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. Tkyler

    Oh excuse me, is this the official CNN blog sight for the nation of islam? Didn't mean to stumble into here.*Sniff-Sniff*......I smell a liberal pro islam agenda. It stinks!!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  2. john

    Good men are dying for our freedom and protection and the bell curve freak is news?

    March 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  3. Marty

    Wow, another "happy feel good" muslim story from cnn! What a shock!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  4. ScottJoh


    March 26, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  5. john

    Bell Curve!!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  6. kuwait_999

    I used to practice Islam's teaching (and my familly lived in fear + hell):

    Tabari IX:113 "Allah permits you to shut them in separate rooms and to beat them, but not severely. If they abstain, they have the right to food and clothing. Treat women well for they are like domestic animals and they possess nothing themselves. Allah has made the enjoyment of their bodies lawful in his Qur'an."

    I now... follow Christ's teaching... and my familly living in peace and loving

    March 26, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • chanceofflight

      hmm no wonder, you probably were reading the Taliban's version and not the real one. Cuz the Quran I have and the one at the mosque and the other one at my friends house def. does not have that part in there...

      March 26, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      Islam teaches the opposite of whatever you are quoting. What is Tabari??

      Here is an excerpt from the Prophet's last Sermon, which is comparable in stature to Jesus Sermon on the Mount.

      "O People, it is true that you have certain rights over your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under God's trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers. It is your right and they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve...."

      March 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  7. fady Lebanese

    coming from a country where 50 of population are muslims. let me tell you something guys. i ll tell that to all the american that does not know thing about Prophet Mouhamad. this guy get married to a 9 years old girl. this guy had more than 100 wifes. this guy he allowed them to kill any person that does not believe in their faith. the go do Jihad because they r gona get 70 virgin woman in heaven. he ask the muslim to support their brothers in faith whether they were right or no. as an arabic christian i am sick of this crazy stories of CNN about Muslims. if CNN really want to help them try to go few days to Pakistan or afghanistan , Iraq, palestenian camps, i m pretty sure , they will show u what are the real muslim are.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • chanceofflight

      I think I understand what you are saying but your english needs a little work. Your sick of the untrue stereotypes, is that what your trying to say?

      March 26, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      The Prophet Muhammad did not have 100s of wives. He had one wife between the age of 25 – 50. And she was older than him too! With whom he had four daughters, who he helped raise to adulthood. Infact, the Prophet was even employed by his wife, who was a divorcee and had a successful business before she met the Prophet.

      After she passed away, the Prophet in his last 15 years (age 50 – 65) married several women because he was now the mayor of the city-state of Medina (in present day Saudi Arabia) and the founder of a growing religious movement (Islam). As such he was a very high profile public figure and a man of great honor and stature and received many offers for marriage. Most of which he chose in order to further his mission, which by that age was his prime interest in life.

      March 26, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  8. Dan B

    Apparently, CNN is sending a message in support of Islam (2nd day of it being the featured article on your web page) and to the detriment of all other established religions.
    Message received and CNN is no longer my home page.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  9. TRH

    OK...I'm a bit weary seeing articles on religious fanatics regardless of their stripe, and I didn't/won't read it or any other. Religion is silly.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  10. Baman

    Justin, it is idiots like you that make this country weak and susceptable to terrorists. When a self professed christian commits a violent act, there is no way you can go to the New Testament and find even a hint of justification for what they did. When muslims commit acts of terror, you can go to the Koran and it is filled with justifications for murder of infidels, stoning of inobedient wives and daughters. That is the big difference between Christianity and Islam.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • fady Lebanese

      you r totally right. the muslim in this country they dont know anything about ISlam. they just translate the nice verses for them. where is CNN to report about the Christians prosecuted in Afghanistan, pakistan, iraq, Indonesia, even in Egypt. so advice to the CNN if you want the AMerican people to keep watching your web site, try to be understanding that those Muslims are the reason behind 9/11

      March 26, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • XujVamVZhopu

      Ne pizdi.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • chanceofflight

      Hmmm ok. Show me were in the Quran it says to stone your disobedient wife? The last time I checked those who even lay a finger on their wife in an attempt to harm her get punished by god. Second did you ever read a history book? Did you forget about this thing called the Crusades? It's not what Christianity calls for, but it's what they did. Same goes for terrorists, it isn't what Islam calls for but they do it anyways. Since the beginning of monotheism, people have been twisting religion to recruit people for their own cause.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • matthew

      Matthew 10:34-39
      “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

      Luke 19:27
      "But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.”

      you were saying? the bible is just as violent and hate filled as any book written thousands of years ago. how about the time jesus condemns a fig tree to death because it wouldn't produce a fig for him out of season? or the slavery.

      aggression begets aggression, it is a very simple lesson.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • bethe123

      - It is not what is in the Quran.

      It is how, in practice, Islam causes women to be treated...whether it is the Quran, a Hadith, or Sharia, the final result is women under Islam tend to suffer very badly.
      Christianity has reformed. Yes, you can find barbaric passages in the Bible, but nobody acts upon them...In Islam, you only have to look at Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other Islamic countries to see the effects of Islam...and so you want to invite Islam to America? We think that is foollish.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Joshua

      Going through some of your comments exposes your narrow world view. There are 1,5 billion muslims spread from Morroco to Indonesia. There are good ones and there are radical ones who twisted the religion to justify violence.
      Educate yourself or you are just a christian or jewish taliban dittohead who overdozed on limbaugh and hannity. Remember Hannity and fox guys are making money by fear mongering.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • bethe123

      @Joshua - Just gives us facts please. Stating somebody has a narrow world view may, or may not, be true. But it is ad hominem...If you have facts that can refute mine, please do share, for the benefit of all.
      If have listed some of the evil of Islam. You think I am wrong, then prove it.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      Not sure what you mean, Islam treats women badly? Muslims treat their women GREAT! They get to stay home and have babies, LIKE WOMEN ARE SUPPOSED TO! Guys have to provide for the family and the women have lots of relatives and kids. They get husbands who are faithful to them and married for life in the true sense of the word. Women in Islam do not have to become pre-occupied with their boo ties either. With the emphasis on modesty and being happy with what mother nature has endowed you with, both for men and women, Muslim women are treated like princesses.

      March 26, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • bethe123

      @(B)iraq Hussein Osama

      You are free to have your own opinion, but you don't get to have your own facts.

      Women suffer under Islam. You should read "Infidel" by Ayaan Ali Hirsi ...

      March 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  11. Whatevah

    abstraq, are you serious? I love how liberals talk in hateful and racist ways about conservatives. Let me get this straight... Liberals, who send buses to pick up masses of uneducated and homeless people with psychological problems to vote in presidential races criticize Conservatives for being unintelligent and clueless. Liberals pride themselves on being the party of the "working class people" (implying blue collar workers with minimal education).

    Give us a break! The only fools are the uneducated liberals who can't or haven't read the Koran and other Islamic "Holy" texts for themselves and have probably never visited any middle eastern countries to see what these people are like for themselves.

    Liberals, go visit some middle eastern countries and actually read some Islamic texts. Show us that you are full of more than just hateful, racist, condescending bluster.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Bryan

      I've read the Quran and seen these people in their own environment, and it's clear they are uncivilized and governed by a radical, odious, and intolerable religion, which explains their behavior. It's not rocket science folks.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  12. hoofleau

    Well it looks like CNN now has it's own Islamic blog page. They should call it, "Adventures in Islam".

    March 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  13. groove93

    The ignorance within many of these comments are comical. It's funny how as a teen in the early 90s I was part of the Hip Hop Culture in which many of us embraced the practices of Islam, yet NO ONE pitched a fit about thousands of Young Black Teens and Adults praising Allah or praising the Teaching of Islam. This is just FURTHER PROOF of how Black Culture means NOTHING to White America. You want to be and act like us, but don't want to be around us. It's plain and simple. Take your little laptops and PCs and direct them to Youtube and start looking for videos during the early 90s and you will so tons of References with regards to Islam. LOL had White America knew what was going on with Hip Hop in the 90s, lol we'd probably be in jail!!! LOL Gotta love this country.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Mike

      Islam is a religion...this has nothing to do with race. There are black people (such as my grandma) who as a Christian reject anything Muslim. And she is not alone....many black people who are Christians feel this way about Islam.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  14. Tkyler

    Whats up with CNN and its Muslim or maybe I should say Islamic push here recently? And why are you depicting these people like they are under priveledged and poorly treated. So Americans don't want mosques up on every corner, are we intolerant and wrong for that? HELL NO were not!!! Stop pushing!!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  15. Isam Sux

    Islam is nothing but a violent voodoo cult. It's a sick, twisted religion.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • chanceofflight

      Judging by your user name you aren't very well educated and racist.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Goku

      what do know about Islam?

      March 26, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • bethe123


      March 26, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  16. jpbill

    I was a fun of Philadelphia freeway until his home town buddy (Cassidy) destroyed him in a rap battle. Ever since then he has been confuse. I knew he was a muslim before the rap scene. Come on a devoted christian will not be rapping about the stuff he writes and rap about. But he does have a some positive songs.But whats up with all these articles on CNN about people converting to Islam. What are they trying to proof?

    March 26, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  17. Bugsy

    This is not news, and is not news-worthy. CNN get it together- start acting like a professional news agency and report on current events which keep your readers informed on the world around them... not a docu-bio of some man named "Freeway." I'm ashamed to be a loyal CNN reader/fan.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  18. REALLY

    CNN....I'll give you a pass today becasue all new stations put crap out there sometimes. I hope you go back and watch this and relize that you gave a platform to an ignorant man with a temporary belief in something that gave him a welcome place but will soon own his mind. Next time can you have some commontary on ignorant staements, such as "Islasm is a peacfuly beautiful religion...It's a way of life...it hurts me when the mistakes of a few ruin it for us" Come on dude, that is just ridiculous. Why doesn't appoligize for the way Islasm thrives on violence and demeans women.

    BTW – Since when is Philadelphia the center of the bible belt. This may be one of the crappiest pieces ever on CNN. Who's letting this crap out?

    March 26, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • CP3NOLA

      Firstly the whole "Islam degrades women" concept is traditional native practices in Afhganistan, Pakistan and those places being mixed in with the religion. Islam does not force women to wear hijabs and forced marriages. The prophets wife was a succeful business woman, and his daughets were educated. Religion and culture, dont mix them.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  19. warhead

    McVeigh was a loon and did not act on anything the Bible told him.

    This Freedom guy is allowed to say people "made mistakes" in Islam...as if they didn't mean it and killing infidels is not clearly a message of Islam?


    March 26, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  20. BuffaloJon

    This is the lead story on CNN??? What a joke.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • ??????????

      ok.Whats the point of this story?

      March 26, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • me

      the point of this story? it's just social engineering at its most obvious.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Baman

      I'm with you BuffaloJon, CNN has been behind Fox for a long time and it seems they are only driving themselves further behind with "lead stories" like this. In the case of Rap Musicians and Muslims, two wrongs don't make a right.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • fady Lebanese

      I am a christian Arab and i believe this is so ridiculous story that CNN trying to break our heart. who care about this rapper who is a Muslim. I hope he ll join the Jihad, and leave this country to Afghanistan. because we don t need such people in the USA. People like those are going to take this country to Hell

      March 26, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Jesus

      Another story about some schmuck rapper with no musical talent. Shouting into a mike with a back beat isn't music. "Freeway"? I heard that before he hit it big it was "Side Street".

      March 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Wendy

      This will be my second attempt at posting a comment on another CNN article written by Soledad O'Brien, who apparently has a soft spot in his heart for Islam. My first posting on another of his articles "CNN Poll: Most Americans OK with a Mosque in their Community", unfortunately, was never approved for posting. There was no vulgarity or anything offensive in my comments. There were only factual statements about the Muslim faith. I thought that good journalism meant speaking from both points of view and not being narrow-minded, one-sided, bigoted, intolerant, or prejudiced. I would strongly suggest that CNN and Soledad O'Brien prove to America that they have an open-mind and can put less focus on the so-called "positive" side of Islam (a religion that hates America and desires to see its destruction) and start reporting on the positive side of other faiths (Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.). CNN, do all of us a favor and start producing fair and honest journalism.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • hamza

      fade lebaneze-we know your motiuves.hezbollah gave you good beating.who are "we" in "we don't need..."?are you above somebody,so you don't need somebody?

      March 26, 2011 at 12:15 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.