Along with opening acts Evan Barlow and Zaiah Burke, Philadelphia native and rapper Freeway performed at the Broadberry Wednesday, Nov. 18.
As the premiere opener, Newport News’ own Zaiah Burke put on an energy-filled set. Running for nearly an hour, his set included several songs from his first two albums and an impromptu freestyle. In the freestyle, Burke talked about his life, career and daughter’s death. He also announced his plans to release his new album, “Zaiah Who? The E.P.” on Dec. 14.
With nearly 100 guests in attendance, all undeniably impressed and amped for Freeway, the rapper performed songs and guest verses from his lengthy catalogue, including the Jay Z and Beanie Siegel feature “What We Do,” State Property’s “Roc The Mic” and his verse on Kanye West’s “Two Words.”
Garnering a career spanning over 15 years, Freeway is one of hip-hop’s most respected MCs. Best known for his time with Jay Z’s and Damon Dash’s Roc-A-Fella Records, Freeway made his debut on Jay Z’s double-platinum album “The Dynasty: Roc La Familia” in 2000. Since then, Freeway has put out several albums, with his debut “Philadelphia Freeway” selling more than 500,000 copies.
With many of the crowd rapping his lyrics word for word, Freeway’s stage presence was definitely felt. Throughout the night, he thanked the crowd for an awesome turnout and support over his career. He also shook hands with all of those in attendance, showing his appreciation.
After the show, Freeway opened up about his experience in Richmond and more.
“Alhamdulillah, it was good, everything went well,” Freeway said. “It was a great audience. They were real receptive to the music.”
More than 15 years later, the veteran MC said he is grateful to have his career still intact, and to be doing what he loves the most.
“I just feel blessed enough to still be able to do it,” Freeway said. “There’s a lot of people that started when I started and now they’re probably bagging groceries in a supermarket right now so it’s just a blessing. It’s why I try to make timeless music.”
Freeway is no stranger to overcoming challenges. Freeway, who posted a video of himself in treatment just hours before the show, was diagnosed with kidney failure in September. Thankfully, with the proper medical care, his health has improved since then.
“I feel good,” he said. “Feels great to rock and do what I do. I’m getting my treatments. I’m on dialysis four hours a day, two to three times a week. As you can see, it had me feeling wonderful tonight. I was able to give the crowd a lot of energy. I probably feel the best I’ve felt in months.”
Freeway said his situation has also become motivation to continue to perform and make music.
“I’m doing my best to spread awareness about it, to try to motivate and help people,” Freeway said. “There’s a lot of people going through what I’m going through and feel down and out. That’s why I’m out here doing stuff and showing people it’s not a death sentence. You could still be out there doing things.”
Freeway said he considers his faith in Islam his greatest assets. A Muslim, Freeway looks to his faith to help him continue to fight through the battles he’s endured and continue to make music.
“My faith comes first and foremost. It’s a huge part of my life. I pray five times a day,” Freeway said. “I’m not perfect. I have shortcomings like everybody else but I try my best and strive to do the right thing. Naturally, since Islam is a part of my life, it reflects in my music.”
In a genre where religion and open faith can seem preachy, Freeway has been able to distinguish himself as a rapper who is Muslim, rather than a Muslim rapper.
“I just keep it real to the best of my abilities,” Freeway said. “I’m not selling anything, I’m just telling you who I am and what I’m doing. Hopefully I can inspire people.”
He said he has faced hardship throughout his career, including Islamophobia and racism. Freeway described a situation he’d experienced while flying first class.
“I was in first class with this Caucasian lady, and I had a Breitling (Swiss watch) on and she was sitting right next to me,” he said. “She was like ‘Oh my gosh, look at your watch. It’s so gaudy, what are you, a football player?’ I responded ‘No, I’m a recording artist.’”
He said soon after that, the lady grew angry and seemed upset that she had to sit next to him the entire plane ride.
Nonetheless, Freeway has had quite the career and looks forward to the future. On Friday, he held a benefit concert called “Freeway and Friends” in his hometown. Backed by an 11-piece orchestra, the concert was an effort to raise awareness and financial support for Kidney Failure.
Freeway also looks to be dropping his last album on his current independent label in February. The rapper hinted that something special is on the way after the album.
“I have a huge announcement to make. The next step of my career is gonna be wonderful,” Freeway said. “Everybody is gonna love what I’m about to do.”
Last May, Freeway was reunited with his former Roc-A-Fella members, Jay Z, Memphis Bleek, Beanie Sigel and more at Jay Z’s Tidal show in New York City. He appears to be positioning himself for some kind of reunion.
“Stayed tuned, Inshallah,” Freeway said.
Online News Editor, Muktaru Jalloh
Muktaru is a senior double majoring in English and political science with a minor in media studies. Topic areas Muktaru enjoys covering include music, sports, pop culture and politics. // Twitter | Facebook