Akon is a shining example of a man determined to keep his past from dictating his future. Although a convicted felon, he has found his artistic freedom in the world of music, even in the face of controversy. Since 2004, Akon has sold 7 million albums worldwide and served as a featured guest on more than 150 singles, including "Bartender," his GRAMMY-nominated performance with protégé T-Pain.
With the success of "Smack That" (featuring Eminem) and "I Wanna Love You" (featuring Snoop Dogg) in 2006, Akon became the third artist in music history to hold the top two spots on Billboard's Hot 100 chart simultaneously. The following year, he would join a league of his own with the chart-topping success of "Don't Matter" and Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape." To date, he is the only artist to accomplish this feat twice.
Upon review of Freedom, Akon managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on "Locked Up," Mother Africa and the media's portrayal of the Konvict brand.
As a child, you spent a great deal of time in both the U.S. and Senegal. Since you've had the rare opportunity to experience and interact with two different cultures — African and American — for an extended period of time, what impact has that had on your artistic journey?
Actually, that is one is the major advantages that I have over a lot of artists. I have experienced the best of both worlds, you know what I'm saying? I came from a place that has experienced a whole other side of struggling with a completely different way of living. Even the music has a whole other side. When I came to the United States, I was able to experience the development of hip-hop and combine all of that with melodies from back home. Nothing was ever forced, crafted or choreographed. It just happened naturally.
Few people know that your father, Mor Thiam, is a famous jazz percussionist. Looking back at your childhood, what lasting influence did your father's career have upon yours?
Man, my Pop was literally a grinder. I would watch him do two to three shows a day from one side of the city to the other side of the city, going back and forth, and then going on the road for months at a time. Back then, he was doing that because he loved it. There wasn't even money in it. You can't really hold your family down with that kind of paycheck. He just didn't know that hip-hop would be developed to a point where we love the business and we can pull so much paper out of it. He definitely influenced me in a lot of different ways, just watching him as a kid. That's one of the reasons why I didn't even want to do music. It became more of a hobby than a career. It just so happens that later, I had the opportunity to showcase some of these records. I didn't have anywhere else to turn. I couldn't get a regular job and this was the only outlet. It actually worked out for me.