSL codefendants. His Alford plea solely applies to his case, and a close source has confirmed that he won’t be testifying during the trial — which is the only way the plea statement could hurt any YSL codefendants. But in a music world rife with abusers, homophobes, antisemites, and “anti-’cancel culture’” apologists for all these things, cooperating in any fashion is the third rail that excommunicates someone from the scene.
As damning comments go, his statement isn’t in the same stratosphere as someone taking the stand in court, doing a press conference announcing that someone had them shot, or stating someone is trying to kill them in an interview or song — which has all happened in hip-hop history — but nuance doesn’t seem to matter.
What’s happening to Gunna is a disheartening glimpse of an artist being squeezed between the sides of the criminal-justice system and the rap world, neither of which is as humane as it feigns to be. His fame made him a newsworthy target for Fulton County DA Fani Willis, who entangled him on a racketeering charge heavily predicated on his lyrics and appearance in the “Fox 5” music video. He became the living embodiment of “rap on trial.” And to get out of that predicament, he made a deal that ostracized him from the community that once embraced him. Through no fault of his own, he was displaced from rap stardom and tossed into a figurative space with life-altering consequences behind every door. Instead of being met with empathy by his peers, many of whom are an avaricious DA away from the same fate, he’s being left out in the cold.
The rap world has long been unabashed in its disdain for snitches. Social media has stripped the terms “snitching” and “ratting” of their original meaning. Still, as rapper Mysonne notes, a snitch was initially defined as someone involved in a scheme with other people who then exposes their partners to a higher authority to evade the consequences of their actions in the plot. Anyone from the streets to the schoolyard can understand the disdain for that figure. But that definition doesn’t apply to Gunna, a genre-bending crooner whose catalog fixates on love songs and odes to high fashion. He’s never said that he came up doing crime or that he “signed up” for the streets. His mentions in the YSL indictment include a traffic stop, rap lyrics, and wearing a YSL chain. So maybe we shouldn’t be holding entertainers to the same standard that Big Meech held BMF members.
It’s documented that artists including Lil Baby, Meek, Durk, and Polo G have lived lifestyles that reflect the grim tone of their music and come from environments where they’ve likely had loved ones incarcerated after being cooperated against by codefendants. It would have been nice to see them stand in solidarity with a peer against the justice system, but one can understand them being triggered by the idea of someone making the statement Gunna did.
What’s most aggravating is that Gunna’s facing the heaviest scorn from fans with no such lived experience. For them, his plight is another episode in the dehumanizing reality show of rap that they live through. Modern rap fandom consists of egging on violent rap beef like sports rivalries and now lambasting artists who’ve had their cooperation exposed — even though the odds are that the average suburbanite from Nebraska would do the same thing when faced with prison time. Anti-Blackness, capitalism, and the zest for social media pile-ons have merged to make rap fans too comfortable with discarding the people who soundtrack our lives. There’s so much rapidly released music that it’s easy, if not fun, for people to scrap someone they once respected. But hopefully, no one who’s currently having fun at Gunna’s expense ever faces his predicament.
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At this point, it doesn’t seem like much could happen to sway the public’s perception that Gunna is a turncoat — even if his plea statements won’t be used against YSL codefendants. As Jay-Z rhymed in “A Week Ago,” “the labeling of a snitch is a lifetime scar/You’ll always be in jail, nigga, just minus the bars.” What’s sad is that Gunna was mainly in jail because of his bars. The justice system’s war on rap is in full swing, with prosecutors avidly throwing lyrics, music videos, and social media posturing into their indictments to portray defendants as criminals. And now, Gunna’s treatment shows prosecutors like Willis that even if they don’t score a lengthy conviction, they can ruin an entertainer’s career in the court of public opinion. They don’t deserve that satisfaction. The criminal-justice system is intent on disposing of Black life; we can’t help them do it.
The systems that manifested a culture of Black death and dehumanization have created conditions where we’re expected to embrace martyrdom. If Gunna had refused a plea and been sentenced to prison, he’d live as a hero in the minds of his peers, but he’d be wasting his actual life. Instead, because he pushed back against his unjust incarceration and agreed to a harmless formality of the legal system, he’s become persona non grata. Any lifestyle with such a tiny sliver between adoration and condemnation isn’t worth living. Instead of scrutinizing the permutations of snitching, our outrage would be better served against the forces that push poor people toward the streets and its backward rulebook.