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. patrick lynch

    Soledad O'Brien needs to conceal her reporting bias better. Its was painfully obvious she disdained opponents of the mosque. Also, I do not want to hear from a child, I want to hear from the IMAN.

    March 27, 2011 at 9:09 pm |

    LET ISLAM BE SEEN-Let the videos speak for islam.Not sure you will watch it.If not then you do not know the true islam.
    slaughtered American contractor Nick Berg. Sitting in a chair, Berg made the following statement: “My name is Nick Berg, my father’s name is Michael, my mother’s name is Susan,” the man said on the video. “I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah. I live in … Philadelphia.”The video then changes to a scene of masked men, with Berg sitting in front of them. After reading a statement, the masked men were seen pulling the man to his side and putting a large knife to his neck. A scream sounded as the men cut his head off, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” – “God is great.” They then held the head out before the camera.THIS IS THE REAL FACES OF ISLAM.http://barenakedislam.wordpress.com/2009/06/26/american-nick-bergs-beheading-warning-graphic-images/
    In this case, just as it has happened so many times before, it seems that the executioners used a dull knife again. These guys really left the man take the imminent death with all of its worst. The knife wielding masked man slowly cut through the neck of the victim as if to take in the joy of causing slow and painful death. He cut through man’s trachea and esophagus which detached victim’s mouth from the rest of the body, yet he’s still making desperate attempts to scream and all the noise is coming out of his neck. It’s brutal.As carotid arteries got cut, the blood started gushing out in volume you have never seen before. The massive blood loss along with horrific sound this beheaded man lets out make this easily the most brutal beheading video you will have ever seen. Also notice how just before the beheading starts, the camera focuses on victims bruised arms. That man was heavily beaten prior to his painful execution. He was given a choice to say his last words – it’s in a language I don’t understand (possibly a Middle Eastern tongue) but you can tell the man has already gone through hell on Earth and knows the worst is yet to come. He likely wished for a quick death so he’s done with it, unfortunately for him, he was not granted that wish. Brutal video.I don’t want to sound mundane with warnings, but damn the damned – WARNING on this one. Extremely brutal video. Very bloody. You have never seen this much blood ejected out of man’s body before. Knife executioners used to behead this man was likely really dull which you can tell by what it took to cut through the soft tissues of the neck. The video then jumps to the footage of decapitated head laying atop man’s dead body – which I’m assuming is because cutting through his spine took them forever, so they got rid of that so they’re not ridiculed for being complete amateurs. Once again – this video will hunt you for years, even if you’ve seen previous beheadings and took it like a champ. This one is worse. The sound is extremely painful and the amount of blood lost is beyond comprehension. You can’t even believe heart can pump so much blood with each beat. Watch at your on risk, you’ll have to deal with it yourself if you opt to go for it. I’m not kidding, it’s the worst beheading video ever!It appears as though the name of beheaded man was Jasus Musel. The beheading was carried out by MUSLIMS.See a pattern??Watch muslims in the name of islam.Not 100 years ago but in modern day.Islam is evil and everyone who follows it becomes evil.Let the videos speak.bestgore.com/beheading/worst-beheading-video-ever-horrific-sound-massive-blood-loss/ outsidethebeltway.com/web_site_american_hostage_killed_in_iraq/-The video, on an Islamist site, identified the hostage as Eugene Armstrong and showed a masked man sawing his head off with a knife. The video showed the banner of Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group, which said it had kidnapped the hostage along with another American and a Briton in central Baghdad last Thursday. The video was the first word on the three men since a 48-hour execution deadline set by the group on Saturday expired earlier in the day.Tawhid and Jihad said in footage posted on the Internet on Saturday it would kill the three men unless Iraqi women were freed from Abu Ghraib and Umm Qasr jails in 48 hours. The families of Americans Armstrong and Jack Hensley and Briton Kenneth Bigley have appealed for their release. The men were seized from their house in an upscale neighborhood of Baghdad on Thursday by a group of gunmen.

    March 27, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  3. Jonathan

    Ask a Muslim if he/she denoounces Hamas as a terrorist organization, If their anwser is no, you know what side they're on.

    March 27, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Eri

      What if they don't consider Hamas a terrorist organization. All Hamas did and continues to do is react to the illegal Isreali encroachment under international law, onto Palestinian land (i.e. bombardments and siege against the Gaza Strip and settlements in the West Bank)

      March 27, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  4. Jonathan

    In America, abortion clinic bombers are hunted down and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In Islam, suicide bombers are celebrated as martyrs.

    Another reason why we're great, and they suck.

    Did I also mention that most of the people who hunt down and prosecute abortion clinic bombers are themselves Judeo-Christians?

    Any Lefties here want to give linear reason a shot?

    Didn't think so.

    March 27, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  5. J FIG

    I figured a hater would surface.lol That Big Fat Cry Baby must got a skinned head with cut off military pants and black boots.

    March 27, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • BigFatCryBaby

      "must got" ??

      Suggest you go back and redo First Grade. Since you can't speak English correctly, I won't bother with worrying about your other nonsense.

      March 27, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  6. Fxg

    Akon, Swiss beatz, Ice Cube, Napoleon, Everlast, T-Pain, Busta Rhymes, Loon and almost 60-70% of the rap industry are Muslims.

    March 27, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  7. Haris

    May Allah bless U

    March 27, 2011 at 2:13 am |
    • wat

      so now the letter U is blessed. whee

      March 27, 2011 at 6:22 am |
  8. J FIG

    By reading most of these comments shows ignorance and racism is still very much alive.For the ones who's showing hatred
    towards Hip Hop, keep hating please because this is great food for Hip Hop.Jealousy gets you no where in life.For those of you who's bashing each others religion, take a good look at who is causing all the hatred and violence in the world, it's the individuals no matter the religion or beliefs. So quit blaming God for your actions.

    March 27, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • BigFatCryBaby

      You also could benefit from Third Grade English class. "Who's" is singular, those would be the plural form.

      March 27, 2011 at 4:37 am |
  9. NL

    Rod C. Venger-
    "The Bible specifically states that there's no one coming after Jesus."
    Might want to tell that to some celebrity pastors who act like they're modern-day prophets of God. You know the ones who always tell you that they know what Jesus and God thinks about issues not even mentioned in the Bible, or can predict when the world will end. Either they're prophets, deluded, or liars, right?

    March 26, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • wat

      you are correct

      March 27, 2011 at 6:21 am |
  10. NL

    Forward... march.-
    "Atheists are some of the most religious people on the planet."
    I think you are forgetting that there is a thing called 'philosophy' which offers a means of finding purpose in life without resorting to belief in the supernatural. Followers of some of the eastern belief systems traditionally lumped with religions are not religious because those systems are more accurately philosophies. We are not all religious then.

    Part of my philosophy is atheism. I didn't need anyone's opinion to guide me to it, or to maintain it. I just studied religion and this conclusion came to me. The more I study it, the more data I gather on religion, the stronger my certainty becomes. Being open-minded I will continue to gather information on the possibility that the supernatural may actually exist but, with each passing year, it appears less likely.

    If I worship anything it is the principle of truth. Actually, 'worship' is altogether the wrong word. Too many religious, dogmatic overtones to it. What I have is a 'personal relationship' with the truth! 😉

    March 26, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • wat

      that sounds dirty

      March 27, 2011 at 6:20 am |
  11. Pastor Evans

    CNN since you like to do some much on-site reporting why don't you report all the Muslims that are converting to Christianity in Iran as we speak? You won't because you have a demonic agenda!!! But it won't work in Jesus' name!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • wat

      aint u the cheese?

      March 27, 2011 at 6:19 am |
  12. Pastor Evans

    slam = Convert people by force in order to control
    Jesus Christ = Draw people by love (agape) to set you free
    Take your pick!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama


      Islam = create believers by forming wholesome marriage relationships, having lots of children, raising them to adulthood, and teaching them the religion

      Christianity = broken marriages, birth control, divorces. create believers instead in Africa and Asia by bribing them with money made thru sinful activities back home in christian nations. like weapons peddling, usury, boozing, fornicating, gambling, gluttony.

      March 27, 2011 at 3:56 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      and oh

      Take Your Pick!!

      March 27, 2011 at 3:57 am |
    • BigFatCryBaby

      Tell THAT to the thousands put to death during the Inquisition.

      March 27, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • wat

      you first

      March 27, 2011 at 6:18 am |
  13. Pastor Evans

    Islam = Convert people by force in order to control
    Jesus Christ = Draw people by love (agape) to set you free
    Take your pick!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  14. Pastor Evans

    Islam is trying with every little bit it has to destroy the world and anyone who doesn't follow it, but look at what is going on all over the world right now. Islam's madness is falling and failing for the entire world to see because it not of God!!! All that you see going on is a work of the only true and living God because the righteous are praying!!! I pray in agreement with all my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ that every aspect of Islam is destroyed and the Kingdom of God manifest for all to see and know!!! Rise up my Christian brothers and sisters, the world needs who we know and need what we have, and Islam is not it!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Muneef

      Pastor Evans.

      For your records.

      Al-Maeda sura 05:
      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
      Say O People of the Scripture! Ye have naught (of guidance) till ye observe the Torah and the Gospel and that which was revealed unto you from your Lord. That which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) from thy Lord is certain to increase the contumacy and disbelief of many of them. But grieve not for the disbelieving folk. (68) Lo! those who believe, and those who are Jews, and Sabaeans, and Christians – Whosoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right – there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. (69) We made a covenant of old with the Children of Israel and We sent unto them messengers. As often as a messenger came unto them with that which their souls desired not (they became rebellious). Some (of them) they denied and some they slew. (70) They thought no harm would come of it, so they were wilfully blind and deaf. And afterward Allah turned (in mercy) toward them. Now (even after that) are many of them wilfully blind and deaf. Allah is Seer of what they do. (71).

      Al-Maeda sura 05:
      They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers. (72) They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no God save the One God. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve. (73) Will they not rather turn unto Allah and seek forgiveness of Him? For Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (74) The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him. And his mother was a saintly woman. And they both used to eat (earthly) food. See how We make the revelations clear for them, and see how they are turned away! (75) Say: Serve ye in place of Allah that which possesseth for you neither hurt nor use? Allah it is Who is the Hearer, the Knower. (76).

      Al-Maeda sura 05:
      Say: O People of the Scripture! Stress not in your religion other than the truth, and follow not the vain desires of folk who erred of old and led many astray, and erred from a plain road. (77) Those of the Children of Israel who went astray were cursed by the tongue of David, and of Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they rebelled and used to transgress. (78) They restrained not one another from the wickedness they did. Verily evil was that they used to do! (79) Thou seest many of them making friends with those who disbelieve. Surely ill for them is that which they themselves send on before them: that Allah will be wroth with them and in the doom they will abide. (80) If they believed in Allah and the Prophet and that which is revealed unto him, they would not choose them for their friends. But many of them are of evil conduct. (81).

      Al-Maeda sura 05:
      Thou wilt find the most vehement of mankind in hostility to those who believe (to be) the Jews and the idolaters. And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud. (82) When they listen to that which hath been revealed unto the messengers, thou seest their eyes overflow with tears because of their recognition of the Truth. They say: Our Lord, we believe. Inscribe us as among the witnesses. (83) How should we not believe in Allah and that which hath come unto us of the Truth. And (how should we not) hope that our Lord will bring us in along with righteous folk? (84).

      March 27, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  15. Pastor Evans

    I'm going to make this real simple and easy for all of you, just ask in the sincerity of your SOUL who God really is, and He will reveal Himself to you personally!!! Don't ask with your own intentions or agenda, ask in true sincerity and I guarantee God will show you who He really is!!! JESUS CHRIST!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • eleven inches of loving here for any SF

      i am god!
      why you may ask?
      after i start slipping my monster meat member in and out of a woamn,all she keeps saying is.....
      oh god! oh god!

      March 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • wat

      monster meat WIN

      March 27, 2011 at 6:26 am |
  16. JediKnight

    I wish some people wouldn't blame religion for the world's problems. There are many truths and lessons to be learned from religions: Daoism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Universalism [all the various kinds], Judaism, Christianity at its unadulterated form, and Islam. The problem isn't religions themselves, but in some of the followers of said religions. All humans are flawed, including myself, which is why any man made system is doomed or has inadequacies. It's important to realize Spirituality is point of religion not Dogma. Personally, I believe to each their own/everyone has their own path to follow, and I believe the problem with the world is focusing on the differences and not the similarities we all share-whether we acknowledge it or not.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Elbert

      Here's some similarities for you, JediKnight :
      None of us can prove a god exists.
      None of us can prove that anything supernatural exists.
      We are all human.
      We all have brains that control us rather than us controlling our brains.
      Our awareness and lack thereof varies.
      We share this universe, this reality.
      We are all vulnerable and fragile physically, etc.

      The loopy mess of religious delusions are not something I want to have in my life.
      That means that I don't want the psychosis that is religion.
      I do not want religious people making important decisions based on delusions, religious or not.
      I don't want ANY person to be deluded. I do not go around lying to people.

      The problem with religions is they have no basis in truth, only delusion. That is the truth.
      If you can't face that, then get out of my way, I have real things to do for real reasons.
      Life is too short to play games with people who believe lies. Yet who has a choice?

      The problem is lies and liars and the innocent people who believe them and act foolishly because of it.

      March 27, 2011 at 6:08 am |
  17. JediKnight

    I wish some people weren't so quick to dismiss all religions as being false as there is usually a grain of truth and lessons to be learned from religion: Daoism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Universalism [all the various kinds], Judaism, Christianity at its unadulterated form, and Islam. The problem isn't religions themselves, but in some of the followers of said religions. All humans are flawed, including myself, which is why any man made system is doomed or has inadequacies. It's important to realize Spirituality is point of religion not Dogma. Personally, I believe to each their own/everyone has their own path to follow, and I believe the problem with the world is focusing on the differences and not the similarities we all share-whether we acknowledge it or not.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Ron

      Nonsense. There can be only one Truth. Truth, by definition, is true to the exclusion of everything else. If all religions were just a "pretend' way to worship a "pretend" god, your nonsensical statement would have merit. But if there is one true God, then His way, and only His prescribed way of coming to Him, is valid - to the exclusion of all others.

      Every religion except Christianity is a prescription for man trying to reach out to some made-up god. In Christianity, God reveals how He reaches down and offers each of us salvation from our sins. Sin is simply missing the mark - like an archer who misses the target. God is perfect, we are not. Therefore, we are all sinners. The wages of sin is death (eternal separation from God). God, however, has provided a way for us to come to Him - through His son, who became a man (He's God, He made the world we exist in, so this isn't a stretch), and died once to pay for the sins of all. He took on the sins of all who would confess that they are a sinner, turn from their Sin and fall on His mercy and grace - making Him both Lord and Savior in their lives. It's hard for some, but God uses the things the world considers foolish. If we're wise in our own eyes, we perish. If we humble ourselves, we win. He loves you, and He died for you - if you come to Him by the prescribed way.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      @ Ron

      what you just said makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE WHATSOEVER!
      i bet if you scramble the words and re-type, it would make the same amount of sense.

      March 27, 2011 at 4:01 am |
    • Elbert

      Sounds like Ron is having a meltdown.

      March 27, 2011 at 5:54 am |
    • wat


      March 27, 2011 at 6:25 am |
    • YaBigFatCryBaby

      You got it. Some people tell us more about themselves than they think by their rants. Take Ron for example, an obviously anal retentive, OCD personality. He needs everything black and white, simplistic, no shades of grey, all wrapped up in a neat little box with a nice red bow, ("one true god", "one truth", etc.) I bet if we went to visit his house, his groceries would be in alphabetical order. ROTFLMAO.

      March 27, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Rincon Surfer Dude

      Hey Ronny Boy,
      Hate to pop your bubble, but there is no ONE anything. Have you never stayed awake during physics class ?
      The multiverse is most probably a "sum over histories". Sorry to see you dropped out of kindergarden.

      March 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  18. Muneef

    A muslim Soldier fights overseas for America while he is being fought from the inside in America?? What a justice you have been shown buffalo soldier...!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Reality


      Read carefully:

      Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslims:

      There never was and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam

      Saving 2 billion lost Christians
      There was and never will be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity

      Saving 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:

      Abraham and Moses never existed.

      Added details upon request.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Iseakel

      @Muneef please read what brother Reality has to say, that is the honest truth about all religions. Paster Evans is a bigot through delusions. The reason why CNN is highlighting Christianity is because most people in the good ol' USA don't know much about Islam because we were taught Christianity, same old zombie story every Dec 25, Muhammad is exotic. CNN just wants to show our religions are not much different while were at war with mostly Muslim populated areas. Honest truth Jesus was probaly real man with an outrageous myth of supernatural feats years after his death told by fools who wanted a way to control others. The same goes to the prophet Muhammad and his mythological background. Both religions are silly tales told by average uneducated people thousands of years ago. If a doctor based his medical practice on a book written thousands of years ago would you allow them to fix a broken bone, then why belive their tall tales they told their children for enertainment. Yahweh is no different then Zeus and they are no different then Allah. At least none of them are on par with the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

      March 27, 2011 at 1:19 am |
    • Muneef


      Strange you should say that about religions when you name is clearly Jewish....not surprised as very much known that Jews do not want any other people religious and on the right track...always they been misleading the masses and the Christions are victims of their manipulations with history and holy scriptures...
      Reality is far from reality and am sorry that you have pushed me now to say that he is in despair since he is over 60 years old and still not found God in him....such as those am not sure if have much time to repent and ask forgiveness....

      March 27, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  19. Pastor Evans

    As many Christian rappers with street creds as they put it that there are, CNN won't dare highlight any of those rappers because the follow Jesus Christ, and because CNN in Islam's back pocket like many American politicians!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • Elbert

      Wow, you're pretty clueless. CNN has done several stories on christian musicians, including rappers.

      March 27, 2011 at 5:51 am |
    • cnn134

      agree, we are in the lent time not ramadan, is not enough christians are prescuated in middle east but now in America too

      March 27, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  20. Brandon

    Why such negativity on a great story? This guy found a path to peace. I'm personally a fan follow him on twitter @phillyfreezer

    March 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
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.