No doubt Akon’s catchy sing-alongs have earned him a gazillion fans, and quite honestly, it has very little to do with his street cred or the fact that his moniker is a clever abbreviation for “A Convict” or “A Con Artist.” The West African-born crooner received the industry’s stamp of approval with his debut album, “Trouble,” which offered the story of his crime-ridden past . Nowadays, the man who once belted the melodic testimony “Locked Up” is no longer confined artistically, or otherwise for that matter, with his latest project, “Freedom.” ESSENCE.com caught up with one of ATL’s finest to talk about redefining urban music, accusations of his fabricated criminal past, and why falsehood often threatens stardom.
ESSENCE.COM: Congrats on your new album. How will this album’s production compare to what has become the “Konvict Sound”?
AKON: This album will introduce my second signature sound. What we created with the other albums has been adopted in the world and now we have to take it to stage two, which is more of an European uptempo club sound. The record is amazing and changing the sound of music. The main thing I want to do is open up the ears to those who don’t get to travel and hear what the rest of the world is listening to.
ESSENCE.COM: So this new sound, was it a natural progression or very strategic?
AKON: I would say a lot of it was already premeditated. The same way that Timbaland came in the game with one style and has moved on to do something else is what it’s all about. You have to always have to have different sounds set up. The new sound is definitely mainstream crossover to the pop side. Nowadays, with the way things are on the urban side, there’s really nowhere else to go. More urban music has to be able to switch it up and change or eventually folks will stop listening because they aren’t producing [innovative] sounds.
ESSENCE.COM: It’s all about evolution and acting as a chameleon. Speaking of which, there was much controversy about the authenticity of your past as a convict, which is what you’ve based your stage persona on and it’s what much of your songs have been about. Do you feel your cover was blown?
AKON: That was inflation, complements of the Internet. No, I am a real convicted felon. I’ve been locked up once and I’ve been released. I’m more mature and intelligent to find ways to stay out of trouble. Believe it or not, that’s the challenge now, I want to see how he gets out of this one. A lot of times [the press] misconstrues and misinterprets. Being in jail was my experience and what I wanted to do with my music is say that this wasn’t a situation I ever wanted to experience again.
ESSENCE.COM: But would you admit that you might have embellished some things about your past? And also, are you still receiving backlash from being caught on tape dancing onstage with a teenage girl?
AKON: A lot of falseness comes with success, because people only get to see the things that are shown on television. So folks begin to criticize and think, I can’t believe he did that! That video wasn’t properly distributed and it always goes down the way it was shown, but those concerts in Guyana, the footage was chopped up and we had to get the full-out footage, where I help her from falling off the stage. Again, these are obstacles you face and have to deal with when you’re under the public eye. You have to be smart in the decisions you make and these are things that I learned as I was becoming successful.
ESSENCE.COM: Are you concerned that your new sound won’t appeal to your fans?
AKON: No, not at all. Regardless of who you are, you can’t change a part of yourself or where you are. It’s all about not forgetting where you come from. Just because you have different [musical tastes] that might not be “urban,” it doesn’t make you European. If anyone chooses to criticize you for what your preference is, you can’t hold that against yourself. I don’t allow anyone to distort my way of thinking because everyone believes something different. At the end of the day, all you can do is understand and respect those differences.