After being arrested on Feb. 3 for a visa violation, Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage — whom few people knew was actually a U.K. citizen — spent 10 highly publicized days in ICE detention before being released on Wednesday. The following day, the New York Times sat down with him for an interview in which the rapper talked about his detention, his upbringing and the plight of immigrants in Trump’s America.
While much attention was focused on his missing the Grammy Awards — where he was nominated for two trophies for his performance on Post Malone’s song “Rockstar,” while did not win — that was pretty far from his mind while he was incarcerated. “Nah, I was stressed about getting out,” he said when asked if he was sad he’d missed the show. “The Grammys is the Grammys, but when you in jail, the Grammys is nothing. I got to watch it. By that time they had put a TV in my room.”
He also knew that even though his name was not mentioned during the show, apart from Malone shouting out “21 Savage!” briefly during his performance, he was on the minds of many in the audience. “Yeah I was supposed to perform. He wore the 21 Savage shirt, so I felt like I was there. I don’t care what nobody say — everybody in that building who’s connected to this culture, I was on their mind in some type of way. That’s all that mattered. They didn’t have to say it ’cause everybody knew it. It was in the air. All the people that was there, they said the words in other places and that matter just as much. All the big artists was vocal about the situation, so I was appreciative.”
He said the prospect of being deported weighed heavily on him during his incarceration. “It really wasn’t jail [that was most upsetting], it was the possibility of me not being able to live in this country no more that I’ve been living in my whole life,” he said. “All that just going through your head, like, ‘Damn, I love my house, I ain’t gonna be able to go in my house no more? I ain’t gonna be able to go to my favorite restaurant that I been going to for 20 years straight?’ That’s the most important thing. If you tell me, ‘I’ll give you 20 million to go stay somewhere you ain’t never stayed,’ I’d rather be broke. I’ll sit in jail to fight to live where I’ve been living my whole life.”
But despite the ways that his family struggled living illegally in the States — they didn’t qualify for government assistance or food stamps — he says he wouldn’t trade his upbringing for an easier one, given the chance.
“It made me who I am,” he said. “I wouldn’t write it no other way if I had the choice. If they said, “Hey, you could start your life over and make yourself a citizen,” I wouldn’t have never did it. I still want to go through this right here ’cause it made me who I am, it made me strong.”