Without a doubt, 21 Savage‘s diverse ethnic background has played a major role in shaping both his perspective as an artist and musical style. With Dominican, Haitian, and Saint Vincentian roots, the British-born, Atlanta-raised rapper‘s identity represents a rich blend of Caribbean, African, and European influences. Let‘s explore how 21 Savage‘s fascinating origins have contributed to his success.
A London Start, An Atlanta Upbringing
Sheyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, better known by his rap moniker 21 Savage, was born in 1992 in Newham, London in the United Kingdom. As a child, 21 Savage emigrated to the United States, settling with his family in Decatur, Georgia. He attended schools in the metro Atlanta area throughout his formative years.
21 Savage was just 7 years old when he arrived in Atlanta. He was immersed in the city‘s distinctive hip hop culture at the peak of trap music‘s mainstream popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Atlanta‘s sound – characterized by layered synthesizers, rattling hi-hats, and bass-boosted beats – heavily influenced 21 Savage‘s eventual musical style.
Despite his British birth, 21 Savage considers Atlanta his true hometown. As he told the Los Angeles Times in 2016:
"I‘m from Atlanta – that‘s where I was raised."
But as we‘ll explore later, his UK nationality and immigration status would eventually spark controversy. First, let‘s unravel 21 Savage‘s diverse ethnic roots.
Dominican, Haitian & Saint Vincentian Heritage
21 Savage‘s rich cultural background stems from both sides of his family tree. Through his mother, 21 Savage has Dominican heritage with roots in the Caribbean island nation of Dominica.
His father‘s side comprises Haitian and Saint Vincentian ancestry. Haiti and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are island countries with vibrant blends of African, European, and indigenous influences.
According to Census data, there are over 1 million Dominican Americans, over 950,000 Haitian Americans, and around 120,000 Saint Vincentian Americans currently residing in the United States. 21 Savage‘s career highlights the growing influence of Caribbean diaspora communities on wider American culture.
Population of Largest Caribbean Ethnic Groups in USA
|Saint Vincentian American||120,000|
This singular combination of nationalities courses through 21 Savage‘s music and sets him apart in the hip hop world. When describing his sound in a 2016 interview, 21 Savage highlighted this fusion:
"My mama‘s Dominican, my daddy‘s Haitian – it‘s a vibe, you feel me?"
Beyond just his Caribbean heritage though, 21 Savage‘s identity has been shaped by connections to the Ifá religion, immigration controversies, and more.
Ifá Spirituality & Slaughter Gang Ties
Aside from ethnicity, 21 Savage‘s faith and musical affiliations showcase additional aspects of his multicultural background. He practices Ifá, an African diasporic religion focused on divination and spiritual growth.
Brought by enslaved West Africans to the Americas centuries ago, Ifá remains an integral part of 21 Savage‘s personal belief system. Growing up attending an Ifá temple in Decatur, the religion provided him with a sense of community.
Additionally, Savage is a prominent member of Slaughter Gang – a rap crew and label formed in Atlanta in the early 2010s. Through his ties to Slaughter Gang, 21 Savage strengthened his footing in Atlanta‘s competitive hip hop scene.
Early Inspiration from Atlanta Trap Scene
The sights and sounds of Atlanta‘s bustling hip hop landscape in the 2000s provided the backdrop for 21 Savage‘s development as an artist. He paid close attention to the city‘s distinctive brand of ominous, bass-boosted trap music pioneered by legends like T.I., Jeezy, and Gucci Mane.
In fact, 21 Savage directly credits Gucci Mane as his original source of inspiration during his teenage years in East Atlanta. He even received his iconic dagger face tattoo as a tribute to Gucci Mane.
As 21 Savage described to The Fader magazine:
"Where I‘m from in Atlanta, all we listened to was Gucci. If you ain‘t have no Gucci, you wasn‘t shit."
Through his faith, crew affiliation, and trap music influences, 21 Savage immersed himself in Atlanta‘s culture – despite his foreign birth. But his international roots would eventually spark intense controversy.
The Visa Scandal That Revealed His Nationality
In February 2019, 21 Savage attracted major international news coverage after being arrested and detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE claimed the rapper had overstayed his non-immigrant visa after it expired in July 2006 when he was 13 years old.
This shocking incident unexpectedly exposed 21 Savage‘s birthplace in England along with his tenuous immigration status. Since moving to America as a child, he had not clarified his nationality publicly.
Suddenly, after years of representing Atlanta, 21 Savage was being dubbed British-born by the media. His mugshot even depicted a much younger, clean-shaven 21 Savage – far different from his current image.
The news of 21 Savage‘s detention quickly went viral on social media. Many fans started the hashtag #Free21Savage to show support. However, some critics accused him of lying about his origins to build a career in American hip hop.
Regardless, this bombshell fueled new discussions about immigration and launched 21 Savage‘s youth in London into the spotlight. But it also distracted from his established presence and fame across the American South.
Reactions: Outrage vs. Skepticism
Revelations about 21 Savage‘s background and visa issues elicited polarized reactions from fans, the media, and immigration activists.
Many fans expressed outrage over his arrest, calling it an abuse of power by ICE to target a famous Black immigrant. But some remained skeptical of 21 Savage, questioning if he had fabricated aspects of his identity.
Supporters pointed out that overstaying a visa as a minor should warrant leniency. Critics countered that violating immigration policies – regardless of age – should still carry consequences.
Anti-immigration pundits used 21 Savage‘s high-profile detention to argue for stricter enforcement. But pro-immigration advocates said the case exemplified problems with America‘s harsh visa policies, especially towards Black immigrants.
Verification of His UK Birth
After the shocking news of the rapper‘s arrest, 21 Savage‘s legal team provided more clarity about his youth in London and immigration history.
In April 2019, they released a copy of 21 Savage‘s birth certificate issued in Newham, London. His birth name – Sheyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph – appeared, confirming his British origins.
21 Savage also clarified that he had arrived legally in America at age 7 under an H-4 visa in 2005 along with his family. But the visa expired a year later when he was 13, leaving him unlawfully in the country into adulthood.
This added nuance led supporters to demand ICE consider dropping charges. They argued punishing someone for a decades-old visa violation from their teen years seemed profoundly unjust.
Feature on Drake‘s ‘Her Loss‘ in 2022
While 21 Savage has kept a relatively low profile musically since his 2019 arrest, he recently reemerged through a high-profile collaboration.
In November 2022, 21 Savage appeared on the cover art and multiple tracks of close collaborator Drake‘s new album Her Loss. This immediately sparked excitement and chatter among hip hop fans.
The attention-grabbing feature showed 21 Savage remains an influential fixture in rap‘s mainstream despite his past controversies. It has also generated renewed interest in his impending solo releases.
Commentary on Black American Political Representation
Beyond music, 21 Savage has also used his platform to provide sharp social commentary about issues facing the African-American community.
Ahead of Georgia‘s pivotal Senate runoff elections in 2020, 21 Savage stated his disappointment at the lack of Black male candidates on the ballot. He suggested this deficiency of representation could discourage potential Black male voters from participating.
Statements like these demonstrate 21 Savage‘s willingness to engage thoughtfully with topics like race, justice, and political power beyond just entertainment. It adds another layer of depth to his multifaceted public persona.
In conclusion, 21 Savage stands out as a uniquely versatile hip hop icon thanks largely to the wealth of cultural influences in his background. With Caribbean roots spanning three different nations, African spirituality, and an American upbringing, 21 Savage‘s identity defies stereotypes of both British and Southern rappers.
Controversies over his immigration status cast his nationality into question for a time. But by weaving together all the threads of his heritage into his music, 21 Savage ultimately channels his singular life story into impactful art. Going forward, his fresh worldview and outlier path in hip hop promise even more compelling creativity.