Last week I picked up the CD of the Muslim rapper from Philadelphia named Freeway. Many people probably have not heard of him as he has hovered between fame and obscurity for the last several years as a member of the Roc-a-Fella label often only getting widespread recognition on compilations with other more famous members of the label such as Kanye West, Jay-Z, and the more famous Muslim brother from Philly Beanie Segal.
Freeway is a reflection of the North Philly neighborhood he came from; hard, from the streets, lyrical, astute, and a Muslim brother with a large beard who still battles demons.
There are a lot of Muslims out there who are reading this, or who know of Freeway, and will say that for me to even highlight him as a Muslim artist is foolishness since he often talks about the street life involving drugs, hustlin, violence and women. These things are un-Islamic and people will say that how can a Muslim artist glorify these things?
My response to this is two-fold; first, if you listen to the lyrics of Freeway, he is not glorifying the ghetto lifestyle he came from but rather giving a portrayal of where he came from and to a large extent where he still is both psychically and psychologically, and secondly Freeway is a reflection of where a lot of Muslims in America are. Maybe they should be in a better place, but they are not, and Freeway and the brothers in Philly and other places like them make up a significant number of the Muslims in America. You can not wish them away and you can not put them out of the deen. These are men with rough pasts that do not magically go away upon shahadah and their lyrics often reflect the struggles in their lives of being a Muslim and a product of their very un-Islamic environments.
Islam is becoming the norm in many parts of Philly and young people are growing up in an Islamic culture that is fused with their ghetto surroundings. This is happening in Philly at a higher-rate than anywhere else where big beards and short pants are the norm, but it is happening in most Northern American cities in the African-American community to some level, and these areas are producing the likes of Freeway.