The Grammy Awards on Sunday was chock full of heart-stopping performances and thought-provoking acceptance speeches. But one major issue went largely unacknowledged: rapper 21 Savage’s arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement a week earlier.
Most producers and musicians at the ceremony steered clear of his detainment ― one of the most prominent news stories of the last week. ICE agents arrested the “Bank Account” rapper ― whose given name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph ― on Feb. 3 for overstaying a visa.
ICE said 21 Savage is a British native who legally entered the U.S. in 2005 as a minor and overstayed his visa, which expired in July 2006.
His lawyers argue that he has never hidden his immigration status. If he is deported, he could be barred from returning to the U.S. for 10 years.
As stars sauntered down the red carpet at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, 21 Savage remained locked up at an immigration detention center in Georgia. It should have been a joyous night for the Atlanta-based rapper, who was nominated for two Grammys.
Yet only one person acknowledged the rapper’s plight during the Grammys’ more than three-hour broadcast. Swedish record producer Ludwig Göransson briefly mentioned 21 Savage while accepting the Record of the Year award for Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.”
“We want to thank all of the rappers that are featured on this song,” he said. “21 Savage, you should be here tonight.”
The broadcast quickly cut to rapper Post Malone applauding the mention. He and 21 Savage were nominated for Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance for their hit single “Rockstar.”
Post Malone wore a shirt emblazoned with “21 Savage” under his jacket during his performance with the Red Hot Chili Peppers earlier in the night. But many fans were disappointed that he didn’t address the controversy on stage.
“How is Post Malone going to perform [“Rockstar”] and not even shout out free 21 Savage?” one Twitter user wrote.
About 15 activists with the #Free21Savage Coalition rallied outside the Staples Center before the telecast to protest his detainment, The Los Angeles Times reported.
The demonstration was also intended to raise awareness about struggles facing the roughly 600,000 black undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Though 21 Savage’s situation was barely mentioned during the live broadcast, some artists addressed the issue during red carpet interviews with the Times.
“I think that we all got to just speak up ― it’s not money, it’s not just saying it, you really have to believe in it,” DJ Mustard said. “I think they got to get that man back home because he has kids.”
Dozens of high-profile figures, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Cardi B, have spoken out against his detainment. Rapper Jay-Z hired New York–based attorney Alex Spiro to represent 21 Savage in his case.
“At the end, the attention on the case is important for all the other incarcerated people and that’s important to me,” Spiro told NBC News. “And it’s important to Jay.”