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. mich1988

    Great piece. It doesnt matter what faith you choose to practice, if he found guidance in Islam then so be it. I would much rather this then having to deal with another thug on the street or another drug dealer. Why all the hate?!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  2. michael murray

    WOW another great black man.It's become so I am ashamed to be a white person anymore.Has anyone found out his crimes and how many people he has hurt or killed.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  3. Joshua

    Great article CNN and love how comments expose bigotry of christian and jewish talibaggers. They are no different than radical muslims who twist their religion.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  4. telsaid

    It is so clear from most of the comments posted here that most people have not the slightest idea about Islam. In that case, there is no point of posting an argument. If you are someone who truly seeks the truth, please do some research about Islam before passing judgments. For example, please visit: http://discover.islamway.com/bindex.php?section=articles
    If you just won't do that because you are so full of hate, I will pray for God to clears you heart.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  5. Lamar

    I really cant believe some of the comments made on this page. There is so much ignorance & negativity in the world its sometimes unbelievable. I dont care what religion you are, muslim, christian, catholic, jewish, or if you dont belive in god at all. It's very simple to be tolerant of others...Its very simple to be respectful...Its very simple to just be understanding that there are people in the world not like you!! It seems pointless to even care anymore, the biggotry will never stop. Everyone will always have different points of view, and everyone will always feel they are right. Thanks for being such upstanding role models to the next generation...most of you have completely FAILED at this task!!!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Wraithian

      I agree with you all the way, Lamar, regarding there being good people of every path. The problem is that CNN only wants to focus on one group. "Muzlimz iz so gud! Theyz not all tryin' to blowz up peeple!!" It's getting old. It's getting very, very old. The Muslim communities as of late have been doing a good job on managing their own PR, and I think CNN can focus on other groups doing good things for humanity (I'd love to read about a pagan or athiest, for example, doing something for the community–I know they're out there, but CNN only wants to look at one group).

      March 26, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • bethe123

      @Lamar - You mention so much ignorance on these pages.
      Yes, certainly people with a strong understanding of science, statistically speaking, have a tendency to reject a supernatural explantion of the world...and so yes, you could argue that those who practice Islam are probably ignorant...
      That does not mean the wrapper in this article is...no, he might be highly educated, but still decided to eschew all other forms of gainful employment.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  6. Benjamin

    Thank you all for the reminder of the America in which we all responding live.
    Our young children are not reading nor writing these comments but it is strange how the hatred is perpetuated.
    My God-my God...

    March 26, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  7. JD

    I agree this is definitely not newsworthy, but the comments here are quite ignorant. They exemplify the continuing demonization of Islam and muslims as a whole. People tend to forget about the crusades. But do those actions mean all chatholics are bad. Ok, maybe something current right? Do the actions of the Westboro Baptist church mean all baptists spew the type of hate that they do? Of course not. Again, not newsworthy material here. Freeway is a mediocore, at best, rapper. Good for him for trying to better himself through religion, though.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • IslamIsTheBeast

      People tend to forget that the Crusades were a response, albeit an unneccessarily strong one, to an invasion of Europe by Islamic forces. Wait, I forgot that the only land rights that are supposed to be respected are those owned by enemies of the Western world.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  8. Darwin

    RAPPERS are an embarrassment to the MUSIC PROFESSION. These guys can't read music, certainly can't write in music notation, and most of them can't play an instrument with any genuine skill. This would be like an electrician not knowing the electrical code or a chemist not knowing how to balance a chemical equation. They should all be ashamed of their ignorance!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Colin

      Agreed. The creationists of the music industry.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • iheartdems1

      And you would know this because you have met EVERY rapper alive? Instead of assuming you aren't a bigot, realize you are and educate yourself about the things you know nothing about. You might learn something.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • JD

      As a fan of good music, including hip hop, I must completely disagree with you. I can understand your logic, but for you to generalize all rappers as ignorant is within itself, ignorant. Yea, the ones getting much of the mainstream exposure come off as ignorant, classless, arrogant clowns which is what they are. The media is partly to blame for promoting such individuals and their music which is as ignorant as they are. Tupac was far from ignorant. There is a reason college courses exist devoted to studying his works, including lyrics & poetry. Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, Talib Kweli, Immortal Technique, Crooked I, and countless other rappers still continue to produce high quality art in the form of music, with thought provoking lyrics. You'd be surprised how musically literate most of those rappers are as well. Feel free to express your opinion, I respect it, however, generalizations such as yours do come off as uneducated, in my opinion.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  9. iheartdems1

    I am SO glad that CNN chose to spotlight the GOOD that Islam brings. As a christian, I am heartened that Freeway( whom I LOVE as a rapper) feels the same way about his religion as I do about mine. So often, all you see on TV is the hatred of people claiming to love God while spewing a hatred that would have never passed his lips. GOOD Look CNN!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • IslamIsTheBeast

      Do you hate murder, the oppression of women and cultural/religious/ethnic minorities, and other crimes we in the US despise? Because Islam is based on these.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  10. OMAR

    the most converts came to salafisme politic not to muslim faith.the salafisme wash brain of new convert and put them in the wrong way.the humanity must know the dangerously difference between the salafisme islam souffi.the salafisme is a politic docrtinal to invade the world.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  11. hawk

    why write on these blogs after u see whats here???

    March 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  12. 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. Open your eyes and believe what your senses are telling you.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • iheartdems1

      I have also read the Quaran. Muslims are civilized, just like Christian, Hindi's, Buddhists, etc.There are extremists in EVERY religion. To be a christian is not to judge or condemn. So I guess that would make you a radical, wouldn't it?

      March 26, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  13. openminds

    Allah is the God of Abraham, Jonah, Joseph, David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, etc, and last but not least Mohammad who was sent to confirm that all the previous prophets brought the truth and to complete the message of God. Muslims believe in all the prophets sent by Allah.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Aaron

      Jesus is God.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • A prophet

      If that was true why don't you believe in Jesus Christ who the appeared to Jacob. There is no other name under the sun by which man can be saved. If you knew God, he would testify of this to you like he did me when I was searching for truth. Islam has no hope for salvation that doesn't involve killing yourself or others. Jesus died so you could have assurance of salvation because of his resurection.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Plead the Fifth

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ... why bis that genius, because a child m0slesting mass murd3rer and his barbaric band of loons decided to plagiarize the Jewish cannons??


      March 26, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • @openminds

      Allah is the moon good. Thats why everything is done around the sighting of the moon (their god). Examples: sighting of the new moon to start ramadan, sighting of the new moon to end ramadan, to start feasts Eid Al-hoque. Why do U think this is? Why do their idols have the crescent moon engraved on the chest.The idols are in the Kabah(The Black Box) in Mecca. That why all the muslims must face the east when praying. Now this new wave of muslims are saying that this Allah is now the creator and is the same God as Jesus, Moses, and Abraham. This is a lie from the pits of hell. Jesus warned of this religion. Jesus said that he did not come to change the Law but to fulfill it. If something is fulfilled, then nothing can be added. The bible speaks on this in Revelations the last chapter. So the Bible covered itself so that Jesus is the Seal of God's Word. Anything after Jesus is False

      March 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  14. txpeggysue

    CNN, the pro-Islam propaganda you are spewing out is absolutely shameful! STOP IT before you lose all credibility.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • iheartdems1

      You have racism on your shirt. Might wanna wipe it off.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • bethe123

      Islam is a religion, not a race.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • CP3NOLA

      Rascism can be applied to religon or race/creed whatever you wanna call it

      March 26, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • bethe123

      @CP3NOLA - Then it is not racism. IF you want to have your own private definitions and understandings of what a word means, then it is going to be rather difficult to communicate with you.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  15. Willie

    How does Rapping even qualify as a job or an occupation? thats not the normal lifestyle unless your a street thug and then who cares about street thugs?? They choose to live a lazy lifestyle,, then CNN posts these stories like these and others to Demote Christians. Who is behind CNN with these stories?? A Christian Hating Group for sure!! Wake Up America,, Before its Too Late!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • iheartdems1

      Gee, stereotype much? Not alll rappers are reformed street thugs just like not all white republicans are former Dixiecrrats. To stereotype a culture that uou know NOTHING about is sad and tacky. Go and hug a black person. We are not there to rob you.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  16. Banderman

    This social engineering thing is way out of control. The lame stream media only panders to one specific group these days; guess which one? Diversity does not mean exclusivity. That is nothing but racial bias.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  17. Islam is good. Christians are evil

    I enjoyed reading the ongoing series on CNN regarding the "heritic Christian" who was disbuting everything about the Christian faith. Also, the various stories regarding any bad actors claiming Chirstian or Mormon roots seem to get lots of play here. It is nice to see the balance that CNN gives religion, by finding any seemingly positive example of Islam and making it a priority. I might suggest to the editors that they try to find a Christianity related story not involving gay preists abusing teenage boys (Which they disingenuously refer to a pedophilia) or heritics disbuting basic Christian beliefs or polygamy.
    While I know it disturbs them to realize it, but there is a lot of good done in the name of Christ, like the tens of billions in charity distributed every year, the mission trips by believers to build homes and schools in the third world or any number of othe positive roles Christians fill.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Brian Macker

      Actually only some Christians are evil, and Islam is an evil philosophy full of double standards, intolerance, incitement to violence, unjustified self pity, and defamation of others.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  18. Reality Too

    How Islam shapes the rest of us with its koranic/mosque/imam driven acts of terror and horror :

    The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

    ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

    and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

    and more recently

    1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

    1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

    2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

    3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,483 and 925 in non combat roles. 99,901 – 109,143 Iraqi civilians killed as of 3/3/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

    4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

    5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

    6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

    7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

    8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

    9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

    10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,141 killed in action, 242 killed in non-combat situations as of 03/03/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

    11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

    12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

    13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

    14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

    15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

    16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

    17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

    18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

    19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

    20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

    21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan. 3/2011

    take a GOOOD HARD LOOK...and deal with that...till then save the it

    March 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Idan Sama

      You are being stupid.
      All humans are capable of doing horrendous things despite the faith that they believe in.
      My advice: read more books. preferably psychology.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • You are an idiot

      Any religion can be portrayed that way.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • hamza

      why didn't you mention american/israeli terrorism?100.000 people murdered in iraq,1200 in palestine in the last big israeli attack.american christians will have to downsize their egos.they are not as impos\rtant as they think.we minorities will have to create majority and kick out of the power these white supremacists.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Truth is Double Edged Sword

      @ Reality Too
      Take all of those numbers of victims add them up and multiply by...oh..let's be conservative and say...10,000. And you won't even come close to the numbers of victims of around the globe who died by the hands of the European man and his descendants in the name of greed, Christianity, colonialism, fascism, communism and every other kind of -ism or man-made concoction and premise for raping, killing, maiming, torturing nations of people and plundering their land and natural resources.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Plead the Fifth

      Using all those empirical / historical facts tend to send the lib-fre@k loons into a tizzy ... careful!!

      March 26, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • hoofleau

      @Reality Too:This is a very impressive post. It states the facts, dates, and locations. Great job!

      March 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • rique

      lol you're retarded

      US drops two atomic bombs...how many did that kill?
      us civil war?
      the eradication of the native american race?

      but i refuse to sit here and list every event in the last 10 millenia that has led to deaths of many to point out that everyone kills people

      March 26, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • CP3NOLA

      Lets look into what Christianity has done in the last two thousand years:
      1. The Crusades
      2. Slavery
      3. Rapist priests
      4. Colonialism
      5. Forcing aboriginal kids to drop their native religion
      6. Nuclear warfare
      7. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck

      But obviously those were done by un-Christian christians right? Please take those biased opinions out of your head before you do any harm to other people

      March 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  19. jb

    How many stories of "look of good muslims are" is CNN going to put out this week? This is ridiculous, horrible job hiding your agenda CNN.

    March 26, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • jem morgue

      cnn has gone downhill since they put some idiot cultist in power. All we get are how this barbaric cult is the new way of life and to embrace it. These idiots are killing us, and we want to join hands? Nice job playing the race card with the bible belt thing. Everyone one knows penn. Is right in the middle of bible belt, and we whites (gasp!) Hold hands and try to force out all minorities. Fork off, cnn. There its no god, and you need to cover news, not push for a cult taking over america. Lost a reader on this.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • You are an idiot

      You are and idiot

      March 26, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • mazen

      You have totatly wrong idea about islam. Islam to you r information and according to independent study conduted between 1924 and 1984 incresed by 238% while critianity increased by 48 %. tell what war a muslims conduted to force islam on people. Islam is a releigion of peace, and if you think other wise you are ignorant of history and your source of info is media only.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • coder2

      Who says they are trying to hide their agenda? Liberals are ga-ga over anyone who attacks and kills Americans and liberals are their target audience.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • jem morgue

      All religions are cults looking to further their ways. we will have no world peace until god/allah/flying spaghetti monster is out of the picture. And yes, islam is the cause of all these idiots blowing people up. And other guy, you are and idiot also.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • kuwait_999

      Tabari VIII:122
      Ishaq:515 "The Prophet gave orders concerning Kinanah to Zubayr, saying, 'Torture him until you root out and extract what he has. So Zubayr kindled a fire on Kinanah's chest, twirling it with his firestick until Kinanah was near death. Then the Messenger gave him to Maslamah, who beheaded him."

      No wonder... why Muslim is so violent.... Islam is a false religion.
      Warning: Practice Islam... may lead one soul to HELL

      March 26, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • hamza

      muslims do not want a war.but that doesn't mean that they will lay down and let american christians steal their natural resources.let us clear this out-america is the one that is terrorizing muslims,and america is the one who is causing muslims to resort to terrorism as a mean of fight.you are inviting terrorism on yourselves by terrorizing muslims.you want us american muslims to give a moral cover to the trash that you are doing to middleeastern muslims.also this sons and grandsons of kkk supporters are trying to outlaw muslims in america and make it possible to do what their fathers/grandfathers were doing to black people.white american christians are getting more and more isolated in the world and here,too.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  20. David

    What about Brother Ali??? He's much more talented than this guy. Interview him CNN!!

    March 26, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Undisputed Truth

      YES!! Somebody else who knows about Brother Ali. Such a good rapper.

      March 26, 2011 at 10:48 am |
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.