The Grammy-nominated, Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage has been arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officials who said he was in the country illegally.
Authorities said the musician was a British national who had entered the US legally in 2005 but failed to leave under the terms of a non-immigrant visa, which expired in July 2006.
The rapper, whose given name is Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was placed in removal proceedings.
Ice said Abraham-Joseph was arrested as part of a “targeted operation with federal and local law enforcement partners”. Bryan Cox, Ice’s southern regional spokesman, confirmed the arrest to the local Atlanta station WSB TV. “Mr Abraham-Joseph was taken into Ice custody as he is unlawfully present in the US and also a convicted felon,” Cox said.
An Ice statement said Abraham-Joseph was convicted on felony drug charges in Fulton county, Georgia, in October 2014. He performed in Atlanta as recently as Thursday, as part of the Super Bowl Music Fest at the State Farm Arena.
Ice said it would “await the outcome of his case before a federal immigration judge to determine future actions”. When asked about the case, the British Foreign Office responded: “Our staff are in contact with the lawyer of a British man following his detention in the USA.”
Mail Online has published a birth certificate they claim is Abraham-Joseph’s, for “Sheyaa bin Abraham”, born 22 October 1992 in Newham hospital in Plaistow, east London.
An attorney for Abraham-Joseph, Dina LaPolt, told the website TMZ that lawyers were “working diligently to get Mr Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with authorities to clear up any misunderstanding”.
She said: “Mr Abraham-Joseph is a role model to the young people in the country, especially in Atlanta, and is actively working in the community leading programs to help underprivileged youths in financial literacy.”
21 Savage has been nominated for two awards at the 2019 Grammys, including record of the year for Rockstar with Post Malone – the track reached No 1 in the US and UK singles charts. In December his second album, I Am > I Was, debuted at No 1 on the US Billboard 200.
On Friday he released a video for the album’s lead track, a lot, which mentions border family separation and features J Cole. 21 Savage has also recorded with other US rap stars including Cardi B, Drake and Travis Scott.
Ice did not immediately return a request for comment, though an Ice spokesperson told CNN that Abraham-Joseph’s “whole public persona was false”.
The rapper, who helped bring the monotone “mumble rap” style to prominence, has a notorious backstory: losing a brother and a friend to gun violence, he claims he spent time in a juvenile detention centre after being expelled from schools due to gun ownership. “I got caught with a deuce 5 … and they kicked my ass outta school,” he said in 2015.
He frequently describes his life in Atlanta in his tracks, including boasts of criminal behaviour: “I shot a lot of niggas with this East Atlanta ‘K / I robbed a lot of niggas in North Atlanta for their yay.” But he has also written socially conscious lyrics, protesting against police brutality and social mobility: “Treat us like slaves then they lock us up in cages / Young, black, poor, ain’t had a father since a baby / Why you think we skip school and hang out on the pavement?” he raps on Nothing New.
Abraham-Joseph said in 2017, discussing the trap style of rap music: “Trap is some Atlanta shit … Me, Thug, Future, Migos, 2 Chainz. You gotta be from Atlanta.”
In March 2018, he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show to announce an initiative to help young people open back accounts and invest money.
Fans have reacted with surprise to the news of his potential deportation – and an inevitable torrent of memes. Offset, of the chart-topping rap trio Migos, wrote on Twitter: “All the memes and shit ain’t funny when somebody going through some … successful black man they always try some way to bring us down.”
The pop singer Demi Lovato became embroiled in arguments online after saying”: “so far 21 savage memes have been my favorite part of the Super Bowl”. She has since deleted her Twitter account.