Grammy-nominated Atlanta-based rapper 21 Savage was arrested on Sunday by United States immigration officials, who said he was illegally in the country and a convicted felon.
The rapper, whose real name is Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, came to the US from the United Kingdom in 2005, overstaying his visa to settle in Atlanta, said Bryan Cox, a spokesman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Cox said Abraham-Joseph, whose 21 Savage Facebook page lists several coming concerts, was in custody in Georgia and faced deportation proceedings in federal immigration courts.
He said Abraham-Joseph was convicted on felony drug charges in Georgia in 2014, and was arrested on Sunday as part of a targeted operation with the cooperation of local law enforcement.
“Our staff are in contact with the lawyer of a British man following his detention in the USA,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in statement. British officials only get involved in such cases if the person involved is a British passport holder.
The rapper’s lawyer, Dina LaPolt, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday, but told the entertainment publication Variety that Abraham-Joseph was a “role model” who was working on financial literacy programmes aimed at helping underprivileged youth.
“We are working diligently to get Mr Abraham-Joseph out of detention while we work with authorities to clear up any misunderstanding,” she said, according to Variety.
Cox said he did not know whether Abraham-Joseph, who media reports said is 26, would have been eligible for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA programme, which protects “Dreamers”, young immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children. DACA does not cover people convicted of felonies.
The news sent shockwaves through social media, with a number of top artists and industry insiders backing the young rapper.
“SUCCESSFUL BLACK MAN,” tweeted rapper Offset, one third of the Atlanta trap trio Migos. “THEY ALWAYS TRY SOME WAY TO BRING US DOWN.”
“HIS FAMILY DEPENDING ON HIM,” wrote Offset, referencing 21 Savage’s three children.
“Free 21,” tweeted hip hop artist Meek Mill, who was released from prison last year after his unexpectedly heavy sentence for a parole violation sparked protests over racial bias in US probation laws.
Rappers Lil Yachty and Vince Staples echoed that call, along with Alex Tumay, a mix engineer who regularly works with Atlanta artists.
“Abolish ICE,” Tumay tweeted. “ICE arresting celebrities to divert attention from the fact they just admitted they can’t reconnect kids with their parents.”
The US agency has come under fire in recent months for its aggressive deportation policy.
21 Savage, known for his conversational, subdued rap delivery and no-nonsense demeanour, released his debut studio album in 2017.
His lyrics touch on everything from drugs and violence to systemic racism and police brutality.
His second 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 Sunday for two Grammys for his work on fellow rapper Post Malone’s smash hit “Rockstar,” including for the major Record of the Year award.