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March 26th, 2011
07:00 AM ET

How Islam shaped one rap artist

Editor’s Note:  CNN’s Soledad O’Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over the construction of a mosque in the heart of the Bible belt. “Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door” airing at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. E.T. April 2 on CNN.

By Sarah Hoye, CNN

Philadelphia (CNN) — It’s noon on a Friday, and the parking lot at Al-Aqsa Islamic Society in North Philadelphia is quickly filling up.

One of Philadelphia's best-known rap artists, Freeway, jumps out of a black sport utility vehicle and dashes through the pouring rain to the prayer hall inside.

Islam has been a part of his life since he was a teenager.  Yet it wasn’t until adulthood that his faith changed who he was an artist.

“My faith means everything to me; it’s the thing that keeps me going every day,” the father of two said. “It’s my core, it’s my soul.”

When he was 14,  Freeway aka Leslie Pridgen  took Shahada, the Muslim confession to faith. 

Since then, he's had to balance his Muslim faith and his credibility as a hip-hop artist. 

Freeway jump-started his career a decade ago at Roc-A-Fella Records under the tutelage of hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. Today, the independent artist has collaborated with the likes of Mariah Carey,  producer extraordinaire Jake One and Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon.

When Freeway first hit the music scene, his pithy lyrics were laced with rhymes about hustling drugs and other aspects of ghetto life. But his approach to music has changed as he evolved as an emcee and matured as a man.

 “The fans can get more out of my music now because I have more of a message,” he said. “I’m more conscious about what I say now because in Islam we believe that you’re going to be held accountable for everything that comes out your mouth.”

Misogyny and the perils of street life have been a part of hip-hop since its inception, and Freeway is no stranger to the urban grind.

He lost a cousin and close friend to gun violence and had his own run-ins with the law, having served jail time for drug possession.

The life experiences the self-described “reality-rapper” so adamantly declares over heavy beats are what have shaped Freeway into the man, the father, the artist and the Muslim he is today, he said.

“I’m definitely not in the same situation I was in when I first started, when I was still in the streets running around doing a bunch of crazy stuff,” he said. “Every day is a temptation, every day is work.” 

He's not the only rapper balancing a devotion to Islam and trying to maintain a hard edge on his music, said Amir Abbassy, Freeway’s manager.

“Lupe Fiasco, Q-Tip, Mos Def  they’re all openly Muslim,” he said. “In the music culture, anybody who has a little bit of fame fits that rock 'n' roll persona.”

Freeway was speaking at a Philadelphia school’s bullying workshop on the same day the controversial congressional hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans led by U.S. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, were taking place in Washington.

Freeway said he felt the hearings unfairly targeted Muslims.

“It’s foolishness, it’s nonsense,” he said of the recent hearings conducted by the New York Republican. “You can’t judge a whole group of people for a few people making mistakes.”

Freeway got up that day at dawn for his first prayer of the day. In total, he will take time to pray five times throughout the day, a practice called salat, performed daily by many of the estimated 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.

Why Muslims pray five times a day

When Freeway is done rapping, his faith will be there, his manager said.

“His faith  that is his life,” Abbassy said. “ He doesn’t wake up with a microphone in his hand. He wakes up and prays."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Music • Muslim

soundoff (874 Responses)
  1. vancouver hip hop

    Usually I do not read article on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very pressured me to try and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, quite great post.

    May 18, 2012 at 4:49 am |
  2. MedySun:7

    Reblogged this on MedySun7 Music Blog Nation.

    March 10, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  3. ermfine

    I am was raised a Catholic who has just reunited with the love of my life. He is Muslim and I've been trying to educate myself on this religion. Thank you for your inspirational message.

    November 23, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  4. ubaid

    Al-E-Imran sura 03:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    And lo! of the People of the Scripture there are some who believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto you and that which was revealed unto them, humbling themselves before Allah. They purchase not a trifling gain at the price of the revelations of Allah. Verily their reward is with their Lord. Lo! Allah is swift to take account. (199) O ye who believe! Endure, outdo all others in endurance, be ready, and observe your duty to Allah, in order that ye may succeed. (200).
    http://www.islamickorner.net/

    April 19, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  5. Akbar

    He said we should not judge him based on mistakes other muslims made. Yea me leaving the cap off the beer is a mistake. Blowing yourself up cause yer broke ugly and worthless. Hardly a excuse me dont mind that. FYI Yer music sucks and you should die on yer knees not pray thanks
    +

    April 13, 2011 at 5:44 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.