Rites of Spring Controversies, Explained


Jamie Jacobson

Lindsay Williams contributed to the writing of this article.

This story is developing. It will be updated as events unfold.

As one of the most anticipated events of the year, Rites of Spring and pre-concert celebrations mark both the end of another school year and a yearning for summer break. Behind this excitement, however, are controversies surrounding 21 Savage and Soulja Boy, two of this year’s scheduled performers. Both 21 Savage and Soulja Boy have faced legal trouble in the past few months. Here are these Rites of Spring controversies, explained.

21 Savage Immigration Case, Explained

On February 3rd, U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement in Atlanta, Georgia arrested 21 Savage for residing in the US without a visa. 21 Savage, whose legal name is Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was born in the United Kingdom and lawfully came to the United States with his family when he was seven years old. 21 Savage then lost his legal status in 2006 when his parents failed to renew his visa. In 2017, 21 Savage applied for a U-Visa—a visa program meant specifically for victims of crime—following an incident in which he was shot. 21 Savage’s application for a U-Visa is still pending.

The arrest and ten day detention of 21 Savage thirteen years after his loss of legal status comes on the heels of an immigration and customs crackdown in Georgia. Between 2016 and 2017, the Atlanta metro area saw a 117.5% increase in deportations, reflecting Georgia’s implementation of some of the strictest immigration enforcement policies in the country.

Moreover, the rapper’s arrest and detention took place just days after he performed his song “A Lot” on The Tonight Show. In the song, 21 Savage states “been through some things but I can’t imagine my kids stuck at the border/ Flint still need water/ people was innocent, couldn’t get lawyers.” Lawyers representing 21 Savage have since suggested that the rapper’s criticism of immigration enforcement contributed to his arrest.  

Two weeks after the release of 21 Savage from the Irwin County Detention Center—a for-profit detention facility consistently accused of human rights abuses—Vanderbilt Programming Board Music Group announced that 21 Savage would headline Rites. 21 Savage’s expedited immigration hearing was originally scheduled to take place this week, leading students to question 21 Savage’s ability to remain in the United States and perform this weekend. The immigration hearing, however, has been postponed until further notice.

VPR has reached out to Vanderbilt Programming Board for comment regarding the organization’s response to 21 Savage’s case and awaits comment.

Soulja Boy Arrest Explained

About one month after the 21 Savage case broke, another “Rites of Spring” performer, Soulja Boy, whose legal name is DeAndre Cortez Way, faced legal troubles as well. Way was arrested on Friday, March 13 for violating his probation, on which he was originally placed for possessing a loaded firearm in public. He was released from custody hours after the March arrest.

As a result of the arrest, his scheduled appearance at Fordham University’s Spring Weekend was cancelled. However, he recently performed at the halftime show of an LA Clippers game.

Way was arrested again on the afternoon of April 11, two days before his scheduled performance at “Rites.” TMZ reports that Way failed to complete his court ordered community service and in turn attempted to falsify records documenting completion of these service hours. He is being held without bail and will remain in custody until April 30.

VPR has reached out to Vanderbilt Programming Board regarding Soulja Boy’s arrest and awaits comment.