It’s been a wild whirlwind of a month for Atlant trap rap star 21 Savage. Flying high on the success of his sophomore album, I Am > I Was, it seemed everything was coming up Shéyaa (Bin Abraham-Joseph, 21’s real name). However, that was before US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rolled up on 21 and his cousin Young Nudy. Suddenly, instead of making headlines for his No. 1 album, Savage was taking up real estate on news feeds across the internet for his citizenship status, which came into question with the revelation of a UK birth certificate and a whole plethora of questions about his true origins.
In the weeks since then, the story has gone through more mutations than an X-Men character, with the narrative seemingly getting upended every day with another new development. It’s enough to make your head spin. Consider this timeline as your guide to all the changes in the narrative so far, from the initial arrest — which may or may not have actually involved ICE agents from the very beginning — to 21’s recent release from ICE detention and subsequent return to Atlanta.
Whatever happens next could have huge implications not just for hip-hop, but also on immigration policy in the US as a whole. After all, Meek Mill’s recent legal struggles only highlighted the plight of thousands of people trapped in the penal system. While he is just one man, his star status brought attention to the ongoing shortcomings of the cash bail and probation systems, galvanizing the hip-hop community to advocate for prison reform. The same could happen with 21 Savage’s case, which may come to represent a beacon for the millions of people living in the US illegally and their unethical treatment by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
While 21 awaits his upcoming deportation hearing to find out the fate of his visa application and his continued residence in the US, catch up on the story so far below.
21 Savage’s Late-Night Debut With Revamped Verses On “A Lot”
This may not seem like the obvious or logical starting point, but this is one of the first times 21 Savage directly addressed the political debate surrounding the ongoing immigration “crisis” at the US/Mexico border. During his late-night debut performance “A Lot” on The Tonight Show, Savage added his own third verse in place of J. Cole’s feature wherein he questioned the US border control policy, rapping, “Started from the bottom straight from the gutter, so I had to go a little harder / The lights was off, the gas was off, so we had to boil up the water / Been through some things, so I can’t imagine my kids stuck at the border / Flint still need water, people was innocent, couldn’t get lawyers.” Some observers have wondered if this was the incident that made ICE take a closer look at Savage’s citizenship, given the fact that they had just cause when he was arrested in 2014 and chose not to have him deported then.
ICE Issues A Statement Confirming 21 Savage’s Arrest
The first indication that rap fans had that anything was awry with the “Bank Account” rapper was this statement issued by ICE detailing his arrest. According to ICE, Savage was arrested “during a targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement partners early Sunday in metro Atlanta,” and alleging that the rapper had lived in the US since 2006 on an expired visa. The statement also makes notes of his felony conviction from 2014, despite the fact that it had been expunged from his criminal record in 2018. Take note; this is the primary argument his defense of unlawful arrest hinges upon. Finally, an ICE representative reportedly told journalists, “His whole public persona is false. He actually came to the US from the UK as a teen and overstayed his visa.” Meanwhile, 21 himself never seems to have hidden his immigrant status; his official biographies have always stated that he moved to the US with his mother, a native of Dominica.