(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A LOT")
21 SAVAGE: (Rapping) How much money you got - a lot. How many problems you got - a lot. How many people done doubted you - a lot - left you out to rot - a lot.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The Atlanta rapper known as 21 Savage rose to fame making music about life in his city - the ever-present drug scene, the shootings that took the lives of his brother and best friend and nearly killed him. So it shocked a lot of people to learn that on Sunday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement had arrested the Grammy-nominated artist. He's now facing deportation because ICE says he is British. They say his parents brought him to the U.S. when he was 12. And they overstayed their visas. Jewel Wicker covers music and culture in Atlanta. And I asked her about the reaction in the music world.
JEWEL WICKER, BYLINE: Once the initial shock wore off, people were pretty quick to rally around Savage. You know, local rappers like T.I. and Killer Mike have issued statements in support of him and promoted the petition that is going around Black Lives Matter. So is Cardi B, Offset. So he's gotten a lot of support in the rap community.
KELLY: What's his reputation in Atlanta? I mean, just talk to me a little bit about - we mentioned his music is all about the city. What's his reputation there?
21 SAVAGE: Yeah. You know, there's been a lot of talk about the lyrical content of his music. But he has a great reputation here in Atlanta. Just last year, he threw a back-to-school drive for kids in East Atlanta, where he reportedly grew up. Representative Hank Johnson was there. And he, actually, submitted a character letter to ICE. Representative Erica Thomas also released a statement, saying that she hopes he can gain citizenship as well. So he's really respected here in the community for being a example to kids of how to change your circumstances and be successful.
KELLY: And that's interesting, that local politicians are racing to defend him as character witnesses.
WICKER: Yeah. I mean, I think it speaks to how hard he and his team have been working. I've covered them for several years now. They've been working really hard to try to reform his image. And I think the fact that the politicians are rallying behind him, especially this quickly, speaks to that.
KELLY: And I should mention there's another situation, which may or may not be in play here, which is that he was arrested in 2014 on felony drug charges.
WICKER: Yeah. So he was arrested and pled guilty to felony drug charges in 2014. His defense lawyer...
KELLY: And his immigration status didn't come out then.
WICKER: No. So the WSB reporter here in Atlanta who has been working on it says that he reportedly told officials that he was from Atlanta at that time. So it wasn't flagged.
KELLY: Now, let me turn you to what Savage's lawyers say. They say he was unfairly arrested. They're not denying that he was here on a way-expired visa.
WICKER: No. What they're denying is the fact that he has a felony record. And that's based on the fact that his record was expunged from that felony drug charges, although Atlanta immigration experts say that expunged records still - they're still counted as convictions when we talk about immigration law.
KELLY: So a complicated legal situation he's dealing with - is it true that he is in a situation similar to a lot of young people, the people known as DREAMers, who were brought to the U.S. when they were minors and have sought relief under DACA? Did he ever apply for that? Do we know?
WICKER: I don't know if he's applied for relief under DACA. The only thing that his lawyers have said is that he applied for a U visa, which is for crime victims who cooperate with law enforcement. That visa is pending.
KELLY: Well - and I wonder where this goes next. He's been nominated for two Grammys. The Grammys ceremony is this coming Sunday. Do we know how likely it is that he might be there?
WICKER: Well, his bond has been denied right now. So it's not likely that he's going to be out right now, unless something changes with that bond status.
KELLY: Is it likely that he would be deported?
WICKER: Well - so I've been working with the immigration expert Keith Harris (ph) for this reporting. And he says that he could face at least a 10-year ban or be banned for life. A lot of it comes down to that felony conviction.
KELLY: A lot of moving parts there - that's Jewel Wicker. She's a freelance writer, talking with us from member station WABE in Atlanta about the arrest this past Sunday of the rapper 21 Savage. Jewel Wicker, thank you.
WICKER: Thank you so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A LOT")
21 SAVAGE: (Rapping) How many pray that you flop - a lot. How many lawyers you got - a lot. How many times you got shot - a lot. How many [expletive] you shot - a lot. How many times did you ride - a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.