After all he’s been through, 21 Savage isn’t about to give up. The rapper sat down with the New York Times for a revealing interview on Sunday (Feb. 17) in which he defiantly promised that he will not leave his adopted hometown of Atlanta following his recent nine-day detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this month and said he’s not mad at the Grammys for failing to shine a brighter light on his plight during this year’s awards.
British-born Savage (born She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph), was detained by ICE on the morning of Super Bowl LIII and jailed for what the agency said was being an “unlawfully present United Kingdom national” who’d overstayed his original visa. Speaking to the Times in one of his first interviews since the unexpected detention, Savage recalled moving to Atlanta as a child from the “poor side of London” and getting made fun of on the first day of school because of his accent.
Savage, 26, who was released from ICE custody on Feb. 13 on $100,000 bond, said he became aware of his shaky visa status when he turned 16. “I couldn’t never take driver’s ed,” he said, revealing that the situation became “impossible” and he just decided to live without a driver’s license. “I couldn’t never go get a job.” He described his family not being able to get food stamps or government assistance, learning to live without getting new clothes and how his family’s tenuous legal status made him who he is.
“I wouldn’t write it no other way if I had the choice,” he said of his often uncertain life path. “I still want to go through this right here ’cause it made me who I am, it made me strong.” The hardest part of his recent detention was not being behind bars, he said, but the possibility of being deported and not being able to live in his house or go to his favorite restaurant. “If you tell me, ‘I’ll give you 20 million to go stay somewhere you ain’t never stayed,’ I’d rather be broke,” he said. “I’ll sit in jail to fight to live where I’ve been living my whole life.”
The rapper revealed that he was originally supposed to perform alongside Post Malone at the recent Grammy Awards and that he got to watch the ceremony from his jail cell, but was not stressed at all about missing out on the celebration. He appreciated that Post wore a shirt supporting his cause, even if it wasn’t visible during the actual performance, which made Savage feel like he was there in spirit.
“Everybody in that building who’s connected to this culture, I was on their mind in some type of way,” he said about the support he felt that night. “that’s all that mattered.”
The father of three who came to the U.S. when he was seven years-old said everything he knows is in Atlanta and he’s not about to give that up, especially since he feels a responsibility as a high-profile personality to speak up on behalf of “poor black Americans” and “poor immigrant Americans” who don’t have his resources. “I’m not leaving Atlanta without a fight,” he said. “We gon’ fight all the way till the last day even if that means I sit in jail for 10 years.”
One thing he’s not in a hurry to do is turn his recent situation into a song, especially since his arrest came shortly after a performance of the I Am > I Was track “A Lot” on The Tonight Show, which featured a new verse about the Trump administration’s child separation policy. “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,” he rapped. “Flint still need water/ People was innocent, couldn’t get lawyers.”
“I feel like me putting it into music got me in this situation,” he said.