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. Zuhaib Jahangir

    CNN! Put the article about the belief of pastor burning Quran...

    March 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  2. Shannon

    "You know, we should either sink the large log and kill them before they land here," Opechancanough stated emphatically.

    "No, brother, let's see where what will happen," Chief Powhatan replied, upon seeing John Smith's boat approaching what is now Virginia in 1607.

    March 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  3. raju thomas

    do you ever know how many miserable lifes were transformed to meaningful, joyous and helpful human beings by
    knowing Jesus and accepting christianity. Is there anybody who can bring this into the mainstream media. if so, you may
    have a program which will never end. And also can you bring into picture a true christian who have changed his belief into

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

      Good comment! I know many hardened pagans, atheists, and a couple Muslims who became Christians and their lives were changed in an unbelievable way.

      of course CNN and the secular media would NEVER give exposure to that mainly because the secular world, including CNN and the media is under the reign of the devil....and the devil doesn't want you to know about that.

      he would rather you take time to soak in liberal human-interest stories like this muslim-rapper

      March 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  4. Bobbie

    As far as I'm concernered, he is a two time loser...a muslim and a rapper!!

    March 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      does that make you a three-time loser? good only for commenting on two-time losers?

      March 26, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  5. Gods son

    All you all fail to realize is that jesus is in the quran as a messiah but he was not believed to be God himself .and you talk bout hate but the bible says “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).
    GOD has the power to judge .. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; (Luke 6:37)

    March 26, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  6. Pacoatemiami

    Ghetto rapper meets muslim... You don't want to be the woman in that guy's life.

    March 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • bethe123

      That would almost be funny if the point it was making was not so scary.

      March 26, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      cause if you end up as his woman, jesus, you will be stuck at home having babies. instead of the way you are now whoring out in public to pay your own bills and having the state raise your children whose daddies nobody knows, yourself included.

      March 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  7. JIM-E-O

    Freeway is a legend!

    March 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  8. Sooner

    As soon as I opened the CNN page and saw "rapper balances faith", I knew it was about a Muslim. I hadn't even noticed his beard yet.

    Why did I know that? Why did I so immediately know that this was not a song about an inner-city Christian man trying to make a difference? How could I have immediately known that this story would be about a Muslim man?

    I knew because I know the nature, the heart of CNN. They spurn Christianity because it's "intolerant". But Islam, the hands-down most brutally repressive, intolerant "faith" ever created by (a single) man, is a-okay because it's widely and wisely feared and reviled by those not forced to join it, and CNN feels like it's getting to sit at the "cool kids" table whenever they elevate it.

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

      Great comment! I completely agree.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Ramon ramirezName*

      Iraqs people asked for our help remember sadam and his rapist sons killing and raping there own in the name of ala how soon we forget.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Jonathan

      CNN's leftist, anti-western bias is clear. I expect nothing else from it. That's why I come here – to be reminded that we have an enemy at home.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  9. IslamIsTheBeast

    I have read the Koran. It has many parts that are incredibiliy beautiful and peaceful. Unless your not a Muslim. In which case you are undeniabily screwed. To be fair, classic Christian theology posits that non-Christians are doomed to hell as well. However, Islam says to kill non-believers in THIS world, whereas Christianity saves judgement for God alone. Huge difference.

    March 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • hamza

      why did you then kill more than 100.000 iraqis?

      March 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      they did not kill 100,000 Iraqis, stupid.
      they "liberated" them from this life on earth.

      March 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  10. Jonathan

    Why is every article about Islam on CNN positive but every article on CNN about Judeo-Christianity negative? IMO, CNN is pushing an anti-western bias behind a thin veil of 'multiculturalism' and 'tolerance.' CNN should either get out of the religion business altogether, or openly admit its biases. In either case, the disumulation they're currently involved in is rotten and needs to be exposed for what it is.

    March 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  11. Brainy Yak

    I just don't understand stories like this. I mean, sure it's a credit to a person to fall into a hole like selling drugs, or using them or whatever then to work their way back out. But I think the real heroes are people who just do the right thing every day. Not the extraordinary thing, not the crazy thing, not the amazing thing. Just the right thing. If 90% of people just lived a regular old lifestyle, 99% of our issues would vanish. And I'm not talking about a religious lifestyle. It's hard enough to please yourself, not to mention some invisible person. Heck, just brush your teeth, and eat your veggies, and get a job, and don't hurt other people, and use pregnancy protection until you want kids, and don't let your dog bark all day, and that kind of thing. How hard is that? I've been doing it for 39 years.

    I mean, good for this guy, but no one told you to go ghetto to begin with. Even the most ignorant person knows when they are doing the wrong thing. It's just the easy way out. So we glorify these people because they took the easy way for so long, then decided to do the right (and hard) thing. Well, I've done it the hard way my whole life. I ain't no saint. Just seems dumb to me, to give a voice to these folks. I dunno.

    March 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  12. Reality

    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

    March 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Plead the Fifth

      THAAAAAAAAANK YOU!!!! You missed about 150 m0slem terr0r attacks that have happened in the last 90 days but a very nice representation of what the de@th cult represents nonetheless!!!

      March 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      Add all the terrorist acts of the last 50 years, George Bush and his poodle Tony Blair killed more Iraqis in one year than all those 50 years of terrorism. So what does all your stupid ranting prove? nothing.

      March 26, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  13. Cridd

    An inspiring story of how a man has been lifted up by his faith and has lifted up others in the process. Those of you who have found a way to make this into a negative discussion had to try pretty hard. Props.

    March 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  14. QuestionMe

    The purpose of this story is to continue to tell you that Muslims are great people! But those Christians....they are evil. I always see these touchy..feely stories on Muslims on CNN...but the Christian stories on this site usually tell you how dumb, stupid and crazy Christians are.

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

      are you really surprised that Christians are treated that way by a secular media head?

      Christians will always be hated by the world. Jesus said so himself.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Brendan

      Absolutely ridiculous. Don't know how this is front page news. CNN needs to get a grip on reality and quit shoving Islam down our throats.


      March 26, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama




      March 26, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • Forward... march.

      @ Osama.

      More ignorance from Osama... The Crusades were not fought by Christians. To be a Christian, one must at least be able to understand the Bible and it's message. The Bible wasn't even translated into the soldiers' language - it was in Latin which only the corrupt leaders understood. Don't blame the Crusades on Christians when it was clearly ignorant people who had know understanding of what the Bible teaches.
      The first 400 years of Christianity's explosive growth saw NO WARS. Islam had over 150 wars in the first 100 years alone!!! Your own prophet lost his two front teeth in a battle and was planning more wars when he died.

      March 27, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  15. TheTRUTH

    Soledad O'Brien, or CNN. should show America,what REAL Islam is which hasn't been portrayed accurately. True Islam is Salafiyyah. The true teachings of the Phophet Muhammad ( peace and Blessing be upon Him ) if you are REALLY interested in
    showing what REAL Islam is that doesn't contain MUSIC...

    March 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • FreeWays illy learn something

      It doesn't matter what religion you are, there are different religions to appeal to different cultures i.e. a good christen is a good Muslim- is a good Hari krasna- is a good Jew is a good Morman & so-on & so-on & so-on, If it make the person a better person then it’s a great religion -don’t get hung up on the nuances! The only thing that is important is your personal relationship w/ your higher power period. If Islam teaches it's devotees about their personal relationship w/ their higher power then this report is very relevant as your higher power or dare I say it GOD is in everything, Yes even Music, Music is how the universe is constantly evolving -ever heard of OHM " the transcendental sound vibration the god used to create the material universe" (& is still in the process of-long 6 days)..... remember, not a blade of grass moves w/ out the sanction of the lord... also Freeway is one of the most unique hip hop artist out there, while swimming is a sea of auto-Tuned cookie cutters, Freeway stands out in a big way his rhyme patterns are unmatched, it's very refreshing to say the lest to see artist be in touch w/ there spiritual side & go out of their way to be original in their craft is devotional service to him it’s his way for a mental release-similar to a poet or an athlete winning at their sport to, it is for most artist or any one true to their “calling in life”. As long as it’s not destructive, or self destructive …do what fells right in life.
      -simply put he is the best at his style (witch i like to call a syllable sandwich,) no doubt about it. If you’re in to hip hop at all and haven't heard of FreeWay get out from under THE ROCK and learn something- ...Keep Stacking FrEE!

      March 26, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  16. Wayne

    Why is there a belief blog?
    It should be called fantasy nonsense blog.

    March 26, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  17. Dan

    Isn't the news that several US soldiers were injured and killed deserved to be on CNN's homepage rather than a Islamic rapper?
    Is there any news site that just gives the facts of the world we live in rather than slanted opinions and politically motivated human interest stories

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

      I agree. Perhaps if the news media did more to present the lost of American life and tremendous financial drain in sustaining these land wars, there would be a greater public effort to end them. I'm tired of watching my local school system struggle for money while billions are being pumped into foreign wars.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  18. Mr. T

    Based on racist comments by many, I am starting to get worried about our people and where we are heading.

    I think we need more articles like these... FAST!!!

    March 26, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Bert

      You really think this is NEWS worthy ans we need more like it? HAHAHA. Who is the racist in America? Its the people who keep bringing up the RACE card as a defense for not being able to do things on their own. Get lost and next time you want to talk about race, keep it to yourself.

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

      A Muslim rapper....can you imagine anything more ridiculous? Get that filthy crap out of here–and the rap along with it.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • paperjihad

      @Mr. T,

      Based on the comments, we are just seeing a social pattern repeating itself. Turn the clock back 150 years and you would be reading the same thing about Catholic immigrants. Apparently, there was a general fear Catholics couldn't be loyal Americans because of their allegence to a foreign Pope; many thought they were overwhelming the country and represented something contrary to American values. A conservative populist movement sprang up (The "Know Nothing" movement) and used the platform it its political agenda. Today we have another conservative populist movement....

      March 26, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • bethe123


      You would have to turn the clock back to the middle ages. At that time, you could make the claim that Christianity is more vile than Islam is now.
      Fast forward to now...Christianity has reformed, but Islam is still a stone aged, primitive, barbaric religion.

      The objection to Islam is due only due to Islam itself. It is not racist..it is due to the evil that Islam inflicts upon its followers, and the rest of us. So we don't want it in the USA, get used to that fact. Islam is directly opposed to democratic ideals.

      March 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      >> So we don't want it in the USA, get used to that fact. Islam is directly opposed to democratic ideals.

      What use are your worthless democratic ideals. You cannot even prevent re-election of a certified lying war mongerer George Bush Jr. who openly lied to your face and against the entire World International peacekeeping apparatus, illegally invaded Iraq. you do not have any democratic ideals. Take your head out of the sand!

      March 26, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  19. Becca


    March 26, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  20. FRANK

    This is a "top story"? Really? This isn't even news. I've never even heard of this guy so it's not even celebrity news.

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

      who are you?

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

      Who cares who he is..he is right

      March 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • sillyilly57

      If you don't know about Free then obviously you don't know anything about hip hop, thus, your postings have no merit.

      March 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Bert

      Why would I want to know about garbage people consider music? Granted every person has their own musical taste but you cant convince anyone that someone is "great" because of hiphop. So you are null and void moron

      March 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Brendan

      Very true. I'm getting really fed up of CNN's constant courting of Islam and how they are trying to brainwash America into believing that Islam is good.

      Islam is evil. Look at it's principles. Look at all the examples of hate against non muslims and the west. Look at all the acts of terror and innocent deaths in the name of Islam. Look what happens to states that convert to an islamic republic (IRAN, LIBYA).

      Here in America, we need to ask ourselves... do you enjoy seeing churches being replaced by mosques? Would you enjoy seeing an end to the life we love and have enjoyed in America since 1776? Keep allowing Muslims to immigrate and keep building their mosques.

      All these liberals who are on the side of Muslims but are non-muslim will hopefully soon see that the muslims are just using them to convey their message. Muslims consider non-muslims to be worthless. They teach their children in mosques to hate jews and the west.


      March 26, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      >> Islam is evil. Look at it's principles.

      Why don't you indeed look at the principles of Islam.

      – PRAYER
      – CHARITY
      – HONESTY
      – DECENCY

      March 26, 2011 at 6:27 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.