29 June 2007

The music industry has a new name to learn these days, but at least it's a short one: "Akon." The Senegalese-American R&B artist/writer/producer, born Aliaune Thiam in St. Louis, has been on a tear since the November release of his second album, Konvicted.

It has sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide and launched a trio of hits: the chart-toppers I Wanna Love You and Don't Matter, plus the Grammy-nominated Eminem collaboration Smack That, which hit No. 2 and set a Billboard record with an 85-place jump on the Hot 100.

But that's only part of the story.

These days you'll find Akon all over the pop charts, on such hits as Gwen Stefani's The Sweet Escape, Young Jeezy's Soul Survivor, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony's I Tried and DJ Khaled's We Takin' Over. He's also featured on upcoming albums by Daddy Yankee, Fabolous, 50 Cent, T.I. Mario, T-Pain and Three 6 Mafia, among others. Akon is working on tracks for Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Elton John, and is talking about a collaborative album with Young Jeezy.

He's also launched a label, Konvict Muzik, as well as a fashion line, Konvict Clothing. And he's working on an autobiographical film, Illegal Alien, with Mekhi Phifer in the starring role.

As Bones Thugs-n-Harmony's Layzie Bone puts it: "He's killing it, man. Akon is the man. He's got the touch of gold. That's really a blessing, for real."

A Success Story

The 34-year-old Akon claims to not pay much attention to his success.

"I normally don't keep track," he says. "I keep working. I deal with the numbers later. I don't look back to see how I'm doing each week. I just keep working as hard as I can, man - and then I'm surprised by (the success)."

As for juggling all his endeavors, which might seem daunting, Akon says it's "really simple."

"The thing you've got to realise," he says, "is that you can't do it all yourself. You've got to hire. You make sure to get it done and get qualified people to run your business. That way you can focus on being an artist and a creative guy." That drive comes from a life that's seen its share of turmoil. The son of jazz percussionist Mor Thiam, Akon moved from St. Louis to Senegal and then to New Jersey, where he discovered hip-hop culture and, at 15, recorded his first song, Operations of Nature. He continued to develop his skills in jail, where he's spent a total of about five years after convictions for armed robbery, drug dealing and auto theft.

Incarceration inspired many of the songs on his 3-million-selling debut album Trouble (2003), including the breakthrough hit Locked Up. It also charged Akon, who now lives in Atlanta, with a desire to help other former convicts, mostly by providing jobs in his burgeoning Konvict empire.

"When I first came out I couldn't get a job to save my life," Akon says. "Society won't accept you when you're a convict. So I'm pretty much giving these people a second shot to prove to the rest of the world that you can make mistakes and you can overcome them and do positive things with it.

"That has a lot to do with the success I have too," he adds. "A lot of these people never had a shot like this, so everybody has something to prove. My success is theirs too."

Akon hasn't entirely managed to stay out of trouble, of course. In May he issued a public apology for performing a sexually explicit dance on stage with a 14-year-old audience member in Trinidad - which caused Verizon Wireless to drop its tour sponsorship - saying that he hadn't realized how young she was. In June Akon threw a young fan from the stage during a show in Fishkill, N.Y., after the 15-year-old allegedly threw something at him.

Despite the legendary "sophomore jinx," Akon says that Konvicted came easily to him, since he'd already proven himself with Trouble.

"When you have a sophomore album," he says, "it normally gets easier because you've already accumulated a fan base. It's a lot harder on the first album. Nobody really knows you, and you don't know what will work or what won't work. But on your second time out you pretty much have a better sense of what will work, what kind of records to release for what audience. It's definitely a lot easier."

It didn't hurt, of course, to have Eminem on hand for Smack That.

"We felt that we could do a record that fit both our personalities and was a fun club record," says Akon, who met the Detroit-based rap superstar when he recorded another song, Snitch, with Obie Trice, who's part of Eminem's Shady Records stable. "It was no different than working with any of the other artists, really."

Working with Whitney

As for the future, all eyes are on his work with Whitney Houston, the troubled superstar who's attempting a comeback. What Houston needs now, Akon says, is simple: "great songs."

"I think the music will overcome all the things she's been through," he says. "The voice is there - I don't think anyone could ever take that from her. As long as we apply that voice to hit records, she'll be right back where she left off."

As for his own next album, Akon says that he's "about 85 per cent done," with much of the recording being done with studio gear aboard a tour bus.

"If you love the 'Konvicted' album, this one's going to knock your socks off," he predicts, although he hastens to add that he feels no pressure to one-up himself. "Every album seems like it's getting easier and easier, because I'm growing more and more - learning about music, learning about the business, more about my fans, more about the market itself. I'm soaking it all in as I go.

"So it's easier to create songs," Akon says, "because I get a better feel for what people want to hear from me, and I can give them what they want. That's how you keep it going, man."

Copyright © 2007 Khaleej Times All Rights Reserved.


01. Kill Di Dance (feat Kardinall Offishall)
02. DJ Vlad
03. You Don't Want It
04. Soldier
05. Gunshot [Fiesta Riddim]
06. Don't Tease Me
07. Look At Me Now
08. Get Away
09. Journey
10. No Sunshine
11. Senegal

you should all have this one by now...



01. Nappy Boy News
02. Rappa Ternt Sanga
03. Dat's Real
04. Ain't Nothin'
05. Ass Half
06. Nappy Boy News
07. Fireman
08. And Then I'm
09. Hit Da Streets
10. Testicals
11. One Night
12. 850
13. Da Bloody Truth
14. Freaky Shyt
15. Chris Brown In Concert
16. Jim Bobs Hip Hop Shop
17. Diamond Off My Neck
18. Hush Yo Mouf
19. Da Realest
20. Who
21. Back Den
22. A Little Hit
23. Foreva
24. Teddy P
25. It Ain't A Thing
26. Big Brotha
27. Best Rappa Alive
28. Fan Call

Hot mixtape for those who aint got it.




01. It's A Shakedown - Akon & Red Cafe

02. Man Up! - Kardinal Offishall
03. Akon Speaks
04. The Best Of Both Worlds (Noodles Mix) - Akon & Biggie
05. Murderer - Red Cafe
06. Can I Get An Amen - Kardinal Offishall
07. It's Alright (Noodles Mix) - Red Cafe
08. When Kardinal Come - Kardinal Offishall
09. Get U Some - Red Cafe
10. Ice Cold - Red Cafe
11. Clinton Sparks Speaks
12. Salute - Kardinal Offishall ft. Busta Rhymes (Produced by Clinton Sparks)
13. I Wanna Fuck U (Noodles Mix) - Akon ft. Kardinal Offishall, Biggie
14. Akon Speaks
15. Buy U A Drank (Remix) - T-Pain ft. Kardinal Offishall
16. Let's Talk Money (Noodles Mix) - T-Pain ft. Slim Thug, Young Jeezy
17. Wildstyle - Red Cafe
18. Never Never (Remix) - Brick N Lace ft. Cham
19. Children Of The Ghetto - Red Cafe ft. Mr. Easy
20. By My Side - Trazz ft. Akon (Produced by DJ Noodles)
21. Don't Matter (Remix) - Akon ft. Red Cafe
22. (BONUS) On The Block All Day (Noodles Mix) - Serius Jones ft. Akon