The Atlantic

21 Savage and the False Promise of Black Citizenship

The callous response to the rapper’s detainment by ICE shows how easily the rhetoric of law-enforcement agencies can influence public opinion.
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In an interview for a 2016 Fader cover story, the rapper 21 Savage offered a rare glimpse into one of his most deeply held inspirations. The artist born She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, who gained notoriety for his deadpan delivery of eerie tales said to be culled from his experiences with poverty and gang life in Atlanta, spoke about his longtime practice of Ifa. The West African religion is common in many Caribbean countries and Afro-diasporic communities in the United States, and he’d briefly referenced its role in his life earlier that year, during an interview with The Breakfast Club, the syndicated radio show. But here the rapper described a holistic reason Ifa appealed to him: “I’m African American. I’d rather follow an African religion,” he told The Fader before describing its tenets. “That’s my heritage.”

Though casual listeners know the rapper primarily for his raps about worldly excesses—illicit drugs, emotionless sex, and riches of dubious provenance—21 Savage has also long exhibited an investment in the cultural products and historical legacies of black people around the world. Ifa, for example, is a Yoruba spiritual tradition; the practice finds its roots in what is

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