Grammy-nominated Atlanta-based rapper, 21 Savage, a rising figure in American hip hop whose songs often canvas his upbringing and his life of crime, has been arrested by US immigration officials who said he was actually a British national living illegally in the country.
The rapper, whose real name is Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, came to the United States from the UK as a teenager in 2005, overstaying his visa to settle in Atlanta, said Bryan Cox, a spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Mr Cox said Abraham-Joseph, whose album “I Am > I Was” went to number one on the US Billboard 200 chart after its December release, was in custody in Georgia and faced deportation proceedings in federal immigration courts.
On social media, the news has come as a shock to fans, many of whom have long associated Savage with Atlanta — an epicentre of US hip hop — alongside rappers like Migos, Ludacris and T.I.
While some ridiculed the rapper, posting memes about his Britishness, others in the hip hop community offered support.
My sincere hope is to see this young man who has made a way for himself is allowed to stay and continue to prosper and grow his legacy. Sincere prayers for him and his family and team.… https://t.co/WVJF4N9lgL
— Killer Mike (@KillerMike) February 3, 2019
Free 21 savage
— Rolling Loud (@RollingLoud) February 3, 2019
In a 2016 interview, Abraham-Joseph talked about the different neighbourhoods he had grown up in.
“Everybody know me,” he said of Atlanta. “If you don’t, you ain’t from this city.”
He has long referenced his connection to gang life, saying he sold and stole drugs since he was 13 or 14. The “21” in his stage name refers to a neighbourhood gang he has been associated with “my whole life”, he said in one interview.
In a 2016 profile in The Fader, the rapper said he was eight years old when he first saw a gun, though he did not say where he was. Media reports put his age at 26, meaning he would have been 12 or 13 when ICE alleges he arrived in the US.
The rapper’s lawyer, Dina LaPolt, said Abraham-Joseph was a “role model” who was working on financial literacy programs aimed at helping underprivileged youth.
“We are working diligently to get Mr Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with authorities to clear up any misunderstanding,” she said in a statement cited by US media.
Mr Cox said he did not know whether Abraham-Joseph would have been eligible for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, which protects “Dreamers” — young immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children.
However, DACA does not cover people convicted of felonies, and Mr Cox said Abraham-Joseph was convicted on felony drug charges in Georgia in 2014.
Abraham-Joseph’s nominations for the Grammys, which take place next week, are for his guest appearance on the Post Malone hit Rockstar.