Rapper 21 Savage, who has long said he is from the US state of Georgia, was detained on Sunday by US immigration officers who say he is actually British and overstayed his visa.
The news sent shockwaves through social media, as the Grammy-nominated 26-year-old rapper — whose real name is Sha Yaa Bin Abraham Joseph — says he is a local act from Atlanta, the capital of hip-hop.
“We are working diligently to get Mr. Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with the authorities to clear up any misunderstandings,” the rapper’s lawyer, Dina LaPolt, said in a statement to AFP.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Bryan Cox told the local Atlanta Journal-Constitution outlet that 21 Savage is an “unlawfully present United Kingdom national” who entered the United States in 2005 on a visa that expired one year later.
The US agency also told the paper he had been arrested and later convicted for felony drug charges in 2014 — but at the time, ICE was unaware that he was in fact British.
According to the paper, 21 Savage was arrested in a “targeted operation.”
Another lawyer for the rapper, Charles Kuck, confirmed that the he had overstayed his visa as a child, but vowed he would fight for his right to remain in the United States.
“As a minor, his family overstayed their work visas, and he, like almost two million other children, was left without legal status through no fault of his own,” Kuck said.
“The continued detention of Mr. Abraham-Joseph serves no other purpose than to unnecessarily punish him and try to intimidate him into giving up his right to fight to remain in the United States.”
Kuck said his client has a pending application for a US visa for victims of crimes who have faced mental or physical abuse in the United States.
“Mr Abraham-Joseph has never hid his immigration status from the US government,” Kuck said.
The artist, known for his conversational rap delivery and no-nonsense sincerity, released his debut studio album in 2017.
His lyrics touch on everything from drugs and violence to systemic racism and police brutality.
His sophomore album, “I Am > I Was” debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 in December 2018, holding the number one spot for two consecutive weeks.
The rapper is up next week for two Grammys for his work on fellow rapper Post Malone’s smash hit “Rockstar,” including for the major Record of the Year award.
He encountered controversy in December over lyrics referring to “Jewish money” in his song “Asmr.” NBA superstar LeBron James came under fire for posting a video of himself singing the words to the song.
The lyrics said: “”We been gettin’ that Jewish money, everything is Kosher (On God) Bought myself a ‘Ventador and bought my bitch a Roadster (Straight up) Drive my Lambo to the store, I’ma wave with my doors.”
Abraham-Joseph later apologized, tweeting, “The Jewish people I know are very wise with there [sic] money so that’s why I said we been gettin’ Jewish money I never thought anyone would take offense.”
James too, apologized, saying he had not intended to hurt anyone.