America: Yes to Bieber, No to Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph?

On Sunday, 21 Savage, aka Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph,  was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The claim is that the rapper is a citizen of the United Kingdom and has overstayed his visa. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 21 Savage was taken into custody in a “targeted operation.”

“We are working diligently to get Mr. Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with authorities to clear up any misunderstandings,” said 21 Savage’s lawyer, Dina LaPolt, according to AJC. “Mr. Abraham-Joseph is a role model to the young people in this country, especially in Atlanta, Georgia, and is actively working in the community leading programs to help underprivileged youths in financial literacy.”

“We are working diligently to get Mr. Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with authorities to clear up any misunderstandings,” said 21 Savage’s lawyer, Dina LaPolt, according to AJC. “Mr. Abraham-Joseph is a role model to the young people in this country, especially in Atlanta, Georgia, and is actively working in the community leading programs to help underprivileged youths in financial literacy.”

Another lawyer, Charles H. Kuck called the arrest “a civil rights violation.” He went on to tell WSB-TV, that 21 Savage was arrested “based upon incorrect information about prior criminal charges and now refusing to release him on bond of any amount, despite the fact that he has a pending U-Visa application.”

21 Savage, who was wildly thought to be a U.S. citizen and a native son of Atlanta, in retrospect, has had a well-crafted narrative. He was presumed to be an artist who was heading down a wrong path. Savage was allegedly shot six times by a rival gang on his 21st birthday. The shootout led to the death of his friend. He was convicted of felony drug charges in October 2014. Despite all that adversity he was able to turn it around, thanks to his deceased friend’s uncle who gave him money for studio time. By 2017, his debut studio album, Issa Album, debuted at number two on the US Billboard 200. A real Horatio Alger meets the American dream story.

An ICE Spokesman told CNN that 21 Savages’s “whole public persona is false. He came to the U.S. from the U.K. as a teen and overstayed his visa.”

Amos Barshad’s cover story for for Fader, “Savage Story,” goes into details on the story 21 Savage may have manufactured. In the piece, Barshad wrote, “Growing up, Savage bounced around a lot of “beat-up ass apartments” in Atlanta. With him were his four brothers, six sisters, his mother’s boyfriend, and his mom, Heather, who is of Dominica descent. Those days were rife with drama, Savage recalls, but there was certain familial solidarity to rely on.”

Over the Summer 21 Savage told Billboard, “Giving back to where I grew up means a lot to me. These kids need it, and I use to be one of those kids…Being able to see someone from where u from make it and come back and genuine give back will motivate these kids to do the same for their kids and the community.”

There is no evidence that 21 Savage ever claimed to be an American. However, there are many instances like in his Fader interview and his appearance of the Ellen DeGeneres Show that he claimed to have grown up in Atlanta. That isn’t entirely untrue. According to Wikipedia 21 Savage is 26-years old. ICE claims he came to America on a visa in 2005, at age 13 or 14. So if true, he can rightfully claim he “grew up” in Atlanta.

But, who is 21 Savage? And does it matter? Does authenticity matter? In Hip Hop authenticity has always been vital. But when faced against ICE will that change? Will the Hip Hop community back 21 Savage or will back away with their trust violated?

And then there is the question that does deserve to be asked due to the current political climate: Did 21 Savage’s birth name, Sha Yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph play a role in his detention?

In 2014, CNN ran the headline: “Is Justin Bieber getting special treatment?” Bieber, who has living in the United States illegally and had some run-ins with the law, appeared to get special treatment. This led to an SNL skit where Obama played by Jay Pharaoh and Bieber played by Kate McKinnon make out. The point was that Obama deported more people that any other President, but Bieber because he was famous (and white) got special treatment.

We have a new administration with new laws. Including an arguably unconstitutional ban on Muslims and a false narrative around Mexican and Latin American immigrants. We have also seen a retreat from the rest of the world, including the European Union that still includes the United Kingdom. Therefore, we must ask, does 21 Savages birth name and the color of skin put him at a disadvantage? What do you think?