In addition to appearing on Good Morning America, 21 Savage sat down with The New York Times shortly after his release on bond from ICE custody. In a much more candid and reflective conversation than the one he had on TV, 21 speaks with Jon Caramanica about moving from London to Atlanta as a kid, growing up in the U.S. without a VISA, and the nightmare of facing deportation from the country he’s called home for the last 20 years.
21 also discusses the Grammys, where he felt his presence was still very much felt despite the lack of recognition by the Recording Academy and the majority of his peers, and the onslaught of memes that flooded social media following the news of his arrest (and previously-unknown British origin). “Some of them was funny,” he admitted, before adding, “I look at bullet scars every day, so it’s like, a meme, bro?”
Check out more quotes below and click here to read the full interview.
On moving from London at Atlanta:
Everything was like, bigger. I come from the poor side of London. My grandma house is real skinny. So when we first moved here, we was living in the hood still, but it was, like, way bigger. The toilet size, the bathroom size, it was just different. But I fell in love with it. It’s all I know.
Yeah, I had a [British] accent, ’cause my first day of school they was making fun of me so I beat somebody up, and they was calling me “taekwondo kid.” My mama whupped me, she made me stay in the house. So I know I had a accent, but I been here 20 years — I don’t know what happened to it.
On growing up without a VISA:
I couldn’t never take driver’s ed, I couldn’t never go get a job… We struggled but we couldn’t get food stamps, we couldn’t get government assistance. I learned how to live without.
On facing deportation:
It’s like my worst nightmare. That’s why it’s always been trying to get corrected. Even if you got money, it ain’t easy… It’s like, I got three kids, my mama, everything that I know is here in Atlanta. I’m not leaving Atlanta without a fight. We gon’ fight all the way till the last day even if that mean I sit in jail for 10 years.
On his experience in ICE detention:
I could have made myself go crazy. I think they really try to break you. It’s like we gonna put you in jail and we gonna make you fight your case the slowest you can fight it so that you just want to go home.
On the Grammys:
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.
Yeah I was supposed to perform [with Post Malone]. 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.
On the memes:
Some of them was funny — I ain’t gonna lie. I was appreciative of that. I coulda been another person who just, “He locked up? Damn,” and nobody said nothing. Some people, I see why they was mad. It ain’t about the meme, it’s about the bigger picture. But I done been through way worse things in my life than somebody putting me on a meme. I been shot — what is a meme? A meme is nothing. That’s something on the internet that I can do like this [turns over phone] and never see again. I look at bullet scars every day, so it’s like, a meme, bro?
On his responsibility to speak up:
Yeah, I feel a responsibility. My situation is important ’cause I represent poor black Americans and I represent poor immigrant Americans. You gotta think about all the millions of people that ain’t 21 Savage that’s in 21 Savage shoes.