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March 26th, 2011
07:00 AM ET

How Islam shaped one rap artist

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

By Sarah Hoye, CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freeway said he felt the hearings unfairly targeted Muslims.

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

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

Why Muslims pray five times a day

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

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

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Music • Muslim

soundoff (874 Responses)
  1. DDavison

    it is sad to see the hate spouted by people who either can't or refuse to understand true Islam and what being Muslim means. Before spouting off, think about how it makes you look. I'm all for a candid, honest, thought provocking discussion but get the facts right and be willing to have an open mind (goes for both non-Muslims and Muslims.) Remember, generalizations and stereotypes rarely reflect the majority.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  2. jerrymouse

    despite your beliefs on the legitimacy of religion, you should not angrily insult religion. it's honestly the same thing as insulting someone's culture. there was a story about a guy insulting native american culture, and there was nearly a unanimous sentiment of how this guy was wrong. i'm a sixteen year old, confirmed catholic, but i don't necessarily follow my religion. however, among others who do, i'm completely tolerant. that's what people need to become: tolerant. maybe religion needs to be more tolerant too, and people should stop utilizing to push their own ideas (glenn beck). personally, i like freeway as a rapper. i think this article shouldn't have been on the first page, but at least it attempts to change the american societal view on islam. or atleast it gets people to think.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Brian Macker

      Why the double standard? I'm sure you feel free to criticize our culture. You want to ban criticism of McDonalds?

      Islam is an ideology and it is wrong, drastically wrong, about a great many things. I'll criticize it all I want. That's part of my culture and my beliefs. If you don't believe in criticism then stop being a hypocrite and criticizing me for following my traditions.

      I believe anything is open to criticism including religion. So I'm not being a hypocrite. You are.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • jerrymouse

      i never said criticize, sir. i said insult. from what my 'obviously' inferior brain learned so far, there's a difference. treating things with contempt is different that finding faults with something. and don't you dare believe that i even know or care who you are, and i'm personally 'criticizing' you for anything. i'm just bringing up a personal idea.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  3. Doug smart

    I'm an agnostic because EVERY religion is Mind control. There are great people who are Muslim, there are great Jews and Christians. There are that 1% of every group that freaks out everybody else. WE ARE HUMAN. Stop the killing, who cares about right and wrong people need to get along instead of trying to kill apart.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  4. tony russo

    I read these comments about Islam, jews, and christians. All they ever doing is bad mouth each other, They show no mercy towards each other, Please come in and join me the religion of humanity and respect you hate mongers.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  5. annoyed

    Yeah that's cool. Now write a story on Christian Rap Artist, Bizzle. Oh wait, CNN hates Christians.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • truthful

      you nailed it annoyed. CNN hated Christians. Ted Turner, the owner of CNN said Christianity is a religion for losers. The only time CNN will talk about Christians or Christianity is when it is in a negative light.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  6. solomon

    awesome read CNN! Freeway has been one of my favorite rappers for years!

    March 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  7. ajd

    I am really wondering what CNN's agenda is? Why are they promoting one religion so much? A persons religion is not news so why even discuss it on a news website. If a leader of an Arab country converts to Judaism, that would be news.

    I guess I could sarcastically guess that they don't want the CNN center blown up by suicide bombers so they are kissing up to them?

    March 26, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  8. Crescentgirl

    Keith,

    You r confusing a political struggle with a religious one. If you truly want to see what Islam has to say... My suggestion would b to visit ur local islamic center and talk to the Muslims there. They can answer any questions about Islam u may have. But, u will have to go with an open mind & heart. Leave your prejudices at the door.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Brian Macker

      Actually they will lie to you. For example, they will tell you that Mohammad was a peaceful man, and make the claim that the Qur'an doesn't advocate violence when clearly it does, over and over.

      What needs to happen is that Muslims need to open their eyes to the bigotry, double standards, lies, violence that is contained in the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the actions of Mohammad.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • truthful

      Nobel Thought, but many have tried to get answers to the radical, hate filled Quranic versus to no avail. The leaders go around in circles and never able to give a straight answer. Islam has been exposed for the evil religion that is. Please do not confuse that with being raciest against Muslim people. I love Muslim people because my Christian faith teaches me to do so. It is the Quran and it is teaching that I have a problem with.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  9. gpzjack

    Lets face it. Religion = Hate. all of them

    March 26, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Becca

      YOU ARE WRONG! A LOVING GOD CREATED YOU. HE LOVES YOU AND HAS A WONDERFUL FUTURE FOR YOU. HE SENT JESUS CHRIST AS A WAY OF WASHING ALL OUR SINS AWAY IF WE WILL BELIEVE IN HIM AND ASK HIM INTO OUR HEARTS, THEN YOU WILL GO TO ETERNITY IN HEAVEN AND NOT HELL. THERE IS A REAL HELL... BELIEVE ME YOU DON'T WANT TO GO THERE

      March 26, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  10. Jimmy

    So, basically, he balances two things that mean absolutely nothing.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  11. joe

    STREET CRED! Any future rappers need bullet wounds let me know.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Brian Macker

      Street cred means you are a thug. I don't see how that is incompatible with Islam. In fact CNN is constantly worried whether opposing Islamic thugs will hurt our street cred in the Muslim world.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  12. Sebastian Martinez

    how did this make the front page? sad CNN I am pro CNN, but this is just not newsworthy

    March 26, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Granger

      CNN = anti-American
      CNN = pro-Muslim
      CNN = pro-Obama

      March 26, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • bethe123

      @Granger

      That was concise and to the point..and evidence seems to indicate you are correct.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  13. Murf

    Ok, what sand jig is constantly spamming this muslim trash for cnn... Done with eet.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  14. ScottJoh

    Oh.. did I mention? WHO THE F'K CARES? GEEZ~~

    March 26, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  15. TMP

    Wow!! I am surprised at the hate filled comments that are being published. And we wonder why there are so many wars going on at one time.

    His follower

    March 26, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Granger

      hate filled? Because many Americans are fed up with the coddling of this cult who prefers to kill any and all without their mindset? Maybe they're the haters, and you're just plain ignorant to the obvious.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Get Real

      Right because every Muslim straps themselves with bombs to kill people who aren't Muslim. Brilliant deduction! Have you ever read a history book or learned about all of the violence and crimes that Christians have commited or do you just turn a blind eye to all of that because Fox News told you "Christians are the good guys, Muslims are the bad guys"?

      It must be exhausting to be so angry and spiteful based on absolute rubbish.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Brian Macker

      So it is hate filled for me to desire not to be defamed by the Qur'an? Hate filled in objecting to the incitement to violence in the Qur'an. Hate filled for me to want to put an end to stonings, and hand chopping as punishments for crimes? Hate filled to insist on equality, not submission to Islam (which means submission).

      Get real.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  16. Nox

    Funny how a person can be proud of migrating from one neanderthal thought process to another. I think that its a pathetic downward trend.

    Seems that seems that CNN is hell bent on islamic recruitment in my opinion.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Becca

      AGREE FULLY

      March 26, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  17. Colin

    I hope (probably in vain) that, as the Arab World rises up against its religious leaders, it also questions its religious leaders. That it casts off supersti-tion, dogma, and the suffocating effects of entrenched religious beliefs and moves forward into the 21st century. Things could only improve scientifically, socially and culturally.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  18. Zuhaib Jahangir

    CNN keep it up!! Good journalism!! And I am amazed about the people responding to these articles. You are proving to be a true liberal neutral media source.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • ScottJoh

      YOU ARE N IDIOT

      March 26, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • stickyd

      garbage! To hell with Muslims!

      March 26, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Zuhaib Jahangir

      You are a racist....

      March 26, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Granger

      Aren't you late for your shift at 7-11?

      March 26, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Mac

      Great remark Zubdao....:
      Get the hell out of our country and go live where you love it SO MUCH !!
      Please dont' let us hold you back !!!
      IDIOT.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • steve

      Grange, your lack of education is incredibly noticeable. It's also funny how you hide behind a website. You would never spew this garbage in public.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Sean

      @stickyd: You hate Muslims because they hate you? WOW that's really smart.

      Basically you hate them because they are evil because they hate other people. By that logic, you should hate your self, because you are hating a whole group of people!

      You are the type that yells "Muslims are evil because they kill innocent women and children. Lets kill their innocent women and children because they are all evil!"

      THIS IS WHY AMERICA IS FALLING! This is the brains that's running this country. You people are sad.

      March 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  19. Robert Richardson

    CNN sure is headlining a lot of "positive" stories about Muslims. Yesterday headlining a supposed Christian (who obviously never knew Christ) converting to Islam and now this. Is CNN not an official arm for Islamic evangelism?

    March 26, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Paul

      I agree – we seem to be on a trend here. How about at least one story (and I am sure there are MANY) about a former Muslim who accepted Jesus and found new abundant life in Christ?

      March 26, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Becca

      Cnn is helping to push Islam upon America. IT IS EVIL, IT COMES FROM THE PIT OF HELL. AMERICA MADE A HUGE MISTAKE ALLOWING THESE PEOPLE INTO OUR COUNTRY, BECAUSE THEIR DESIRE IS TO TAKE OVER, AND OBAMA EITHER WILL HELP THEM OR BE UNABLE TO STOP THEM. I HEARD THERE ARE 4 MILLION MUSLIMS IN THE US, BUT GUESS WHAT THEIR ARE ALOT MORE AMERICANS AND IF WE'D ALL STAND UP AND MAYBE START OUR OWN PROTEST AGAINST THEM, THEY MIGHT LEAVE.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • CNNCO

      Becca – Muslims wanting to take over? I haven't seen them invade any third-world countries lately while we are on our third-invasion in recent years. You need to educate yourself on the origins of Muslim principles. How much do you actually know about this religion or these people? Nothing. Wake up and find that until we embrace one another, we will live in fear (just like you).

      March 26, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Sean

      I don't know what you are talking about! I wish CNN talked good about Muslims as it does Jews and Christians!

      We Muslims feel that CNN and every other US mainstream media is anti Muslim.

      Im confused now, you say they are pro Muslim, but we think they are anti-Muslim....

      March 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  20. Kevin

    Whats wrong with CNN this week? All the pro-muslim propaganda is turning my stomache.Truly the most evil religion in existance. Using God's name to do the Devil's work. People demonize Christianity these days, b ut the most horrible thing they are doing is protesting military funerals. Ooo... thats harsh. Evil Christians! Yet you see NO Christian suicide bombers killing innocent people shopping at a market, or getting off a plane (Russia). Nor do you see Jews doing it. They just fight for their homeland just like anybody else. Before you call me a bigot, or predjudiced, think again. I know more about islam on a bad day than most do period. I work for an Egyptian muslim, and he will not even hire muslims anymore! They are the laziest workers you have ever seen. They are using our system against us, and the sooner more people see the truth, the better off we will be.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Nox

      excellent and logical thought Kevin.

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

      A well-thought out response, Kevin. People often think I am against the individual Muslim...not true...it's their ideology I am not only against, but fear. People will try to twist them, but the facts speak for themselves: http://www.thereligionofpeace.com

      March 26, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Zuhaib Jahangir

      Its the media which portrayed muslims as terrorists. You are trying to say that 2 billion population is terrorist. Those who are extremists do burn Qurans, do kill muslims, do attack the innocents.
      Have you ever tried to figure out how many innocent ppl were killed by the US and allies. Believe me its more than one million. So you will kill million Muslims and be called a fair society and those who killed say 10000 are the terrorists. Its the rich jews and businessmen who are stereotyping muslims with terrorism. Honestly I would ask you to do the research and then stereotype!!!

      March 26, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Muhammed Ali

      If you haven't been following recent news Muslims are largely the targets of hate crimes and racism in this country and CNN is only responding to this intolerance in an effort to assuage this hostile atmosphere or would you prefer that they stoke people's emotions to further inflame the intolerance that has become the basis of republican political ideology.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Mahdi

      Muslims are the laziest people..? What are you talking about? Oh wait you dont even know. Just because a few people your boss hires are lazy doesnt mean its connected to their faith in any sense whatsoever. The least you could say is arab, but hat doesnt make much sense either.

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

      It's part of the liberal Obama agenda...and the shallowness of the liberal mindset. Islam has ruined many parts of Germany, England, Austrailia, and now its migrating through the US and Canada. Every Koran should be used as a fuel source. Islam should be one religion (cult?) that is forbidden in this country due to it's predatory inclination to kill others. I'm so sick of CNN coddling OBama and the other muslim terrorists in this country.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • steve

      Kevin,

      I'm amazed at your ignorance, especially working for a Muslim.

      In one sentence you say how lazy Muslims are and another that you work for one. Is your boss lazy? Is Freeway lazy?

      Then you say how evil Muslims are. Is your boss evil? Did you not see that there are 1.5 billion Muslims? The largest religion in the world.

      Generalizing will get you no where. How do you think the 10's of thousands of innocent people killed by Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan feel about their families being bombed by George Bush who did it in the name of Jesus?

      March 26, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Mac

      CNN: Poor story lines. Use your efforts for more worthy issues than just trying to stir the fire !!
      This country was founded on and is built on Christian / Protestant God fearing men. Cant deny history !!
      Think about the freedom and the life YOU live today and who gave it to you !!!!

      March 26, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • adnan khan

      Dear Kevin, i work for a well known american company and been employee of the month for straight 4 moths, so no muslims are lazy, it is person not the religion. As far suicide bombing concern these folks are strongly condemned by all Muslims leaders and scholars, and these people harm muslims more than anyone else. no muslims will ever at least bomb the mosque while his fellow are praying so do the math.As I always recommend why don't you find a true copy of Quran and study it yourself and try to find the reality yourself. Quran is not only the book for muslims in-fact it is book for all mankind to find the right direction. it will help you understand the secrete of science the economics, and lot more and be positive it is the real secrete of my personal success.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Dom

      the article is a perfect example of the "religion of peace". They're talking about some rapper who used to sling drugs and commit crimes, I'd be willing to bet one being murder, and then he talks about his faith and how that carries him. It's a bit of a hypocrisy to ruin lives and hurt other people and then say you're a devout religious person...then again look at how many Muslims are suicide bombers and it seems to be logical in the "religion of peace"

      March 26, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • CNNCO

      I see you've bought into the GOP fear-based propaganda.
      Christianity is the most violent religion in the world, ever heard of the 7 different Christian Crusades?
      The reason the arab nations hate us is because or our oppression to their belief systems.
      It was the arab nationa that finally put an end to the crusades and there is not a region in the world that has not suffered at the hands of Christians. This is not propaganda, rather an effort to show the gap between muslim and christian principles is not as broad and Palin would have you think. Time to "reload" you argument.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • sammy

      Your smart man, I bet you were an A+ student in world history class. How do Jews end up in the middle of all these Arab countries? They do not speak Arabic, they do not even have the same religion as Arabic people do. Lets say you put a group of chinese people that are Buddhist all in Colorado, mmmmmmm that would make a lot of sense and do not give that " But oh the Bible said....." Yeahhh.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • dan

      In response to Zuhaib, it is 1.3-1.5 Billion Muslims in the world. That extra 500 million makes a difference. And "the US and its allies" yes how many people have we killed? Well there was that world war, 1 and 2. I guess we killed a lot of people then, I know you and the Nazi's share a lot of the same ideaology, but are you suggesting those are the "innocents" that justify blowing up schools and grocery stores today? We saved Europe, and the Pacific, from being taken over by a guy that frequently allied himself with muslims. Read into Hitler's use of muslims in Serbia. If you are referring to the current conflicts, I would doubt that the number killed by US forces exceeds 100,000. So as you're throwing numbers out there, make sure you know what the stats are. Also no one has said all muslims are terrorists. Its just fascinating that all terrorists are muslim. And what is even more disconcerting that all the "good muslims" aren't the first people out there denouncing violence when terrorists strike. They quietly accept it. Or blame someone that reports on it. You don't and won't see any other ideaology behaving this way. If the muslims do not want to be associated with terrorists, then renounce the ones that blow up kids and women waiting for the bus. Renounce the ones that kill thousands of innocents that aren't military targets. But no muslim does. Interesting.

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

      KEVIN WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT.... so called " Christians" have also commited horrible crimes aginst humanity in the name of God. Earlist example, when Christianity first became legalized by the Roman empire THOUSANDS OF PAGANS WE KILLED IN THE NAME OF GOD! Or what about the thousands of native Americans that were murdered when not wanting to convert to Christianity!!!!

      So for you to ACT as if us so called " Christians" are ANY better then Muslims is just silly. You obviously forgotten your history.

      And further more how can you sit there and say that ALL Muslims are LAZY....do you know how uneducated you sound. I guess you've met EVERY MUSLIM in the World and studied their work performance!!! LOL

      All Muslims aren't bad....you're obvious a person who feeds off of stererotypes..and you should be ashamed. I'll pray for you.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      >> All the pro-muslim propaganda is turning my stomache.

      more likely all that pork you are eating is turning your stomach!

      March 26, 2011 at 4:59 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.