Look, OK, I know this isn’t the sort of question to ask on a first date. But listen: did you grow up without a father? Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t, but, though there are usually a variety of reasons for them fucking-off – they cheat, they disappear, they “went out for cigarettes and never came back” – the result is usually the same. An emotional void where important things – like learning to shave, for boys; or telling you your douchebag ex-boyfriend is a prick, for girls – are never and probably never will be realised.
The absence of a father figure can be a driving force for success; it can also be really shitty and difficult and confusing, like you’re missing a component that everyone else has in their brain. Who can say what kind of relationship the Grammy-nominated rapper 21 Savage has with his three kids? He posts sparingly about them on social media, and his private life is exactly that: private. What’s both certain and public, though, is that the separation of a father figure from his children will be just one of the many potential repercussions of his recent arrest.
The 26-year-old rapper has been detained by ICE – the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, created in 2003 and a controversial body that protesters are calling for the US government to abolish. Reportedly, 21 Savage didn't leave the US in July 2006, when ICE allege his visa expired. For those who might not be completely aware of the ins-and-outs of every face-tatted American rapper who broke out in the late 2010s, 21 Savage is one of the best. His break-out 2016 single “No Heart” is as bleak as it is vibrant, discussing just how hard he’d been trappin’ and the Louis V he’d procured as a result – from the belt, to the bag; oh, and a 12-car garage too, though presumably the French fashion house didn’t design that one.
“No Heart” appeared on Savage Mode, one of his first EPs. Featuring production from the three Atlanta producers responsible for the sound of modern rap (Metro Boomin, Southside and Zaytoven) as well as a feature from Future – who you assume is in ATL as much as he’s in outer-space – Savage Mode certified 21 Savage as one of the leading members of contemporary southern rap. So, given the countless mixtapes and albums that: a) described the gritty nuances of whippin’ and drippin’ with a riveting, sinister sneer and; b) made him a supremely American pop star, through his insanely popular collaboration with (a literal Miller-lite can made sentient called) Post Malone, it was surprise to find out 21 Savage is in fact British. At least that’s what ICE are saying anyway (the stuff about him being British, not being a versatile, infectious American rapper).
If reports are to be believed, 21 Savage entered the United States from the UK legally, in 2005, aged 12, on a yearly visa. Now, 14 years later, he’s still there but illegally since the visa expired. Right now he’s being detained, awaiting a deportation hearing. And meanwhile, British folk on Twitter are getting their jokes off. You can imagine the stuff: him growing up on tea and crumpets; him speaking in the tone of an impoverished Victorian child, e.g ‘you alright there guv’nor, let’s be ‘avin your phone then good sir’ – dialect that is perceived to be how Brits still speak and also therefore rap; this meme about 21 Savage on BBC and getting us a good deal on Brexit.
There’s something funny about all the above, and god knows, we need some comic relief right now. It’s banter, ayeeeeee. But given the fact that when UK rappers like Giggs are insulted using similarly outdated tropes, and often to the chagrin of many UK rap fans, it does feel ironic that Brits have used similarly blunt and somewhat crude ammo to pop off at the 21 Savage situation. It’s dumb. But hey, get your meaningless Twitter clout in – hope you’ll be able to cash it at Westfield someday. I suppose British people taking this piss out of our own culture makes it more acceptable, but still: nah.
Let’s not forget the important stuff here, like deportation. This stuff rips families apart. Kids are separated from their parents. This is real shit. Literally last week, the Guardian reported that ICE were force-feeding immigrants on hunger strike, at one of the agency's detention centres in Texas. ICE also claim that 21 Savage created a fake identity. There’s some truth to that, but only when you remove the word ‘fake’ and replace it with one that fully encapsulates how it feels to become accustomed to a new culture on the other side of the world.
Listen to 21 Savage’s lyrics and there’s no doubt he lives the life that he speaks. He used to use EBT to get seafood, now he uses Uber Eats when he wants (luxury restaurant) Kiku. He’s smashing it. He’s got several million in the bank. So, at a time when he’s turned his life around (and released arguably one of the finest records of his career in 2018’s Not All Heroes Wear Capes), it’s hard to find anything too funny about this situation. Even worse are the people claiming the rapper as one of Britain’s own, like MF Doom and and Slick Rick (both of whom similarly have fucked up deportation cases, with MF Doom presumably unable to return to the United States). Really, what it comes down to is this: a complete disconnect from the situation, or the realisation that 21 Savage is a person and not your meme.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.