“It’s soulful and real-like; you can feel everything.”
Freeway: Setting Rap Free
Crime and drugs are two common factors in the work of just about every artist from the ghetto, but Freeway is neither pedantic nor boastful about his experiences. What sets him apart from his contemporaries is that he gives a very real narrative that doesn’t lecture or encourage, but merely narrates. His rapid rise in the rap world should show just how well his audience has received such a style of sharing stories from the street.
Born Leslie Edward Pridgen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1975, he began rapping at an early age and was battling as early as high school. It was during this time that he met fellow Philadelphia native Beanie Sigel at a night club; both emcees were in a similar position. They struck a quick friendship and made a deal: the one who would get a recording contract first would give the other a leg up in the music world.
Freeway: Friendship and Labels
As it turned out, it was Sigel who inked a contract first, with Roc-A-Fella Records. He kept his part of the bargain, though, and the duo appeared on 1-900-Hustler on The Dynasty: Roc La Familia with Memphis Bleek and Jay-Z. It was this appearance that caused Jay-Z to sign him on to the same label not long after.
Despite a much storied battle loss to Cassidy in 2001, his career remained strong. His debut album Philadelphia Freeway came out in 2003 and featured a long roster of Roc-A-Fella names on both the production and performance credits. The large number of Philly natives who showed up for recording prompted Beanie Sigel to create State Property, a group of rappers who shared Pennsylvania roots.
With Beanie Sigel’s detainment on an attempted murder, however, State Property began falling apart. Pridgen, on the other hand, assembled another crew of Philadelphia rappers, Ice City. The new group’s debut Welcome to the Hood went largely unnoticed, which hastened the demise of the act.
Freeway: His Own Man
Faith was the next problem that he had to address. He went on indefinite hiatus at first, and it took a hajj – a pilgrimage to Mecca, the Muslim religious city – for him to resume writing once more. The new material was compiled into Free At Last, his 2007 album.
After getting booted from the Def Jam lineup, the rapper switched labels to Real Talk Ent., an independent label, for his 2009 release Philadelphia Freeway 2. Another switch, this time over to Rhymesayers Entertainment, was done before he released an album for 2010, The Stimulus Package.
Did you know that...
- ...he very nearly quit hop-hop altogether? Some of his lyrics and beliefs as a rapper went against the teachings of Islam, his professed religion.