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. Freemason

    @ sharky you are another BIGOT...promoting ignorance and hate when ever and where ever they can...

    March 26, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  2. qzorro

    How can Islam shape one rap artist? Singing is haram. Singing is strictly forbidden by Allaah and the Qur’aan. He obviously needs to be informed better about Islam and not make his own rules that are not received from Allaah.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  3. Norseman

    CNN and the rest of the liberal media would never post a story on here about a Rapper balancing Street Cred. and his CHRISTIAN faith....

    They just want us to feel sorry for those 'oppressed' minorities.......

    March 26, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  4. DJC

    I can't believe I actually read this crap. Waste of my pixels.

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

      I'm glad to see all the racist and hate comments about islam from christians. . That truly shows why people should stay away from Christianity. Keep it up

      March 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  5. Tired

    Why is this story and all of the other ones where a person's faith is celebrated and when a Christian article comes around, it's defamed and mocked? Where is the fairness? When stories are written about how 'religious' a person is like Muslim, Hindu or any other faith, it's celebrated because of individuality and that the person has strength and courage to tell others about how their faith leads them. But when a Christian does the same thing, it's ridiculed, mocked, scoffed, and given all sort of bad names. The Christian is told that they have no right to 'push' their faith on others and that they should keep their faith under wraps. There is a huge double-standard. I don't buy the argument that any other faith doesn't do the same thing as the Christian faith. I've met many people who are of different faiths other than Christian and they do the same thing.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Norseman

      Jesus said people would hate Christians......

      It is no surprise that the retarded media is not supportive of Christianity. Get used to it...

      oh and by the way...Jesus is the only way. No other religion will work.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Convert

      @Norseman, Jesus was the only way to got at his time. Every profit was the only way to got at there time. All prophets came with the same message, and that is to believe in one God.

      I'm an islam convert. I've studied both the bible and in the process of studying the Quran. Here are some bible verses that proves islam

      Bible Verses which PROVE Islam

      Deuteronomy (6:4)
      Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our GOD. The Lord is ONE.
      (So the lord CAN NOT be more than ONE, as the modern day “Trinity” in Christianity suggests. NOTE: the word “Trinity”, does not appear even once in the bible.)

      Mark (12:29)
      “The most important one,” answers jesus, “is this: Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”
      (Again, the Lord (Allah- in Islam) is ONE. There is none other but Him alone.)

      Luke (18:19)
      “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good - except God alone.” (also in Mark 10:18)
      (If Jesus [pbuh] was in fact “God,” then who is he talking about? Himself?)

      John (5:30)
      By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
      (Jesus [pbuh] says, “the one who sent me.” In Islam, we believe Jesus [pbuh] was SENT by Allah as a prophet, and was not begotten, as other parts of the Bible suggest. So if this verse says “sent“, and other verses say “begotten“ (As in John 3:16), then which is which?)

      Matthew (7:21-23)
      Not everyone who says to me “Lord! Lord! Will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
      Many will say to me on that day “Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and in you name derive out demons and perform many miracles?”
      Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away you evil doers!”
      (So anyone who calls Jesus [pbuh] the Lord, will not enter heaven? In this verse Jesus is talking to those followers who bow down to him and call him the Lord. He [pbuh] is in fact not the Lord, but a sacred Messenger of Allah)

      John (13:16)
      “Truly, truly I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who Is sent greater than the one who sent him.”
      (Again, the one who “sent him.” Therefore Jesus [pbuh] is not greater than God who sent him, therefore, he (Jesus [pbuh]) is not God.”

      John (14:24)
      He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words are not my own; they belong to the father who sent me
      (Again, “who sent me.”)
      James (1:13)
      When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
      (God CAN NOT be tempted whatsoever. )

      Matthew (4:1)
      Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
      (Jesus [pbuh] was tempted. Therefore, Jesus [pbuh] can not be GOD. )

      March 26, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Convert

      Excuse the typo in my post above ( got = GOD )

      March 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  6. Dunders

    How the hell can you have street cred and be a Muslim? I have known some outstanding Muslim Americans and they would say that is not possible. It is only a matter of time before rap music figures out that rapping about guns, cars, killing, money, woman, clubs, drugs, gold, diamonds, and being a bad ass is ridiculous. Take a look at his song lyrics, it's all there. Freeway took his street cred rap name from a famous drug dealer! Muslims do not support that. Give me a break CNN. Put some real Muslims up in your headlines who actually do something good for this country. Then maybe you can help us all to bridge the trust gap.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  7. irockOK

    Good luck with that ( change ) freeway, BTW freeway? reallly? A muslim name freeway, hummm. Well you all know what a change of faith has done to Cat Stevens, He`s not even allowed in the country anymore as fas as I know, And rightfully so. And his music didn`t s u c k likes yours. I won`t be watching as what little fame you may have had falls into the abbis.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  8. dave

    THis article sure has sparked a lot of comments...actually most muslims have no idea of what their koran teaches as most nominal christians have no idea what their scriptures talk about and what salvation is all about..Muslims generally will not speak out against bombers etc if they are bombing in israel but they cheer...this week over 100 rockets have landed on Israeli villages but there is no outcry from liberal press but if Israel goes after these ppl WOW what a terrible thing that would be...
    THings in the world are moving fast...very fast and our security is fast eroding due to passive reactions and hopeing all will be rosey posey..world does not work that way

    March 26, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  9. Becca

    Christianity is not about religion!!! It's about a loving relationship with Jesus. We are like every other human being except we have believed and asked Jesus to come into our hearts and live in us. Yes, we feel passionately about issues like abortion and gay rights but we are NOT the Westboro Babtist Church

    March 26, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Convert

      That doesn't seem to be the case here. From the comments i've been reading, Christians have proved how much hate and racisim they have in there hearts toward Islam and other religions. I converted to Islam 2 years ago and i never seen practices in Islam. Islam is truly the religion of peace, regardless on how it is looked by others., but one thing for sure, we do not have priests that molest children.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  10. Eric

    What shameful and embarrassing comments from small minded people claiming to be patriotic Americans.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  11. Plead the Fifth

    Most of you dummies know absolutely nothing about the rap game or who "Freeway" even is.

    He is a major drug trafficker that works for Jay-Z's drug / rap gang (The Roc / The Roc Boys) and whom uses Rocafella Records to launder his money.

    He has many bodies and much bl00d on his hands regardless of what he presents to the "public".

    All of you ignorant losers and m0slem apologists need to catch a clue ... on a side note, and just like his m0slem brother Barry Hus$ein Obammy, he rolls with the sunnni m0slems, h@tes America, and donates money to organizations that do nothing more than strategies how to bring this country down ... nice job dummies.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  12. Tennessean

    How can you call yourself a Christian when you have hate in your heart? I am a 26 yr. old black man born and raised in the town that the KKK was formed in and 1 hour south of Murfreesboro which is also where I went to college and the guy who converted to Islam is from...I think most of ya'll know where I'm heading with this. Now, I was raised Church of Christ and went to an all white CofC private high school and I no longer attend services because I feel like religion was pushed on me and the teachings of all the different denominations here in the south are somewhat radical and ridiculous at times! Black and white churches of the same denomintation can't come together to worship because it's still that divide between races everywhere in the south...the ignorance level is unbelievable and I will say if it's something that the good ole boys don't understand or can't control they don't want it around them and they always end up raising hell! Some of these remarks sound identical to what I hear when the Aryan Brotherhood comes to Pulaski and has their many marches on our square. Stupidity and hatred is handed down from generation to generation, do some research before you make idiotic remarks about something you know nothing about! If you hate on Islam you have to hate on Southern Baptist which most of the slave owners were during the civil war and most of the racism in the south stems from, you have to hate on Churches of Christ who teach you are going to hell unless you are one of them, the Mormons who believe that it's ok to have many wives and so on as all religions have their rules or guidelines that they see fit to live by. The last time I heard you were to love all your fellow brothers and sisters equally and not have hate in your heart and to top it off it's always the older people who have the issues, adults in my age range seem to see people for who they are and not for color, social status or religion! There are radicals in every religion and until we can live together as one nothing is gonna change, your religion is no better than another so stop being so full of yourselves and worry about living a happy productive life in the name of the man upstairs. I have no problems with Islam, CofC, Southern Baptist, Mormons, the Klan or anybody else for that matter...I'm more worried about getting along with the next man and being successful in life for me and my daughter who I'm trying to teach at the age of 4 to love everybody and do something positive in life! I don't believe for one second CNN is trying to push Islam on anyone but I do believe they are trying to put some type of understanding into some of your simple minds that Islam is not what a few radicals have made it out to be! Bring the negative comments...I know they are coming lol

    March 26, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Sick of morons

      Right on man.. this hatred is sickening

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

      thank you,if americans were like you,osama bin laden would be eliminated by muslims themselves,there wouldn't be any terrorism.what american christians do not want to understand is that muslims will defend their lands and try to prevent stealing their resources and imposing american will on muslims by any means available.what these murfreesboro idiots and similar ones will think about muslims,is not important at all.america is changing and everyone will have to accept that.muslims will not accept to be new blacks in america.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • truthful

      you are expecting negative comments. I am going to disappoint you and say why do not you just forget about this church or that church and just seek after God and the truth in his word and the truth shell set you free.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  13. steve

    If you all want to wonder why were at war, simply read all of the above comments. Truly sad.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  14. Granger

    What's truly amazing is we have CNN, sensationalizing and trying to promote with a positive spin the very cult that our brave soldiers are trying to protect us from. Next they'll be calling our soldiers babykillers...and want to elect Obama emperor of the new world order.....Islam is a disease, and a Tomahawk missile is the cure....that's the only thing they understand. There's no tolerance on their behalf, jjust a quest to dominate the world.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  15. kuwait_999

    I refuse to follow the child rapist, mass murder Muhammad teaching... even if it cost my life

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

      @ Kuwait_999 ... What a BIGOT YOU ARE!!

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


      So kuwait is a bigot now for actually speaking the truth? See it is YOUR comment that FORCES people to adhere or else they are labeled like that. Nice knee jerk reaction. Mohammad WAS a child rapist and a mass murderer, that isn't bigotry that is merely the truth. Sheesh. And if someone doesn't want to follow a man's religion like that why should he. Ignore reality and simply stamp a label is all you and your kind know what to do.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Freemason

      @ you are just another BIGOT nothing else.

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

      @ Sharky AKA (Ben) your comments full of ignorance, hate and low life quality!!..get a life!

      March 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • truthful

      God bless you kuwait_999. You so the light. I hope that you do not stop there, but you're a believer in Jesus Christ. Jesus said I am the way, truth, and the life and no one comes to the father except through me. What gets to me is when Muslims say they respect Jesus. Really? then how come your prophet knocked down everything that Jesus said, did, or stood for? God is not a confused God. He is not going to send a massage through Jesus and then turn around and send an opposite massage through Muhammad! They can't both be right. Can they?

      March 26, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      >> What gets to me is when Muslims say they respect Jesus. Really? then how come your prophet knocked down everything that Jesus said, did, or stood for?

      the Prophet Muhammad did not knock down anything Jesus stood for! Jesus was a jew. He kept the commandments and he believed in one God, the Holy Father, Yahweh, Allah. Prophet Muhammad was in agreement with that.

      Jesus as God, Son of God, dying for man's sins, the whole religion of christianity is post-Jesus. The Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels did not bring any new religion called Christianity. Christianity was created by his followers.

      March 26, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  16. Ben

    CNN's editors ought to be ashamed of themselves for publishing this Islamic propaganda BS all week. Not that this organization has much of a sense of shame.... but do we really need to hype up another phony "victim" group in the USA- muslims, really, victims? The muslim-victim-status argument has been thoroughly debunked by more credible journalists using FBI data. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/08/27/99767/hate-crimes-against-muslims-rare.html. To show a sense of balance, write another story about how the 99% of rappers who aren't muslim- including the many Christian, Evangelical, and Jewish rappers (yes there are quite a few)- and how these artists try to balance their faith with their gritty message. That still wouldn't be worth our time, but at least it wouldn't be propaganda.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • drew

      Good post Ben.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  17. johnny america

    Freeway is not very good, his only hit was a song he was on with Kanye West and Mos Def and it wasnt his verse that everyone remembers.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  18. Dr. NoVA

    Kevin, you have to be one of the stupid literate readers I have come across. Btw, I am a Harvard graduate and hold a PhD and JD, so please, save the comments. I come from a Muslim upbringing, have lived in the Middle East, and while I am not practicing, I do understand the religion, not because I work for an Egyptian bigot. The idea that a religion or race of people are inherently lazy defies any scientific logic. The idea that Islam is inherently evil defies scriptural logic. Islam, too, believes it is defending its homeland. Do a bit of historical research, there was no large-scale Islamic invasion of the Western and/or European nations. The Western strife began with Islam when the Islamic empire occupied the Holy Land and early Arabic spread through the region. Europeans invaded because of the fear that the Holy Land was being occupied by a "barbarian desert dwellers". The conflict built and culminated into the 19th and 20th century colonization of Muslim nations by Western countries. By US overthrow of Muslim leadership in favor of dictators (Mossadeq), the Muslim world realizes this, knows that despotic idiots such as the House of Saud, Musharraf, King Abdallah, Mubarak, etc were kept in place with CIA support and intelligence.

    You are, well, uneducated. I don't fault you for that. I do, however, think it is very unwise to create this forums of this new class of civilizations. There is absolutely no reason that Muslims, with the correct leadership and an entrance into the global market, cannot be at peace with the West, and even Israel. And I am a Palestinian, and I firmly believe that this conflict with Israel is resolvable. We Palestinians and Jews are cousins, we are more closely related than any other two races in the world, it is absolute travesty to think we will always be at war. We are family.

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

      So, you're a Harvard grad, just like Obama....hmmm...nuff said. STFU

      March 26, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Sick of morons

      I've worked with black people that are lazy.. I think they are Christian.. they must be evil.. oh and then their were some indian hindus that were lazy.. they must all be evil too.. oh wait and there was a lazy Polish Catholic guy.. ah ok.. so Indians, Blacks, Whites, Hindus, Christians.. the list can go on... apparently we are all evil

      March 26, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Muhamad

      Silence DR. Nova...........I keel you. The only good mussy is a dead one.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • melange


      ... and just like George W. Bush. What's your point?

      March 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Jason

      @Dr. Nova
      You have a good dream of peace but I fear the hatred and tension are so deep will always have unrest. Its very sad to think that two books have ripped our entire world apart. What a waste

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

      George W. Bush was a Harvard Grad. Any retart can be a Harvard grad. lol

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

      George W. Bush was a Harvard Grad. Any retard can be a Harvard grad. So are you telling us you're as stupid as George W. Bush? lol

      March 26, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • truthful

      You are very well spoken Dr. NoVA and you're right that people can get a long together specially Palestinians and Jews. But like you said you are not a practicing Muslim. I ate to say it, but if you were, your views may change because the quran would teach you the Jews are pigs and children of pigs and you should not be their friend or make peace with them or with Christians. How do you re-conciliate that? please do not tell me that these verses were replaced because that is an insult to my intelligence.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      Verse 2:62
      (The truth is not as they – the Jews – claim, but this:) Those who believe
      (i.e. professing to be Muslims), or those who declare Judaism, or the
      Christians or the Sabaeans (or those of some other faith) – whoever truly
      believes in God and the Last Day and does good, righteous deeds, surely
      their reward is with their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.

      March 26, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  19. tony russo


    March 26, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • MyBrotha

      Yo we got some haterz up in here.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • lgreen

      what a sad person you are.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  20. sargeanton

    I am sick to death of warm, fuzzy stories about muslims. Islam is the sworn enemy of EVERYONE in the entire world...Israel being #1 and the U.S. being #2. Islam has declared war on the United States and they are winning by infiltration. Thanks to CNN and Fox and all the other media for their continued support of America's deadliet enemy.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • hamza

      you have got it exactly opposite,word by word

      March 26, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • MyBrotha

      Well that's just a straight up lie.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • drew

      Seriously, what is up with all the Muslim personality stories? Does CNN all of a sudden they are the defenders of Islam?

      March 26, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Jaynicia

      [ sarcasm]Muslims to the left, Mexicans to the right...I swear to God/Buddah/Mohammed/Vishna/Gozer/TomCruise/TheKamis/Reagan, what's a disenfranchised white person to do nowadays? [ /sarcasm]

      March 26, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Bhushta

      what you are saying is just not correct–there is nothing truthful there whatsoever. I, on the other hand, am sick of all the warm fuzzy stories about Christian evangelists–particularly missionaries, who have been ruining cultures throughout the world for hundreds of years, in nthe name of a pathetically childish misinterpretation of the Bible.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Tim Reagan

      Your mind is about as simple as a raspberry. Open your closed-off skull to the thought that there are good people out there, many of them Muslims, who are devout to their creator and much better off than you. Sorry bro.

      March 26, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • CommonSense

      I totally agree with you. The media is only trying to airbrush how good the muslims here in America are trying to behave. But in reallity the islamic religion has already established a bad reputation. I wonder if Christians or Jews get the same respectful positive propaganda in the arab muslim countries. I wonder why these islamic believers don't spread the good messages in the arab muslim countries first.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:18 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.