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Akon is one of those people that can say he’s living The American Dream. Born in Senegal, moved to The States when he was young and now being the superstar that he is. The single ‘Lonely’ was one the biggest hit records of 2005 and Akon has become a settled name in the entertainment industry. Hoodstars.net chopped it up with Akon for an exclusive interview to talk about Africa, The Fugees, his own label Konvict Muzik and of course his solo career .... .... ....
On his debut album ‘Trouble’ Akon produced nearly every track, which is a rarity nowadays. Producing is something Akon has always done. ”It started off as a hobby. I started off producing. Later as the time went on I started to put out my own records and everything and it popped off, but the record was already done before I signed my record contract. It so happened I was already doing music and when the contract came in I had music already made. When it was time for the album, the album was pretty much already done. I had three to four albums already complete, so everything you hear from me is from the past few years.”
“I see myself more as a producer. I would call myself a producer first because I started off as a producer. Later I decided to sing. I was always a producer before I decided to become an artist.”
Back to 1995… Some people may remember Akon’s voice from a remix of The Fugees’ single ‘Fu-Gee-La’. “I used to produce for the Fugees. I used to be part of the Refugee Camp. That’s part of my past and then I got locked up. I was doing prison before my career bounced off. When I was in jail they was on the road touring doing shows. By the time they exploded and they became the big superstar group I was just getting out of jail and at that time they were splitting up. So there was pretty much only room for me to do local stuff solo.” Akon and The Fugees might reunite on the next Fugees album: “Right now that’s under discussion. As an artist, Akon, and a producer I have established my own lane. It’s pretty much moving forward, but it’s a lot of legit stuff that needs to be handled. I would love to be a part of the album, but we’re working on some things now.”
Akon, who was born in Senegal, released a track in 1996 that came with a video as well, ‘Operations of Nature’. “I was signed to East West/Elektra at the time. That was a little bit before my incarceration. I put out a record called ‘Operations of Nature’. That song was just a single and did very very well, but before the album came out I got locked up! *laughs* So the album was never released.”
In June 2004 Akon finally released his debut album, which was a huge success. After dropping five singles it’s time for the follow up. “The new album will drop in August. We’re gonna put out the first single in June. It’s definitely coming out this year. The title of the album is ‘Dark & Light Shadows’. It’s an incredible album, man. I can’t wait! The name of the single is called ‘Gangsta Bach’.”
“’Dark & Light Shadows’ is pretty much explaining my life; of me coming out the dark side into the light. How in the beginning it’s real dark and I’m going through a lot of situations as far as being an individual being raised in the ghetto and so on and so forth. This album is not really that much different, but eventually I’d love to not forgot who I am. I’d love to not forgot about living in that surrounding. This album pretty much describes the more mature Akon. It’s me coming out of the dark into the light.
“Right now we got a flow of guests I may use or I may not use. I produced the whole album. The next thing for me is the Konvict album. The Konvict album is gonna be released shortly after my album release, but I’ve done records with Sean Paul, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, Obie Trice, Styles P., Young Jeezy… All of them may or may not make it to the album. The whole reason why is because with this new album I wanna have kind of a kind the same type of single as on my first album. You just do a whole bunch of records to make the album. I pick the songs that I want to make the album.”
“Whether you are R&B or rap or country or whatever genre you’re in, I think every album should have some kind of substance to where you do corny records and you do conscious records and you balance the album out. Part of it is lyrics and whatever it is you decide it to do. I always felt like it needed to go [there]. A message to speak to people in a way nobody else can reach you. So I always feel like you do have to reach out to the people that are listening to it. It’s always good to have at least one or two messages hidden in there somewhere.”
Over to Akon’s own record label. Let’s have a quick view on the artists signed to Konvict Muzik. ”The Grady Babyz is the first thing we’re planning to release on the label. They’re a down south group from Atlanta, Georgia. They’re incredible. I think they got the underground scene on lock right now. They have a single called ‘Yey’, which is actually on my special edition album. That kind of showcases their talent coming out. They’re doing incredibly big in Atlanta. So we’re gonna branch them off to the rest of the world.”
“Majee is like my little sister. She’s like a mixture between Lauryn Hill and India.Arie combined. She’s incredible. We’re [working on] her new album now. So when we finish it we’ll definitely make sure people will get snippets and just check out the website to hear samples of her work.”
“T-Pain is from Tallahassee, Florida and he was doing mixtapes and stuff like that. He was just in the streets and he ran into my little brother Booth, one of my A&R’s that works for the label. Booth called me like “Akon, you wouldn’t believe me. There’s this kid that’s incredible and he reminds me of you”. At the time I thought he was over exaggerating. Then when I heard his music I was blown away immediately. So I reached out to him and was like “yo man, I think we can make a deal happen. I can bring you out tomorrow!” *laughs* “We gotta get a contract together!” Next thing you know he’s out there doing his thing.”
“We’re signing Red Cafй, who’s a Brooklyn rapper. The kid is just incredible. We’re gonna start to push him out. Then we got Ray. Ray is like our next R. Kelly. He’s incredible, man. He’s gonna drop after T-Pain.”
“Expect a whole bunch of things. We got movies that’s coming out. We got my life story that we’re gonna start shooting in America. So definitely look out for that! That be coming out in no time. Then we got a whole bunch of ventures with other artists and Konvict albums and so on and so forth.”
“I can single-handedly say that Africa is the reason for my success,” says Akon talking about how slow the masses picked up his sound. “The reason why is because when I first put out my album in the States it was so different and diverse and so eclectic that they really didn’t grasp it. It was real hard to get it promoted and marketed to a white crowd. At that time my label was really confused about what my audience was, but throughout the whole time I was doing promo shows and record company store walking and stuff like that.”
“There used to be a lot of Africans that used to support my album. Pretty much it’s the word of mouth of the African community that led everybody else to listen. Everywhere I went I pretty much had a record out and it was always the African community that helped to market and promote my album as far as getting the word out to the rest of the world. I always give the African community credit for my success because they was always the ones to help push it out there and let other people listen to it.”
In a lot of European countries young people tend to think it’s cool to live in ‘the ghetto’. “Sometimes people don’t have no choice but to think it’s cool because that’s all they has. It depends on the people that was raised in the ghetto. I know me personally, I was raised in the ghetto. I didn’t have the life everybody else would had. I come from the ghetto in Africa. At the time I didn’t have no choice but to think it was cool because that was all I know. That was all I was surrounded by.”
”Later I got to travel and see other parts of life besides balling. At that level we really wanna keep people in a good position to where they still feel good about where they are and their environment. It depends on the environment of where you’re out cause it could be a negative thing, it could be a positive thing. I look at it more as a positive thing. If they happy about their surroundings they gonna accomplish bigger and better goals in the future. So I would like them to be what they are. You gotta appreciate what is given to you, man. Everybody is not always fortunate to have the greater things in life. You gotta take what you do have and appreciate it. Just try to make it better.”
In America in the last 20 years there’s been a larger embrace of ‘African American’ culture which really started with Malcolm X, continued with the Panthers & further continued with various people on a community level. As an American actually born in Africa, Akon feels that African Americans don’t have a right view of the reality of Africa as it is right now. “The view is very distorted and it’s not really their fault. Like me personally having education from being African and having education from being in the States, I understand why a lot of African Americans think the way they think because when they go to school a lot of African issues is not talked of. So they’re really ignorant about the way of life and culture of Africa. It’s not their fault. We never blamed nobody for not knowing cause you don’t know. The ones that do wanna know always take the trips to go back and forth and I think it’s very important that for the ones that don’t know people like me have to go in and put that view out there to educate them to what they don’t know. You’re never gonna be able to teach them everything, but you can teach them just enough for what they would wanna explore on their own.”
Africa is known for its oppressive regimes, constant wars and violence against women, but “it’s not as bad as everybody think it is! The news and media will bring it out to make it seem like it’s the worst thing in life. That scares anyone to go, but I’m in Africa all the time doing shows all over the world. It’s not as bad as everybody think it is. I definitely think the media is over exaggerating.”
Don’t worry about not hearing from Akon until ‘Dark & Light Shadows’ comes out. “I got a new record coming out with Obie Trice. We just shot a video for him, it’s called ‘Snitches’. Then I got the India.Arie remix that I did this for her too called ‘I’m Not My Hair’. Definitely look out for those two. They’re both coming out this month.”
“Production is everywhere. You name it, I’ve done it. You gotta check the credits. When you hear "Konvict" on top of the record you know it’s me. We got a lot of records coming out all over the place for production.”
“I just wanna thank anybody for the constant support cause I know how hard it was to make it, but if it wasn’t for the support of my fans and the people that’s behind me, it would have never been accomplished. So I’d like to thank everybody for their support!"