Akon is one of many artists bridging the gap between the pop, R&B and hip-hop genres, but few can lay claim to global chart success with the likes of Eminem, Snoop Dogg and Gwen Stefani.
Arriving on the scene in 2004, Akon quickly established himself as a premiere singer, songwriter and producer — by far one of Africa’s best exports. But with two multi-platinum records already under his belt, as well as the additions of of T-Pain and TLC’s Chili to his record label, the Senegalese-American star is showing no signs of stopping. His numerous business ventures outside of the music industry, (his fashion line Konvict Clothing, his diamond mine in South Africa, and his role as youth advisor to the President of Senegal), are sure to keep the 34-year-old busy, but he likes nothing better than hitting the studio for a night’s work on his latest project — be it Kardinal Offishall’s new LP, or that of the likes of Britney Spears or even Paris Hilton, given the chance.
As Akon touched down in London for the European leg of his worldwide Konvicted Tour, BallerStatus caught up with the star to find out more.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve had huge successes with your albums Trouble and Konvicted, did you every think you’d get so famous?
Akon: Oh man, I dreamed for it, but you never really expect it. I definitely prayed for it. Now with the awards, it’s really coming. I always try to focus more on the fans and pretty much on the public. As long as I can satisfy people, we’re doing a good job, you know? So I never really focus too much on awards and stuff like that.
BallerStatus.com: Your new European single is “Mama Africa”; it’s very different from songs like “Smack That” and isn’t what we’re used to hearing from you. Why did you decide to release this as a single?
Akon: I definitely felt like this was the time to create a record that kinda expresses the way I feel about Africa, being the fact that that’s where I’m from and my origins are. I thought that now was the perfect time to put it together. You know, it’s the theme song for my Konfidence Foundation (charity for underprivileged children) and a lot of things I got going on in Africa. I felt the timing couldn’t be better for me.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve got so many business ventures based in Africa — such as your diamond mine in South Africa and even advising the Senegalese President — how much time do you usually spend in Africa?
Akon: When I am in Africa, I probably spend about a week, but I have a full program before I go there and then I probably stay another six, seven months (in the U.S.) before I head back.
BallerStatus.com: Will “Mama Africa” be the last single from this album?
Akon: Nah, we’ve got two more singles that’s coming out as well — “Never Took The Time,” which will close the album out, and a new single from the deluxe album that’s coming out in the holidays called “Sorry, Blame Me.”
BallerStatus.com: That song is your apology to Gwen Stefani for the whole Verizon sponsorship business… Has the controversy surrounding your Trinidad concert earlier this year made you more cautious in what you do at your live shows?
Akon: No, actually I still move the same way. It was an unfortunate situation, more of a misunderstanding more than anything. You can’t blame me for a young girl sneaking into the club. Why is her dad letting her out at that time of the night? That’s not my responsibility, so I didn’t really let it affect the way I was moving around.
BallerStatus.com: Do you think it was blown out of proportion?
Akon: Oh tremendously, I think I was just the scapegoat from the [Don] Imus situation and they thought, blame it on hip-hop and I just happened to be one of the top selling artists, so I was officially a target. But you know, as time goes on, you kinda know with success, a lot of that comes with it, so I think it’s how you handle it at the time, which is the difference between you and anyone else.
BallerStatus.com: How did Gwen Stefani react to the withdrawal of Verizon’s sponsorship of the tour?
Akon: She had my back the whole way, you know? We literally stood together and was like, “Ok, as long as we stand together, we don’t need Verizon, we don’t need anybody.” Every show is completely sold out. Honestly, we’re helping them more than they’re helping us at this point, so she stood by me the whole way.
BallerStatus.com: You worked with the acclaimed Chris Robinson for the video to “Sorry, Blame Me” (a.k.a. “Sorry, Blame It On Me”). What was that like?
Akon: Chris is a genius! He definitely has his own little ear and his own eye for vision. With this record, it was like, we combined forces and I think the video is gonna be a movie literally, so I feel good about it.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve collaborated with so many different artists, so who was your favorite to work with?
Akon: That’s like the biggest, most confusing question ever, because every artist has something they can bring to the table, you know? I enjoyed working with everyone in their own different ways. They all have they’re own personality, so it’s really hard. I can tell you the one that made the most impact, that’s definitely got to be the one I did with Eminem.
BallerStatus.com: Britney Spears has already recruited urban artists like Ne-Yo and producer J. R. Rotem for her new album; are you doing anything for her?
Akon: Yeah, actually I’ve been working on Britney as well. I’m giving her a high, energy disco record. I think that will definitely suit her well.
BallerStatus.com: Can you tell us anything else about the Britney project?
Akon: They gonna just hit you in the head. I love it that way. When they see it coming, the impact is not that big when they hear it on the radio for the first time. I like to just work and stay quiet and then when they hear your sh– on the radio, they’ll just be like, “Wow!”
BallerStatus.com: Would you ever consider working with the likes of Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, people who aren’t necessarily as musically gifted as others?
Akon: That’s so deep ’cause in my mind I was thinking now Paris Hilton is an official convict. I think I’ma get with her and put a record out. I would definitely sign her to my label ’cause she’s a character. You give her the cutest record, something that’s just for women, an anthem; I think it will be outta here.
BallerStatus.com: Was Russell Simmons right to call for the censoring of hip-hop and words like “n–gers,” “bitches” and “hoes?”
Akon: I think words like that are not necessarily needed in the song to make it a hit. Me personally, I would have no problem getting rid of it, words on any record for anybody. I think we are talented enough to write lyrics for songs without using that type of language. I think it’s a good thing for the positivity of hip-hop in general. And at the same time, I look at it like, words in general, stuff like that, words are only what you make it. At the end of the day, it’s just a word, it wouldn’t mean anything if we didn’t react on it, so it’s more of a mindstate. People just have to be willing to change.
BallerStatus.com: You’re part of the Amer-I-Can Unity One For Social Change Foundation, but your tour of Australia next month has caused uproar in the local community…
Akon: They’re being real hypocritical. I’ve been to Australia three times and I’ve never had a problem — all sold out shows, never had any kinds of problems whatsoever. So I think everything they’re saying is based on the past media stuff: the bad language in hip-hop, me in Trinidad. They’re putting that all together and going along with the media, not going along with my track record. I’ve been performing for the last three years and never had an incident at any show, except that time, where it wasn’t really my fault. I just come to do a show and keep it moving. But even in regards to all that, you can look at any of my shows and there’s never been no controversies, never been no fights for that matter. It’s always been a very successful show, so there’s really no reason for us to be denied a visa. If they’re going by the media frenzy then that’s what you get, but at the end of the day, it’s really more their loss than anything.
BallerStatus.com: Do you think thing would have been different had you been touring with someone like Rihanna instead of The Game?
Akon: I think even the fact that The Game is on the bill — and he’s had some history of a lot of things happening at his shows — has had something to do with this as well. I think when situations come like this, you have to show people that every situation is not the same. If me and Game did a show before and there were issues or some kind of confrontation, then I can see it, but I never had that problem. I’m like, “Let me be the responsible guy to keep the party controlled, then it will all work out.” I have a clean track record from shows, tours, everything.
BallerStatus.com: Do you regret choosing to tour with Game?
Akon: No, not at all, I don’t regret it at all. I think every show and every concert is gonna attract its own crowd, but you can’t control the people that come in there. We can’t screen or even judge people before you do a show. If something’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen, no one can stop it. You could have Elvis performing in there and there’s gonna be someone drunk and rowdy who’s gonna cause a problem if it’s meant to be. All you have to do is make sure there’s tight security, and everything else will play its course.
BallerStatus.com: Is there any truth to reports you guys have requested five Hummer stretch limos to travel around Australia in?
Akon: No, I have no idea where that came from. Maybe Game might have done, I can’t speak for him. But I know me, I normally need a maximum of three SUVs for me, my production crew and my band; that’s all we need. As long as we can get back and forth, I’m cool. I don’t really do limos too much.
BallerStatus.com: As a Muslim, does your religion influence your song lyrics at all?
Akon: No, not necessarily, I know it sounds kinda wild, but my religion doesn’t influence my music at all. It affects me more as a person than my lyrics. I see music as my occupation; it’s my job, something I love to do that I get paid for doing. But I don’t allow my music to get mixed up in the music because I think religion is something totally separate and spiritual that you hold close to your heart, you know, you don’t just expose it like that.
BallerStatus.com: Do you practice polygamy at all?
Akon: Nah, it was another situation that was blown out of proportion. It was kinda good because it helped me for a lot of big reasons because it allowed a lot of publicity around me; a lot of people know me now for it, which is cool. It’s really sold a lot of records to a point where we actually went along with it for a minute, but it was more to create controversy around the album. We thought it would be a big marketing plan.
BallerStatus.com: So there’s no truth to it at all?
Akon: (Laughs) Yeah, cool…
BallerStatus.com: What are your thoughts on British female singers like Amy Winehouse; are you a fan of her music?
Akon: I think it’s great the fact that they are breaking into new territories because that’s the main goal. A lot of times there’s another territory that embraces you before your home even embraces you. I experienced it myself in Atlanta. I didn’t get no support for my music in Atlanta. Europe supported me before Atlanta did, they was the last city to come on board, you know? I think with Amy’s situation, it’s great because everybody’s listening now and supporting her music.
BallerStatus.com: You performed at Live Earth in New Jersey recently. Are you active in the fight against global warming?
Akon: Nothing has changed actually. It’s ironic because when I did the concert, at the time, I didn’t even know what the cause was. I was completely blind to what global warming was. I didn’t even know what it was. I heard it everywhere, but I was like, “what is global warming?!” That made me want to become more a part of the concert, ’cause I wanted to be educated, I wanted to be made aware, and I went through all that to find out that it’s meant for preserving energy! (Laughs) That part of it (working to prevent global warming), it can happen, but I think it needs to happen with the help of the manufacturers. As people, it’s hard for us to really do all that, but if we build this stuff to take a lot of energy away, like in Africa, where a lot of our power is powered by solar power now. My whole house (in Africa) is powered by solar energy. It’s powered up by solar energy throughout the day, but in places like London it’s gonna be hard because the sun doesn’t come our much! In Africa, the sun stays out for like, 16 hours a day, but it’s difficult in places like the UK because the sun doesn’t come out as often as it does in Africa. As far as me, I go about my day like normal ’cause I don’t really use that much energy anyway, so I guess with me, nothing has really changed.
BallerStatus.com: Would you sacrifice your Lamborghini to save the environment?
Akon: No, because my one car is not gonna make a difference. My one car, compared to the millions and millions surrounding it?! The only way that can work is if the factories can start creating cars that can run on solar or on electricity. If they make some good body styles for the hybrid, then I’d love to buy one. If they stop looking like ‘roaches and start looking like real cars, then I’d love to. If they have a Lamborghini hybrid, then hell yeah, I’d drive that all day. Not only will it save me money, but it will also benefit the environment.
BallerStatus.com: You’re a big futball fan, so what are your thoughts on the Beckhams moving to LA?
Akon: I love futball (soccer) but at this point, I think that’s a desperate move by the US because that’s a lot of money to pay for a sport that’s not even that popular. I think it will help the integrity of the sport, it shows how much they want futball to be a popular sport in the States, so for Beckham to even take that challenge, you know, I respect him and all that they’re trying to do for futball, ’cause I love futball and I hate to be in the States and they have all these World Cup things going on and we can’t watch it. No stations are willing to show it ’cause no one will tune in. It’s one of the most frustrating things in the world when you’re a big futball fan and they don’t play it much where you’re from. So I’m all for it 100 percent, and I hope it makes people more interested in watching it, just that they need to build things up around it, the sport alone isn’t gonna make it popular. But with Beckham, creating the reality shows around him is a good move because it will generate more interest for the sport.
BallerStatus.com: You launched Kon Live in 2006 with TLC’s Chili as one of your first signings. How’s her debut album coming along?
Akon: We’re currently working on the album now. We’re pretty much taking our time to make sure this is an incredible album, ’cause I know the expectations for this album is really high. I really don’t wanna put out a mediocre album, it has to be crazy. It’s all high energy dance records, nothing like TLC, it’s all her. That’s the difference with this album, it’s really Chili, the girl that you never knew, the one that you never got the inside scoop on, the one that you overlooked.
BallerStatus.com: Are you doing a collaborative album with Young Jeezy?
Akon: That was a huge possibility last year, but this year the possibilities are getting slimmer and slimmer because Universal are getting more and more protective of me. A lot of things I wanna do, the business side is making it difficult for this to happen. The thing is, the track record has been so good, they don’t wanna spoil it. They’re shaking about it, but I’m like, “Yo, it’s gonna work!”
BallerStatus.com: You’re working on a new film, “Illegal Alien”…
Akon: Yeah, well actually that’s a film loosely based on my life. We’re getting things together now and there’s so many new developments in my life that are happening now that need to be incorporated into my life, so it’s kinda slowing up the process, but it’s good because it’s gonna let everyone get the inside scoop on what’s going on with me. Mekhi Phifer will be playing the lead role, I just called him and was like, “Yo, Mekhi, I need you to do this.” He’s the only person I know who could play me, and he was like, “Yeah, I’d love to.”
BallerStatus.com: What’s next for Akon?
Akon: Just a lot of touring, a lot of hot new music coming out … Watch this space.