The presence of 21 Savage may have been absent from the 61st Grammy Awards, save for the sole shoutout by Swedish producer Ludwig Göransson, but it was felt on primetime television on last night’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Metro Boomin, a longtime collaborator with the rapper who’s currently being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Gunna performed “Space Cadet,” from the producer’s October album Not All Heroes Wear Capes. Metro, wearing a jacket with “FREE 21 SAVAGE” painted on the back, drew attention to the rapper’s plight on a national level. Take a look at the performance below.
A “space cadet” is, by definition, a trainee astronaut. So for the live performance of the record of the same name, it features, well, astronauts. There’s a merry band of violinists wearing space helmets like stunt doubles for Daft Punk. Leading the sound is Metro, who plays the part of the band director, similarly clad in white, sans the helmet. Because of his jacket’s “FREE 21 Savage” message, Metro Boomin remains with his back facing the audience, drilling the words into the brains of viewers over the course of the three-minute performance. Gunna, inexplicably wearing ski glasses, performs the song’s vocals, taking great care to give Metro Boomin his camera time. The message is immediately clear; Gunna’s live recital of the lyrics is cool, but it’s the powerful message on the producer’s back that deserves the brunt of the screen time.
In January, 21 Savage gave an intimate performance of “A Lot” on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and added new, politically-charged lyrics at the end. “Been through some things, but I can’t imagine my kids stuck at the border/Flint still needs water/People was innocent, couldn’t get lawyers,” he rapped. Five days after the performance, he was detained by ICE for being in the United States illegally. The rapper’s team later revealed that he was originally born in the United Kingdom and applied for a U Visa in 2017.