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Rap musician 21 Savage targeted by ICE

From the editors  |  Issue: May | June 2019
21 Savage

21 Savage


On February 1, Atlanta rapper 21 Savage released a video for his hit single “a lot” on YouTube, the most popular platform for new music. It featured new lyrics: “Been through some things/But I couldn’t imagine my kids stuck at the border/Flint still need water/People was innocent/Couldn’t get lawyers.”

Two days later ICE arrested him. As the rapper recalled on Good Morning America, he heard officers on the radio declaring, “We got Savage.”

This was the beginning of 10 days of isolation in Atlanta’s notorious Irwin County Detention Center, before a groundswell of support from rappers and fans led to his release on bond. He missed a performance on the Grammys, and the case isn’t over. He is pending the outcome of an expedited deportation hearing. The hearing was initially scheduled for April 9, but was later postponed indefinitely.

Artists ranging from John Legend to Nicki Minaj, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen, Common and Ricky Martin have spoken out against U.S. border policy, but these musicians are not the voice of a new generation speaking from the streets in the way that 21 Savage is. Their position also doesn’t parallel the Dreamers in the way Savage’s does.

It’s telling that ICE declared, “His whole public persona is false,” in an attempt to undermine his image. Savage quickly responded to lies perpetuated by ICE, such as the idea that he first came to the U.S. at 14. Before his career, he did in fact run the streets of Atlanta with a gang. However, he has used his meteoric rise as a rap star to launch campaigns to stop gun violence and bullying and to help kids in his community find economic stability and afford everyday necessities and school supplies.

And, as it turns out, he doesn’t seem deterred by the government’s action against him. On February 15, two days after his release, he renewed his vow to fight the system. When he appeared on Good Morning America, 21 Savage was asked, “There are a lot of people who don’t get a bond, who you left still back in the detention center, what’s your message to them?”

He answered, “I feel your pain. And I’m going to do everything in my power to try and bring awareness to your pain.”

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