DAY 24

Pennsylvania

08/26/2011

24 Comments

MEETING FREEWAY
by Aman Ali

Freeway puckered his lips and stroked his fleecy facial hair as I asked him about the purple “Billionaire Beards Club” shirt he was wearing. Breaking out in the hip-hop scene on Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella label in the early 2000s, his distinct look brands an image into your brain just as much as his rhymes.

“I’m a Muslim,” he said. “So this beard, it’s an attribute of a Muslim. It’s a part of me, so I’m just doin what I’m doin normally.’

“Where I’m from here in Philadelphia, this city has a huge Islamic community so its normal,” he added.  “Especially when you walk out in the streets out here, people know who I am so they don’t look at me like I’m going to blow up a plane.”

The Philadelphia Muslim community has its own charm to it. They’ve got this in-your-face and unapologetic pride in being Muslim. What also stands out is the community’s heavy influence from street culture. It’s not uncommon to see someone with a long beard and traditional Muslim garb accessorized by gold teeth and an iced-out watch. It’s hard to explain with words though, what may seem odd anywhere else is the beautiful norm here in Philly.

 

I met Freeway in downtown Philadelphia alongside three of his friends at a local Indian restaurant. One of them was Freeway’s barber, who points to my face and asks me where I got my beard lined up. I told him I did it myself in the bathroom when I woke up today.

“Well, I might have to ask you to grab a chair in my shop then,” he said with a laugh.

Philadelphia wasn’t a scheduled stop on our tour, but when Freeway’s manager reached out to us asking if we wanted to meet him, it was a no brainer for me to hang out with one of my favorite rappers I listened to in high school.

Freeway has a vibrant and unshakeable demeanor when he’s onstage rapping but in real life he can be a reserved man of a few words. He stares across the room and rubs his hands together in the air as he repeatedly takes a few moments for deep thought.

Freeway embraced Islam in his teenage years while growing up in Philadelphia. He prowled the city’s hip-hop scene battle rapping anyone who wanted to step into the ring with him.

“I just loved the music,” he said while reaching for a piece of tandoori chicken. “It was just something I knew I was good at. I always felt like I had a shot so I kept working at it. Whenever someone else blew up, I never hated on it. I always felt like I’d get my time too.”

Soon, rapper/mogul Jay-Z got word of Freeway’s talents and signed him to Roc-A-Fella records. Freeway became an overnight success with producers like Kanye West maestroing his debut album. That’s when he decided to go on Hajj for the first time in 2004 with Jakk Frost, a Philly rapper sitting next to him whose bond with Freeway goes beyond music.

Jakk Frost is a beast of a man. Words come out of his mouth with a thundering boom and just looking at his hands I know he could probably crush someone like crumpling up a piece of paper. But he offsets that with an affable tone in his voice. Speaking to him you get a sense of an incredibly deep sense of loyalty and friendship to Freeway, which is why Freeway brought him on Hajj in 2004.

“I wanted to go on Hajj because it’s part of my religion,” Freeway said. “It’s one of the five pillars of Islam and I finally had the free time and the money to do it.”

“And he had somebody to get on his nerves about it, hahahaha,” Jakk Frost said with a bellowing laugh.

Being in Saudi Arabia to make the holy pilgrimage was an eye opening experience for Freeway, especially when visiting the Kabah, the Islamic holy house Muslims all around the globe pray towards every day .

“When I got to Mecca and saw the Kabah, I just broke down and busted into tears,” he said. “I mean, this is the house that Abraham built. I’ve prayed to this place for a large part of my life. It just touched me man – it was a beautiful experience.”

It also started making him think about the decisions he was making in his own life.

“I buckled down,” he said. “Someone told me over there, ‘If you go back home and you’re doing the same things you were doing before, then you didn’t get anything out of your Hajj. I became more aware of what I was doing as far as how I was dealing with people and I tried to cut out a lot of extracurricular activities I was doing. You know, I was just trying to make my life better.”

He was one of the hottest rappers on the scene at the time but that Hajj trip also made him think about walking away from music altogether.

“When I’m rapping, people listen to my music and could be doing other things like remembering Allah,” he said. “The time I take to create the music, I could be doing other things too regarding Islam.”

Roc-A-Fella records slowly started to crumble shortly after because of internal management problems much to the shock of Freeway and fans like myself all around the world.

“We didn’t expect it,” he said. “We thought Roc-A-Fella was going to live forever. Just being in the mix of it, we thought it was never going to stop. “

Freeway is now signed to Rhymesayers Entertainment, an independent label featuring fellow 30 Mosques friend Brother Ali. He said he enjoys what he’s doing now and there’s no animosity with his Roc-A-Fella friends of the past.

“I’m still cool with everybody,” he said with a nod. “I talk to Jay still, so we’re good. The whole label thing may have fallen apart but the strong will survive.”

“Right now, I’m just grateful that 10 years later, I’m still relevant,” he added. “I’m thankful I still get 3-4 shows a month. And that sense of thankfulness, it comes from Islam.”

Freeway has never been ashamed of being Muslim, but it wasn’t until recent years when he decided to talk more publicly about his faith.

“I think it has a lot to do with me getting older and more mature,” he said. “It just naturally leads to me embracing it more.”

If he’s embracing the title of Muslim more, I asked him then about his lyrics. Some of his older work focused heavily on references to drug dealing and violence.

“These days, I really think about what I’m going to say because I don’t want to give people the wrong impression of something. Right now, what I rap about is my life in general. Being from the hood, I still have everyday struggles. I lost a lot of friends (to gun violence). Matter of fact, I just had a cousin that was killed.”

Being in the limelight is always a struggle for any Muslim wanting to keep his or her ego in check. Freeway said he tries to do it by reminding himself of a point early in his career. There’s an infamous video from 2001 where Freeway and his Roc-A-Fella labelmates walked into a radio station for an unforgettable freestyle session. But soon after in his career, there’s a video just as unforgettable of Freeway arguably losing a freestyle battle to a rapper named Cassidy.

“When I sit back and look back at that, I realize that was from Allah,” he said. “He always balances things out for me. Before I get too big headed he always puts me back in my place.”

“Looks like you’ve got this guy to keep you in your place too,” I quipped while pointing to Jakk Frost.

Jakk kicks his head back and thunders another laugh.

“It’s a reminder that Allah can bring people up and just smash them down like they’re nothing,” Jakk said while hammering his fist onto the table. “Like they’re nothing.’”

To this day, Freeway said he still struggles with why he’s doing music. Part of him still feels like what he’s doing is un-Islamic.

“The main reason I do music right now is to feed my family and I’m good at it,” he said. “No I don’t want to do this forever. Eventually I want to get my life together and life my life according to how a Muslim is supposed to do. But while I’m doing it, I’m doing everything else to the best of my ability to be a good Muslim – pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan, make Hajj.”

By Freeway’s side throughout the entire struggle has been Jakk Frost. The two met around 1996. For a while, it was Jakk Frost that was the better known rapper and Freeway the lesser known one. Now that the roles have changed over the years, I asked Freeway what he does to curb potential tension between the two.

“He’s my brother and he means a lot to me,” he said. “We’ve done so much together that’s more than music. All my friends, we have a bond, that sense of brotherhood that extends from Islam. That’s our core. That’s what we have that a lot of people don’t have.”

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  • Rayan

    Thanks for sharing; Freeway is one of the greats.

    Hip Hop culture is very unislamic and so I understand where he is coming from, but I think the idea that a Muslim should not partake in any activity that is recreational is a little dangerous.

    Islam is about balance, and yes, we could spend 100% of our time remembering Allah, but then we would be poor Muslims because we would ignore our other duties and ignore our nature.  We have responsibilities and we have a need in our nature to enjoy recreation.  Be it through sports, socializing, games, travel, hobbies, or any other means.  

    Freeway can create music that is not Islam-centric, but halal in that it talks about troubles of the youth, challenges he faces, and it could help and inspire many; much in the way that Tupac has.  

    Unless you are of the minority view that music is haram despite conflcting hadith and no mention at all in the Qur’an, music can be a wonderful and beautiful part of any life without excess and halal lyrics.

    I hope Freeway finds his peace.

    • amir syed

      As Salaam Walakum

      With all do respect there is no”minority” of opinion that music is haraam when it comes to all Four major Madhabs (Hanafis,Malakis,Shafis,Hanbalis) they are in agreement that music is Haraam. Here is a helpful link that opened my eyes and maybe can help you see what I have seen. Brother  Abdul Layth Saad Tasleem  talks about music at 11:55 into the lecture but please listen to the entire lecture. http://www.hoor-al-ayn.com/Audios/Lost.mp3 

      As Salaam Walakum and Jummah Mubarak 

      • Rayan

        No, there is no consensus… please do not spread falsehood, it is a view.  Please see with an open mind.

        1. The hadith contradict one another, and have been said to be weak by numerous authorities. Volume 2, Book 15 Number 70, Book 4, Number 1942, Volume 5 Book 58, Number 268, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 568 of Bukhari affirm this (they are below for those who care)

        2. Qur’ans printed in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan translate the Qur’an Chapter 31, Verse 6 with brackets.  May Allah protect the people who have changed the Qur’an with brackets.  In Brackets they give their view, and they suggest that this verse talks about music, when no arabic word is used.  The actual translation, using a credible Yusuf Ali or M. Asad translation is as follows:

         ”And of the people is he who buys the amusement of speech to islead others from the way of Allah without knowledge who takes it in ridicule.  Those will have a humiliating punishment”

        They use brackets to suggest that women can be beaten and women must wear niqab, may Allah forgive them for this evil of brackets.

        The same thing is done for the Qur’an, Chapter 17, Verse 64, which actually says, again credible translation:

        “And incite whoever you can among them with your voice and assault them with your horses and foot soldiers and become a partner in their wealth and their children and promise them. But Satan does not promise them except delusion”If these evildoers must change the Qur’an to prove their view it is most lamentable indeed. Similar things are done with Chapter 53, Verse 59-61, you get the point though.3. Muslims invented the guitar, muslims created the Qawwali, Sufi music has changed the world, it has been a part of ibadat since the beginning.  Imam Abu Hanifa did not make any ruling against music.  It is subsequent people ‘Hanafi Imams’ that added rulingsI can give you much more information, but this is not the appropriate venue.  Yes, lyrics should be clean, yes dancing with the opposite gender is not allowed, but to group things as disparate as the music of Chopin and Mozart with Lady Gaga is a little ridiculous.  Poetry, words, deeds, music can be used for good or for evil.  They can make people Muslim or turn them away.  Music is generic.Yusuf Islam was once against music and has now come around after listening to the Adan in Morocco, see here:http://islam-by-zeinab.webs.com/catstevenyusefislam.htmThat the Prophet said to him’ “O Abu Musa! You have been given one of the musical wind-instruments of the family of DavidAllah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) came to my house while two girls were singing beside me the songs of Buath (a story about the war between the two tribes of the Ansar, the Khazraj and the Aus, before Islam). The Prophet (p.b.u.h) lay down and turned his face to the other side. Then Abu Bakr came and spoke to me harshly saying, “Musical instruments of Satan near the Prophet (p.b.u.h) ? ” Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) turned his face towards him and said, “Leave them.” When Abu Bakr became inattentive, I signaled to those girls to go out and they left. It was the day of ‘Id, and the Black people were playing with shields and spears; so either I requested the Prophet (p.b.u.h) or he asked me whether I would like to see the display. I replied in the affirmative. Then the Prophet (p.b.u.h) made me stand behind him and my cheek was touching his cheek and he was saying, “Carry on! O Bani Arfida,” till I got tired. The Prophet (p.b.u.h) asked me, “Are you satisfied (Is that sufficient for you)?” I replied in the affirmative and he told me to leave. ’A'isha reported: The Messenger of Allah (way peace be upon him) came (in my apartment) while there were two girls with me singing the song of the Battle of Bu’ath. He lay down on the bed and turned away his face. Then came Abu Bakr and he scolded me and said: Oh! this musical instrument of the devil in the house of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him)! The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) turned towards him and said: Leave them alone. And when he (the Holy Prophet) became inattentive, I hinted them and they went out, and it was the day of ‘Id and negroes were playing with shields and spears. (I do not remember) whether I asked the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) or whether he said to me if I desired to see (that sport). I said: Yes. I stood behind him with his face parallel to my face, and he said: O Banu Arfada, be busy (in your sports) till I was satiated. He said (to me): Is that enough? I said: Yes. Upon this he asked me to go. That once Abu Bakr came to her on the day of ‘Id-ul-Fitr or ‘Id ul Adha while the Prophet was with her and there were two girl singers with her, singing songs of the Ansar about the day of Buath. Abu Bakr said twice. “Musical instrument of Satan!” But the Prophet said, “Leave them Abu Bakr, for every nation has an ‘Id (i.e. festival) and this day is our ‘Id.” 

        • Canadian Sister

          Jazak Allah khayr, br. Rayan.

          To all those who want to respond: can we please please please end the thread here and not let this turn into the ”gay imam” thread.Everyone has their opinions and we probably won’t change anyone’s mind in an online comment thread.

          Salaam.

          • Abu Abdullah

            Our Opinions should be base on the qur’an and sunnah. There is no benefit in Listening to Music..

          • Rayan

            I just used the Qur’an and Sunnah.  The Qur’an has no mention of music, nothing.  if Allah thought it was imperative he would mention it.

            Your opinions are based on one view, one which you don’t seem too well educated in, given the dearth of facts.

        • Builton5

          The Problem is we need to learn arabic to read the qur’an Hadith in the purest form. Music and the qur’an cannot live in a person heart together.

          • Rayan

            I am Saudi.  What now? You will tell me I don’t know Arabic?

      • Rayan

        3. Muslims invented the guitar, muslims created the Qawwali, Sufi music has changed the world, it has been a part of ibadat since the beginning.  Imam Abu Hanifa did not make any ruling against music.  It is subsequent people ‘Hanafi Imams’ that added rulingsI can give you much more information, but this is not the appropriate venue.  Yes, lyrics should be clean, yes dancing with the opposite gender is not allowed, but to group things as disparate as the music of Chopin and Mozart with Lady Gaga is a little ridiculous.  Poetry, words, deeds, music can be used for good or for evil.  They can make people Muslim or turn them away.  Music is generic.Yusuf Islam was once against music and has now come around after listening to the Adan in Morocco.  He released his first album after 25 years, 2 years ago, and it was beautiful.

        • amir syed

          Wow My apologize. I guess is gonna be a little harder trying to stop listening to music now since you pointed out how it is not haraam. Thanks for the info….i will keep it in mind next time i need to defend music. I ask Allah to forgive me for spreading falsehood. hope you have a safe and happy eid. 

        • Builton5

          There is no benefit in Listening to Music. Can a Person who has a heart filled with music, say the shadda on his death bed. No he will be singing music. This has happened so many times. aothobilah. fill your hearts with the qur’an. This is better for you all…..

          • Rayan

            Yah lets not use facts or the bulk of Islamic scholars before Salafism took hold, let us just make sweeping conclusions that are completely baseless and quite frankly funny.

      • Shakib45

        why do you people troll on this site just to spoil a perfect broth? i mean who asked your opinion on music, if we wanted one, we would go to islamonline or suhaibwebb or some other knowledeable site. please stop acting like a charlatan and try to educate the rest of muslims about usul. this is not from the sunnah, even if you think you are always right, you are not welcome to preach whenever you feel like. keep your fatwas to yourself and make your peace with the fact that millions of muslims can make their own judgements about anything that seems important without being reminded like a pop-up “do you know…” type of microsoft wizard.

        • amir syed

          im sorry for upsetting you it was my intent to share what i felt was useful knowledge but since this thread always turns into putting each other down and always trying to make someone feel like crap i should have used my better judgement and kept my thoughts to myself. I just had one of the best nights of worship and reading this makes me feel like crap. Im sorry and i will stay away from sharing my views of which i did with respect mind you from this site. I ask Allah to forgive me for any false i might have spread and sharing the link to this website which i thought was very positive. Because your right at the end of the day its one man one grave and we are each responsible for our own.  May Allah Forgive us all.  

  • amir syed

     I myself have been facing the difficulties of quitting listening to music. May Allah (SWT) help Freeway find a way to support his family in other means.  Great Post Aman!

  • Brother

    “When I’m rapping, people listen to my music and could be doing other things like remembering Allah,” he said.

    A large portion of the Muslim’s communities heads are spinning right now after reading that. Remembering Allah nowadays is old we’re in the modern century blah blah blah Islam is all about Music, gays etc. My respect for Freeway just skyrocketed.

  • Seeker

    As-Salaamu Alaikum,

    With all sincerity……

    Hip Hop culture is NOT un-islamic, for those of us who were around when hip hop started, the first time I heard about Allah was in Hip Hop in the 80′s….people don’t know, but those of us 70′s/80′s children in the African American community know what was up then and what is up now!  Even now, media is media, if you want to focus on what they are showing you go on ahead, but all Hip Hop is not about drugs, spending money and having sex. It is there and that is the reality of where people come from, if people glorify it, that is one thing…..
    Islam has always been apart of the African American community and Hip Hop carried the message through the years. Many people were Muslim and converted because of the knowledge Hip Hp was spurted out at that time. At that time, no one else was talking about Islam and that is the truth, it wasn’t until September 11 when other people started talking about Islam to defend themselves.Tupac, seriously, he has some positive lyrics, as many rappers do, but I would not say all his lyrics are Halal. He was highlighted as some God sent creature or something if you want to know the reality as with anything else you have to dig deeper than your tv screens and ‘popular’ media/culture.

    Salaam

    • Rayanrafay

      Thanks for that insight brother, sorry if I offended you.

      “But say not – for any false thing that your tongues may put forth, – “This is lawful, and this is forbidden,” so as to ascribe false things to Allah.  For those who ascribe false things to Allah will never prosper”

      Something for all of us to think about, do not condemn or allow things until you are absolutely sure, because you may disallow something pleasing to Allah, or you may allow something that Allah hates.

      • Seeker

        Salaam Ryan, no harm. Just trying to put some insight into the matter….I’m a sister.

    • Rayanrafay

      Thanks for that insight brother, sorry if I offended you.

      “But say not – for any false thing that your tongues may put forth, – “This is lawful, and this is forbidden,” so as to ascribe false things to Allah.  For those who ascribe false things to Allah will never prosper”

      Something for all of us to think about, do not condemn or allow things until you are absolutely sure, because you may disallow something pleasing to Allah, or you may allow something that Allah hates.

  • TS

    Everyone is on their own path/timeline in Islam, one can’t expect a convert “street” guy to be on the same level as a kid born into a muslim family who starting going to madrassa when he was 5.  Only Allah knows what’s in people’s hearts. 

  • sirhass82

    Where can I get a Billionaire Beards Club shirt? 

  • Kyle

    What dos he say about maghreban in his freestyle, i didn’t get it

  • Papi

    This stuff is crazy. religion has become so diluted and misguided that almost everything has become what we want it believe.  men are so eager to follow other men, that they can’t and won’t think logically for themselves.  You kill, lie, brainwash, and deceive all in the name of religion.  almost none of this stuff is tangible, so everyone keep living and remember to do “good works”. May somepne bless us all!


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