The Atlanta rap star Young Thug has had an eventful week.
Yesterday morning, the emcee formerly known as Jeffrey Williams was arrested at a residence in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs after he’d allegedly threatened to shoot a security guard in the face eight days earlier while at nearby Perimeter Mall. Officer Timothy Fecht of the Dunwoody Police Department said the charges stemmed from a July 7 “dispute that Mr. Williams had with Perimeter Mall security.” Thug apparently made the “terrorist threats” after he’d been asked to leave the mall.
Perhaps more disturbing than this mall incident, however, is the news that Young Thug and Cash Money CEO Bryan “Birdman” Williams are believed to have been involved in a RICO conspiracy to kill estranged Cash Money superstar (and part-owner) Lil Wayne back in April. Wayne’s tour bus was shot at after a show in Atlanta in April and WSB-TV reporter Mike Petchanik broke the story that an indictment alleges that Thug and Birdman conspired with a third man, suspect Jimmy Winfrey (aka “PeeWee Roscoe”) to put the hit on Weezy. Winfrey was arrested in connection with the shooting in May.
The indictment, filed in Cobb County, Georgia, in June, claims that all four parties allegedly involved—Lil Wayne, Young Thug, Birdman, and Winfrey—are members of the Bloods gang, and that Lil Wayne and Birdman “had a business dispute concerning Lil Wayne’s contract with Cash Money Records” leading to Wayne’s upcoming album Tha Carter V being held from release. Young Thug reportedly “sided with Birdman” in the dispute. Further, the indictment claims that “Young Thug made a threat against Lil Wayne and tour bus shooting suspect Jimmy Winfrey carried out the threat,” according to WSB-TV.
Winfrey, aka PeeWee Roscoe, is affiliated with Birdman’s rap collective Rich Gang—a group formed by Cash Money Records in 2013. And the indictment claims Winfrey was driving the white Chevy Camaro that fired shots at Wayne on April 26 after a police escort stopped following Wayne’s tour buses.
“After Atlanta Police discontinued their escort, [Winfrey] and fellow Blood Gang members entered Interstate 285 from Atlanta Road in Cobb County in pursuit of the buses occupied by [Lil Wayne’s] group,” the indictment says. “[That’s when] the white sports car pulled beside the buses, shots were then fired into the buses from the sports car with a .40 caliber handgun and a 9mm handgun.”
The indictment further claims that Winfrey posted a photo of the aforementioned Camaro—which was later found at the home of a relative—on his Instagram account before attempting to delete the image post-shooting. No charges have been filed against either of the hip-hop stars, and Winfrey will be arraigned on Friday.
This new controversy paints the entire ugly situation at Cash Money Records in a much darker light.
Wayne blasted his label and mentor back in December and has been beefing with Cash Money ever since. The label, which Wayne’s been associated with since the age of 9 and helped build, is also the home to bestselling acts Drake and Nicki Minaj, whose careers were fostered by Wayne. But up until now, there weren’t any indicators that this thing could get extreme or violent. An Instagram video of Birdman supposedly throwing vodka at Wayne during the latter’s show at Club LIV in Miami is the closest it had come to any sort of physical altercation.
And how far would Young Thug be willing to go to prove his “loyalty” to a guy who has shown himself to be anything but loyal to his biggest star? Wayne has been a Cash Money artist since before he was in junior high school. If Birdman was willing to have him killed over a money dispute then Thug would have to be a moron to get involved in a plot that would jeopardize his career and his freedom and possibly his own life if things got out of control. Is Thug’s affiliation with Birdman—especially considering he’s not an official Cash Money artist—so all-encompassing that he’d be willing to jeopardize everything over a beef that he has no direct involvement in?
Young Thug’s emergence last year brought with it lots of scrutiny and speculation. His close connection with Birdman coinciding with Wayne’s rising animosity toward Cash Money led to fans wondering whether or not Birdman was using him to goad Wayne; his penchant for somewhat androgynous fashions and calling his male friends “bae” and “lover” in the notoriously macho world of mainstream hip-hop led to rumors regarding his sexuality. He and his fiancée have both addressed those rumors publicly, with his fiancée Jerrika Karlae stating to VladTV in May, “He's not gay. There's nothing gay about him. On his everyday life and living there’s nothing gay about Thug.”
Those two disparate factors converged in April when Wayne fired a diss at Young Thug while performing in Mississippi (“I want ya’ll to do me a favor and quit listening to songs of niggas that pose naked on they motherfuckin’ album cover”) that subtly jabbed at the younger rapper’s flamboyant image. And those sentiments were echoed a month later by Wayne’s buddy (and hip-hop uber-antagonist) Game. The Compton rapper also dissed Thug while performing, this time in Weezy’s hometown of New Orleans. “Anybody fuckin’ with Tune [Wayne] is fuckin’ with me,” Game yelled at that show. “I will fuck Young Thug up!”
Game and Young Thug spent the next few days trading threats via social media, with Young Thug going so far as to shoot an Instagram video threatening to harm Game—with an associate sitting behind him in the video brandishing a machine gun. After the jokes and the disses, Young Thug seems like a rapper with something to prove.
Self-destructive rap stars are about as cliché as money-grubbing evangelists, and hip-hop’s history has no shortage of bad boys—from Flavor Flav and Ol’ Dirty Bastard to T.I. and DMX. But Thugger’s latest exploits suggest that either the guy is out of control or that he’s desperate to cultivate a gangsta image. It’s impossible for any outsider to know for certain if either is wholly true, but it’s likely that both assumptions hold some validity. He needs to remember what matters most to him—especially as he looks to build a family. And Young Thug needs to recognize that he could be a culture-changing artist if he had the inclination. A 22-year-old rapper who’s comfortable enough in his own skin to play loose and fast with ideas about gender would challenge a lot of the homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and hyper-masculinity that pervades so much of hip-hop—which would be a welcome breath of fresh air for the genre—but Young Thug seems to be too insecure to forgo the chest-thumping antics that demand young black men prove how strong they are by showing how “gangsta” they can be. He’s referred to Wayne as his “idol” even amid the bad blood; it would be disappointing to discover that it was all a ruse as he and his buddy Birdman plotted a heinous act against another successful artist.
Hip-hop is supposed to be past this kind of foolishness. Beyond that, Young Thug needs to take a long, hard look at himself and decide who he wants to be. A rapper with as much going for him shouldn’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone. His future is bright and he doesn’t have to become a hip-hop cliché like the Guccis and the Beanies before him. Just because his name is “Young Thug” doesn’t mean he has to think like one.