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. The Gaithersburg Gazette staff

    Our Gaithersburg Gazette staff go to the Bethany Church nearby and the pastor and members worship and praise president Obama because Obama is a good christian man and he will be God on December 21, 2012. That is the GOOD NEWS GOSPEL OF OBAMA AND GOD!

    April 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  2. Megyn Kelly of Fox5 News

    Several residents in Leisure World in the Arden Courts section are coming to Washington, D.C. to host a rally for the worship and praise of president Obama and that there will be booklets and other news flyers about president Obama being our Lord on December 21, 2012. We must prepare for this good event. This will improve our world. The White House will be the new Heaven on earth and this is for the best christians. Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggart and the Copeland family will enter this new Heaven on earth because they are the top best christians of the world. Call 301–598-1925 or 202–244-5151 for more information if interested. We all thank you for your interests!

    April 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  3. Megyn Kelly of Fox5 News

    Many churches are soon worshipping and praising president Obama because according to the New American Bible and an article in the London Times, president Obama will be God and rule the world due to his Muslim Christian Heritage. This is goodnews because God is working with Obama to reshape America. Many people soon moved to America for safety due to Obama being a good christian man and that he will be God on December 21, 2012. We are entering into a One-World-Government controlled by a new Congress and the new Congress is The Muslim Brotherhood which will be headquartered in Washington, D.C. and will oversee the Justice Department in which the Justice Department controls our police and courts. There will be a supreme ruler of the world which will be Obama because God has ordained him to be God by December 21, 2012. All news media will be announcing the good news across the world and that is good for our world. Call us at 202–244-5151 or 301–598-1925 if you want to learn more. Thank you!

    April 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  4. Muneef

    Thus, Islam bases people's relational conduct on kindness. Hence, it condemns intolerance, prejudice and bigotry, and rejects discrimination based on color, creed, national origin or religion.
    The Muslim acceptance applies to all elements of life and must reflect in all of the Muslim's affairs. The teaching of Islam towards proper behavior, anger control, patience, treatment of spouse, parent, neighbor, the young and the old, the friend, the enemy, the environment and specifically the People of the Book are evident in the Holy Qur'an and the life and example of the Prophet Muhammad (p).
    In calling people to the Islamic Faith, for example, a Muslim must be wise, sensitive, humble and considerate. The Qur'an teaches:
    "Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and discuss with them in ways that are best and most gracious." Qur'an, 16:25.


    March 31, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  5. Steve

    Does Allah have a Son. Christ payed for the sins of all, muslums too. Satan has got these poor people decieved. false doctrines have flooded the world with darkness.

    Only the Bible has forcast global events with 100% accuracy. Check it out.

    March 31, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  6. JFIG

    @Big Fat Azz Cry BaBy. Your name speaks for itself.

    March 31, 2011 at 5:41 am |
    • Roberta Rubin of Silver Spring, Md.

      Gotta clean up your language if you want to enter into Obama's good Heaven cause Obama is going to be God on December 21, 2012. The White House will be a good christian Heaven on earth and we can enter on December 21, 2012. The New American Bible says so!

      April 3, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  7. nidal

    all i have to say is thank god for a country like the united states , that allows to say or practice what religion i'am , or state my opinion about anything without fear , i'm a muslim and my next door neighbour is a jew , two doors down is a christian , we barbecue together all the time , i love u america

    March 30, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Muneef

      May peace last for ever and we all in the brotherhood of faith and as long as we learn to respect each's belief as we have learned that;

      Al-Qasas sura 28:
      It is true thou wilt not be able to guide everyone whom thou lovest: but Allah guides those whom He will and He knows best those who receive guidance. (56).

      March 30, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  8. Muneef

    Al-Anaam sura 06:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    And though We should send down the angels unto them, and the dead should speak unto them, and We should gather against them all things in array, they would not believe unless Allah so willed. Howbeit, most of them are ignorant. (111) Thus have We appointed unto every prophet an adversary – devils of humankind and jinn who inspire in one another plausible discourse through guile. If thy Lord willed, they would not do so; so leave them alone with their devising; (112) That the hearts of those who believe not in the Hereafter may incline thereto, and that they may take pleasure therein, and that they may earn what they are earning. (113) Shall I seek other than Allah for judge, when He it is Who hath revealed unto you (this) Scripture, fully explained? Those unto whom We gave the Scripture (aforetime) know that it is revealed from thy Lord in truth. So be not thou (O Muhammad) of the waverers. (114) Perfected is the Word of thy Lord in truth and justice. There is naught that can change His words. He is the Hearer, the Knower. (115) If thou obeyedst most of those on earth they would mislead thee far from Allah's way. They follow naught but an opinion, and they do but guess. (116) Lo! thy Lord, He knoweth best who erreth from His way; and He knoweth best (who are) the rightly guided. (117).

    Al-Rad sura 13:
    Those who believe and do right: Joy is for them, and bliss (their) journey's end. (29) Thus We send thee (O Muhammad) unto a nation, before whom other nations have passed away, that thou mayst recite unto them that which We have inspired in thee, while they are disbelievers in the Beneficent. Say: He is my Lord; there is no God save Him. In Him do I put my trust and unto Him is my recourse. (30) Had it been possible for a Lecture to cause the mountains to move, or the earth to be torn asunder, or the dead to speak, (this Qur'an would have done so). Nay, but Allah's is the whole command. Do not those who believe know that, had Allah willed, He could have guided all mankind? As for those who disbelieve, disaster ceaseth not to strike them because of what they do, or it dwelleth near their home until the threat of Allah come to pass. Lo! Allah faileth not to keep the tryst. (31).

    Al-Naml sura 27:
    Lo! this Qur'an narrateth unto the Children of Israel most of that concerning which they differ. (76) And lo! it is a guidance and a mercy for believers. (77) Lo! thy Lord will judge between them of His wisdom, and He is the Mighty, the Wise. (78) Therefor (O Muhammad) put thy trust in Allah, for thou (standest) on the plain Truth. (79) Lo! thou canst not make the dead to hear, nor canst thou make the deaf to hear the call when they have turned to flee; (80) Nor canst thou lead the blind out of their error. Thou canst make none to hear, save those who believe Our revelations and who have surrendered. (81).

    Fussilat sura 41:
    Lo! those who distort Our revelations are not hid from Us. Is he who is hurled into the Fire better, or he who cometh secure on the Day of Resurrection? Do what ye will. Lo! He is Seer of what ye do. (40) Lo! those who disbelieve in the Reminder when it cometh unto them (are guilty), for lo! it is an unassailable Scripture. (41) Falsehood cannot come at it from before it or behind it. (It is) a revelation from the Wise, the Owner of Praise. (42) Naught is said unto thee (Muhammad) save what was said unto the messengers before thee. Lo! thy Lord is owner of forgiveness, and owner (also) of dire punishment. (43) And if We had appointed it a Lecture in a foreign tongue they would assuredly have said: If only its verses were expounded (so that we might understand)? What! A foreign tongue and an Arab? – Say unto them (O Muhammad): For those who believe it is a guidance and a healing; and as for those who disbelieve, there is a deafness in their ears, and it is blindness for them. Such are called to from afar. (44).

    March 30, 2011 at 6:31 am |
  9. Sarah Walker

    To all of the people who have posted negative and vulgar comments about Islam: do some 'legit' research about the religion, its people, and the Holy Qur'an. As the rapper said, its a way of life and it certainly does not advocate violence. You need to read between the lines when it comes to reading verses of the Qur'an.

    March 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Roberta Rubin of Silver Spring, Md.

      Sarah babygirl honey, ain't nothin vulgar of nothin cause Obama is going to be God on December 21, 2012 and we all can enter into Obama's new Heaven which is the good news gospel of Obama. Call us at some 301–598-1925 or some 301–598-4391 to learn more honey.

      April 3, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  10. You will learn From this

    It doesn't matter what religion you are, there are different religions to appeal to different cultures i.e. a good christen is a good Muslim- is a good Hari krasna- is a good Jew is a good Morman, is a good buddhist, is a good Taoist & so-on & so-on & so-on, If it make the person a better person then it’s a great religion -DON'T GET HUNG UP ON THE Nuances!
    The only thing that is important is your personal relationship w/ your higher power period. If Islam teaches it's devotees about their personal relationship w/ their higher power then this report is very relevant as your higher power or dare I say it GOD is in everything, Yes even Music, Music is how the universe is constantly evolving -ever heard of OHM " the transcendental sound vibration the god used to create the material universe" (& is still in the process of-long 6 days)..... remember, not a blade of grass moves w/ out the sanction of the lord... also Freeway is one of the most unique hip hop artist out there, while swimming is a sea of auto-Tuned cookie cutters, Freeway stands out in a big way his rhyme patterns are unmatched, it's very refreshing to say the lest to see artist be in touch w/ there spiritual side & go out of their way to be original in their craft! That is devotional service to him, it’s his way for a mental release-similar to a poet or an athlete winning at their sport to,this is true for most artist or any one true to their “calling in life”.

    As long as it’s not destructive, or self destructive …do what fells right in life.

    -simply put he is the best at his style (witch i like to call a syllable sandwich,) no doubt about it. If you’re in to hip hop at all and haven't heard of FreeWay get out from under THE ROCK and learn something- ...Keep Stacking FrEE!

    March 29, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  11. leana

    This world will not be peace long as there are the US and its allies, not because a religion.

    March 29, 2011 at 6:00 am |
    • Question

      the U.S is helping people we help when naturel disators strike we help liberate nations from dictaors some of the middle east country's ask for our help you guys are mad beacuse we protec Israle from slaughter ....I know i spelled some things wrong I was in a rush

      March 30, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Answer

      Question, the US armed most of the dictators of this world. You reap what you sow.

      March 31, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • Roberta Rubin of Silver Spring, Md.

      Hey leana honey, I have to say that Obama is the only one that can clean up the world because he is the Muslim God and prophet and by 2012, he will make the White House our new Heaven Home and Business. The White House is very good and christian and it will be good for christians like Billy Graham and Kenneth Copeland.

      April 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  12. dany

    if Islam teaches to kill innocent people, all of you would not be here and comment on this article. you are in the graves. LOL!!!!!!!!! use your logical mind ppl!! Dont think with the brain that full of hatred

    March 29, 2011 at 5:39 am |
  13. dany

    if Islam teaches to kill innocent people, all of you would not be here and comment on this article. you are in the graves. LOL!!!!!!!!! use or logical mind ppl!! Dont think with the brain that full of hatred

    March 29, 2011 at 5:38 am |
    • Roberta Rubin of Silver Spring, Md.

      You will be interested to learn that Obama will be Jesus Christ of America and he will rule the world. Call us at some 301–598-1925 or some 301–598-4391 for more information. This is good news!

      April 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  14. Ummmmm....the article

    Soooo....did anyone enjoy the article?

    March 28, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  15. steve

    Are they trying to sell me Islam with Rap music? Really? Is that a selling point?

    March 28, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  16. mika

    The first thing that comes to my mind after reading these comments is whether all the American ppl like this? This makes me think MORE negatively about what the American like. and then I read this sentence, "You can not judge a whole group of people for a few people making mistakes."? and this made me think again that not all Americans like what most of you show on these comments. Did you ever think like this about Muslims? i don't think so, because most of you have covered with hatred, and the haters cant accept something different from them.
    I believe all religions forbid to hate and despise other religions, but what all of you show here just the opposite. unwittingly, you give a bad example on your own beliefs. seems most of you do not fully implement or not implement at all what your religion teaches.
    I am a Muslim, I DONT kill people, I DONT blow up buildings, I DONT even kill ants if you wanna know, I DONT steal, I DONT follow the extremists and become the terrorists, I DONT change the verses in the holy book or interpret it in accordance with my own thoughts. Surely, most of you ARE NOT HAPPY TO HEAR THIS because you always think negatively about Islam and want make islam look negative, while you DONT KNOW the truth about Islam. After all, it's useless talking to the haters, because there is no point, just like talking to inanimate objects. I'm here just want to express my opinion because I'm SICK of the US government who always interfering in other countries business, and also the smartass who always feel the most right.
    Btw its kinda funny that american media talk about Islam without giving a negative outlook!! *applause*
    *sorry for my english

    March 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Question

      I got a question for muslims muhamid the pearson who cliams he saw an angel saying that the bible that God inspired was wrong and he should rewrite the bible and call it the Quran why would God change what was already written???

      March 30, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Muneef


      Al-Maeda sura 05:
      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
      And We caused Jesus, son of Mary, to follow in their footsteps, confirming that which was (revealed) before him in the Torah, and We bestowed on him the Gospel wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that which was (revealed) before it in the Torah – a guidance and an admonition unto those who ward off (evil). (46) Let the People of the Gospel judge by that which Allah hath revealed therein. Whoso judgeth not by that which Allah hath revealed: such are evil-livers. (47) And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which Allah hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ. (48).

      March 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  17. Brian Macker

    Wow, you haven't read the Qur'an. It calls for killing polytheists in 9:5 unless they convert. It also advocates killing Jews and Christians unless they pay Jizya (tribute).

    March 28, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Logic

      Chapter 9 verse 5 right?? So should people skip verses 1-4??? Do you even know what the beginning of that Surah (chapter) is even about? I would hope you do if your telling people to ignore the four sentences before.

      March 28, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • jeromy martin

      It actually advocates killing (beheading) anyone who will not convert, as we will see in the end of days as prophesied by the false prophet muhammed – as moreso accurately prophesied in Revelations of the Bible. Can't you Moslems see that your Imam is the same as the Bible's antiChrist and you are blindly following? wake up. wake up America, wake up world, MAYDAY! this "peacefull culture' wants to destroy an conquer and are on the road to doing so- more muslims in Russian military than any other religion. More "muhammeds" in Europe than almost any other name etc. In the true name of peace and salvation of a Lord God who truly loves you more than you can ever imagine, His holiness and heavenly father Jesus/ Yeshua (YHWH), THERE IS REAL TRUTH AND SALVATION IF YOU ACCEPT.

      March 28, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Roberta Rubin of Silver Spring, Md.

      My older brother and two sisters and I took trips to Dupont Circle to attend the Obama Christian Church and it is good. They teach that president Obama will be God and the White House will be the new Heaven on earth all on December 21, 2012. The world needs to give up their bank accounts and give all their money to the Obama Christian Campaign. That is good which means we can dance on the streets of D.C. nude while singing praises to the Obama-God and that will make America clean. We need to read Obama's new Biblebook, The Godpel Of President Obama Being Lord Of The World.

      April 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  18. A reader

    OK so far i have been looking through this and to those who are just racist and dont see the sea of truth open your eyes there are extremist in all religions. Also go read the book kite runner

    March 28, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • Roberta Rubin of Silver Spring, Md.

      The Islamic tradion is good if it proclaims of Obama being our new Jesus Christ because Obama is a good family man and a good christian too. Obama needs to be made God for the world. Several people in Leisure World and at St. Lukes House in Silver Spring, Md. say that Obama needs to be made God so the world can improve. I heard news of the 666 Mark Of The Beast being our One-World-Government and that is good if it means Obama being Lord of the world.

      April 3, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  19. Ex Muslim

    I do not understand CNN's policy of showing Muslims as victims and keep showing videos and interview of people who converted to Islam. Why does CNN not show videos and interview of pepole liek me who quit and renounced this evil, toxi and violent idealogy? Are you guys (CNN) willing to interview me and show the video of me explaining why I left Islam. By the way I am from Peshawar, Pakistan if any Muslims doubts about my past religion.

    March 27, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Sohail Rizki

      Man you write the same thing on each news responses, I am just laughing and laughing and laughing. usada more tha ghaim, You are a looser and we are winner. Keep on crying until your last breath.

      March 27, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • FJ

      I bet you were never even Muslim and just saying that to create sympathy that you converted away from Islam. I laugh at you! What a loser!

      March 27, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Bethe123

      FJ - You have no facts on which to base that. You are the one who looks like a loser.

      March 28, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • jeromy martin

      You did the right thing. Who cares about this rapper anyway

      March 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • khadija

      if u say ur a ex muslim then u were nevr muslim in the first place. the problem is that ppl who throw their religion out whether u r christans, jewish, muslim whatever is that u start off by not praticing the religion correctly and the more and more u start to follow ur desires u start to blame the religion for ur mistakes and not ur own actions. I dont know what made u leave Islam brother but i think u seriously need to review what ALLAH says in the Quran with a open heart, what the PROPHET MUHAMMED(p.b.u.h) says and stop judging Islam on what u saw in ur country because many ppl choose culture over Islam therefore making the religion look evil when actually it was their teaches of their culture.

      March 29, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  20. Muneef

    Al-Anaam sura 06:
    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
    Unto Him belongeth whatsoever resteth in the night and the day. He is the Hearer, the Knower. (13) Say: Shall I choose for a protecting friend other than Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth, Who feedeth and is never fed? Say: I am ordered to be the first to surrender (unto Him). And be not thou (O Muhammad) of the idolaters. (14) Say: I fear, if I rebel against my Lord, the retribution of an Awful Day. (15) He from whom (such retribution) is averted on that day, (Allah) hath in truth had mercy on him. That will be the signal triumph. (16) If Allah touch thee with affliction, there is none that can relieve therefrom save Him, and if He touch thee with good fortune (there is none that can impair it); for He is Able to do all things. (17) He is the Omnipotent over His slaves, and He is the Wise, the Knower. (18) Say (O Muhammad): What thing is of most weight in testimony? Say: Allah is Witness between you and me. And this Qur'an hath been inspired in me, that I may warn therewith you and whomsoever it may reach. Do ye in sooth bear witness that there are gods beside Allah? Say: I bear no such witness. Say: He is only One Allah. Lo! I am innocent of that which ye associate (with Him). (19).

    Al-Anaam sura 06:
    Naught is the life of the world save a pastime and a spot. Better far is the abode of the Hereafter for those who keep their duty (to Allah). Have ye then no sense? (32) We know well how their talk grieveth thee, though in truth they deny not thee (Muhammad) but evil-doers flout the revelations of Allah. (33) Messengers indeed have been denied before thee, and they were patient under the denial and the persecution till Our succour reached them. There is none to alter the decisions of Allah. Already there hath reached thee (somewhat) of the tidings of the messengers (We sent before). (34) And if their aversion is grievous unto thee, then, if thou canst, seek a way down into the earth or a ladder unto the sky that thou mayst bring unto them a portent (to convince them all)! – If Allah willed, He could have brought them all together to the guidance – So be not thou among the foolish ones. (35).

    March 27, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • George McFry

      I just can't believe how CNN just presents all the cases of whining muslims complaining about being treated unfairly or how I would feel if a Mosque was built near my house. Lol In Saudi arabia and other Muslim countries its next to impossible to buildt a christian church or to repair one and if you want to change your religion from Muslim to Christian you my as well apply for political asylum in a western country. Muslim don't believe in fair play It either their way or the high way. I don't think we should allow anymore mosques to be built in the US until they change their discriminatory policy toward non muslims

      March 30, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Muneef

      George McFry.

      Yes agree with you,maybe your Gvt or Your Religious Body should speak to the religious body of those building Mosques in your country about that....!?

      March 30, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
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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.