Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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At age 7 - when he moved to New Jersey from his native Senegal - Aliaune “Akon” Thiam couldn`t speak a word of English. Yet today finds him currently the biggest-selling black singer/songwriter/producer across the globe.

Not bad for the “singing thug” who (having originally worked under the Refugee Camp Productions umbrella in the mid-Nineties) was serving a prison sentence for car theft in the three years immediately before recording his 2004 debut LP `Trouble`.

With his distinctive blend of hip hop/soul, folky West African vocals and storyline street confessionals having already propelled his current, sophomore set `Konvicted` to three million-plus global sales, today additionally sees Akon-the-artist simultaneously and impressively owning a record label, clothing label plus a South African diamond mine! Cue for hip hop`s most wanted hook-singer-of the-moment (currently enjoying his third consecutive US Number One with his new single, the insidiously catchy `Don`t Matter`) to reacquaint himself with B&S.

“By going from calling my first album `Trouble ` to titling this latest one `Konvicted` I`m basically creating a second chapter in the storyline of how I got to this point”, he begins: “With me writing about things I`ve experienced along the way, the songs just reflect certain stages in my life I had to go through. So some parts were written when I was in a straight-up gang mentality; others describe more what my mindstate is today… While a song like `Tired Of Running` talks about me making the transition from the gangsta life to a more legitimate life, where I don`t have to constantly worry about watching my back or running from the police.”

Interestingly, Akon feels his one-time affiliation to the bad side of US ghetto life can be traced back to his childhood move from Africa to America: “Yeah, coming from Africa to New Jersey the culture-shock was crazy! When I first arrived, I barely spoke any English. So it took a minute to even communicate with friends. Then, once I did start to communicate, it was all about finding a way to actually fit it. Which is pretty much when the wrong side came into it. Coming from a different environment I encountered prejudice and found myself fighting a lot in school So, because when you`re fighting so much you naturally appear to be a troublemaker, I got accepted by the `ghetto crowd.` Which meant always being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And, before I knew it, it all just blew outa proportion!”

Which, in turn, he feels led to hip hop becoming a dominant musical force in his life, where it remains a strong influence to this day: “The time hip hop was growing coincided with the time I was getting into trouble. So with hip hop in itself being a trouble-making genre in many ways - a lotta the artists are always involved with the wrong side of the law - it became very easy for me to relate to. To the point where even today - though that trouble-making aspect of my personal life is now very much a been-there-done-that scenario - musically the actual SOUND of hip hop is the only thing that can match my lyrical content. With some of my topics being so harsh, it needs a hardcore drumbeat and bassline under it.”

Which is possibly why the bringing-through of fresh new hip hop talent remains a major priority for Akon in terms of his new guise as record-label head: “Konvict Entertainment is my hip hop label, and so far the rappers I have signed are T-Pain; Dollar; Grady Babiez; J-Money; and Red Cafe. I wanna bring out brand new acts that have a brand new sound. `Cause to me nowadays we need to get more creative with rap in order to get people interested and excited about the music again. I`m also gonna be doing projects in Africa where I`ll be signing acts just to showcase some of the rap talent we do have over there. Though, having said that, I think it`s gonna be a long time before the African hip hop scene really breaks through in the US and Europe - mainly because of the language barrier and also because the production needs updating a little. Which is why I`ll start by just putting stuff out on compilations.”

The single `Don`t Matter` and the album `Konvicted` is out now, both through SRC Street Records Corporation/Universal Motown

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