Renowned Philadelphia rapper Freeway - a protege of hip hop legend Jay Z - was at the top of his game in 2014 after releasing the critically acclaimed EP Broken Ankles with mashup artist Girl Talk. Life threw him a curve a year later when he was diagnosed with severe kidney disease. But instead of letting adversity defeat him, he's more motivated than ever to live life to the fullest through his music and his work as a cannabis advocate, which has helped him face the new challenges in his life.
Last week, we had a chance to chat with Freeway over the phone. Check out the highlights below, along with sound clips that offer even more insights from the revered lyricist. He also shares a new song that will be on his upcoming album - an exclusive for his Civilized readers.
1. Getting diagnosed
Freeway is persevering despite his diagnosis with kidney disease, but there's no denying that it made an impact on his life as a musician and a father.
"It was life changing, you know," he told Civilized. "I’ve got to do dialysis three times a week, four hours a day, so it definitely affected my travel schedule. And it affected my family."
But he's determined not to let it hamper his productivity. “I try not to let nothing stop me. So I’m still very active. I still perform and, you know, try to encourage people that might be in the same situation as me that it’s not the end of the world. It’s not a death sentence."
In fact, Freeway uses it to motivate himself musically and to prove to his family that nothing will defeat him.
2. Muhammad Ali as a role model
When he needs relief from the stresses of work and dealing with his illness, Freeway often uses cannabis.
“Marijuana helps relieve stress, period. No matter what you’re dealing with, if you’re dealing with a bunch of stress, it helps relax you…Not only do I have kidney failure, but I have just my regular life issues and things that I go through just with regular life. [Cannabis] is definitely a huge help. And it, you know, helps relax the body. Makes the body feel better.”
He hopes to help others feel better by advocating for medical cannabis. And it sounds like he's ready to put up quite a fight based on who he named as his activist role model.
"Muhammad Ali," Freeway said. "I mean, just his whole life. You know, like none of us is perfect, but it’s about striving to be the best individual that you can be, you know. He really cared about people. When he retired from boxing, he dedicated his life to helping people. And that’s something that I see myself doing in the future."
3. On his first time
Cannabis helps Freeway relax now. But that wasn't the case when he had his first puff when he was very young.
“The first time I hit it, I was like, ‘Yo, take me to the hospital. Something’s not right. I feel crazy.’ The paranoia kicked in. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, take me to the hospital.’ They like, ‘Man, you just high. Chill out.’"
That might be why it's best to legalize and restrict access to adults. "Most definitely," he says.
4. Legalization means quality control
Freeway supports legalizing cannabis for recreational as well as medical use. Legalization, he said, can help improve people's lives in urban communities. Growing up in Philadelphia, Freeway noticed things improve in his neighborhood when higher quality hydroponic cannabis pushed ditch weed out of the market.
“I definitely agree with quality control. That’s why they should legalize it. So people can know what they’re getting and you know that it’s quality. And you don’t have to worry about somebody slipping you something, you know.”
5. On his support for Hillary Clinton
Along with advocating for cannabis reform, Freeway is also an outspoken supporter of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Last week, he introduced Clinton at an event at West Philadelphia High School - Freeway's alma mater. He told us she's right for the job because growing up in the hood taught him how to read people. So we had to ask him if he thought the former secretary of state could hold her own in the hood.
"If I didn’t think she could make it in my hood, I definitely wouldn’t think she could run a country. I think she could make it 100 percent. I think she could probably come down there and shake a few people up.”
He also recommended a song to keep her motivated on the campaign trail: his 2002 hit What We Do, featuring Jay Z and Beanie Sigel.
6. 'Puff, Puff Pass'
On top of chatting with us, Freeway also sent Civilized an exclusive. We got to hear his track "Puff, Puff Pass" before it's being released. And he gave us the okay to share it with you. The song - which refers to Hillary Clinton - was written before he teamed up with the Democratic nominee, so he's already thinking about remixing it.
I ain’t even know Hillary [when writing that song." I didn’t expect to be campaigning for her. And to actually meet her. You know, I was just talking shit. I might have to switch it up a bit and put some sax in there.”