21 Savage Didn’t Face Deportation Until He Became A Positive Influence

21 Savage’s highest charting and best selling single to date boasted about his finances and warned that anyone who tried him for his riches would be shot. 2017’s braggadocious “Bank Account” told a totally different story than the contents of Savage’s late 2018 album,  i am > i was. The latest body of work is a testament to 26-year-old Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph’s growth and evolution. He was backing up his words with actions, including efforts in educating people about financial literacy (inspired by “Bank Account”), and offering local students school supplies. Moreover, rather than just rapping about making money through illicit means, 21 had begun to use his pen to bring light to issues plaguing others.

The first single to the Epic Records-distributed album is “a lot,” featuring J. Cole. Last week, 21 released the video, which included the Dreamville collaborator. On Tuesday (January 29), he also performed the song alone on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (embedded below). Reaching the living rooms and bedrooms of millions upon millions of Americans, the rapper spit, “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.” These substantial bars addressed Flint’s water crisis, the current separation of families under the current administration, and a judicial system in need of repair.

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On Sunday (February 3), 21 was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Atlanta, Georgia. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, while Savage has been closely associated with the city and its music scene, he is actually a citizen of the United Kingdom who entered the United States lawfully in 2005 on a visa that expired in 2006. Since that time, the man born Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph has been in the country illegally.

The timing of these two events is not coincidental in the eyes of some. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted 21 Savage’s politically-minded lyrics hours after his arrest on Sunday. Meanwhile, an Instagram video by Justin Blu unpacks this timeline further.

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“I need y’all to understand the bigger picture of this whole 21 Savage situation. When a Black person is being used as a tool of destruction against their own people, they’re allowed to keep doing what they’re doing. This is one of the reasons that Black gangs are allowed to thrive while progressive Black organizations are quickly dismantled.” Justin illustrates his point. “So you’re tellin’ me nobody realized 21’s visa was expired when he got kicked out of high school for pullin’ a gun on another student? Nobody realized his visa was expired when he got arrested for drug charges as an adult? But he was arrested [less than] a week after going on national television and rapping about immigration, Flint water, and America’s legal system. Now I’m not sayin’ he’s an angel, but the brother started using the system to his advantage to make a positive difference. He stopped buying jewelry and started investing. He started creating programs to teach financial literacy. He started giving thousands of children school supplies. ICE is trying to tear down his image because they don’t want other Black men from the street to see that they can finesse the system in the same way.”

A report at NBC’s Boston affiliate confirms that in 2014, 21 Savage was convicted of drug charges in Fulton County, Georgia. In a 2015 video interview with Hip Hop Revival, the rapper recalled being expelled for bringing a firearm to school.

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Justin Blu also feels as though there are forces at play to tarnish 21’s image, whether he is deported or not. “[ICE wants] to tear down his street credibility to stop him from inspiring other people from similar positions. They’re trying to point out that he’s from the UK, as if the UK doesn’t have slums, as if Black immigrants don’t struggle, as if a person can’t move to a city at the age of 12, grow up there, and then rep that location.”

According to Newsweek, 21 Savage’s lawyer Charles H. Knuck claimed that 21 “never hid his immigration status” and said his client was currently awaiting U-Visa approval after filing for one in 2017.

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#BonusBeat: 21 Savage’s Tonight Show performance of “a lot”: