Akon: The Future Is Now
In between his melodies we also paid attention to Akons controversies for which he cleverly and mockingly made Sorry, Blame it on Me. And despite such sporadic controversies (and the presss consistent obsession with Akons marital values), one thing remains certain: Kon is not only the new hook phenomenon but he is the new phenomenon, period. His Senegalese background inspired him to combine West African melodies with American Hip Hop and R&B, which resulted in one of a kind, wholesome and heartfelt sound. As Konvicts CEO has just released his third album Freedom, he is simultaneously overseeing his new clothing label, Aliuane (set to release fall 2009) as well as Konvicts musical camp (including T-Pain, Lady Gaga and Kardinal Offishall). HipHopDX caught up with one of the most hard-working men in the game to discuss Freedoms global appeal, the secret behind his success, and, teaching children.
HipHopDX: Lets start with Freedom. Before we get into the album itself, lets discuss the technology first. Its released in two versions, a CD version and a microSD card version which will be available through slotMusic. How did the SD card idea come about?
Akon: Well actually, we were looking for new ways to release records and have it available for consumers, because right now, theres really a small amount of record stores available [from which] you can actually go and buy the album instead of just downloading on iTunes. So I wanted my consumers to have accessibility: to be able to buy and get this album however they can so the SD card came about because I wanted something that can be very compatible to digital because thats where the new wave is going now.
DX: Excellent idea; whose proposal was that?
Akon: It was my idea. We teamed up with SanDisk who actually put a thing together called slotMusic, which will actually put the whole album together now. So its been incredible, man.
DX: How will the slotMusic Freedom card differ from the CD version?
Akon: You get more for your dollar. You get the whole album, you get two videos on it, you get a 30 minute documentary on it on Akon behind the scenes. And its all this on one disk that you can put on your cell phone, and view all the videos on your cell phone, and listen to the album on your cell phone as well. And of course, if you have an iPod or a BlackBerry or a computer, you can also put it on your computer as well. So you got so much access to it digitally and you dont lose it, it doesnt scratch up CDs get scratched up itll last forever cause its all digital content.
DX: So I imagine itll be sold in CD stores as well as online?
Akon: Oh absolutely. Its gonna be sold all through Wal-Marts, CD stores, phone stores, theres another store too I cant remember the name of it right now [laughing], but theres gonna be a lot of places where you can be able to receive it.
DX: How has the partnership with slotMusic help further your brand?
Akon: It helps in a lot of different ways. What it does, it allows people to have different access to you; it gives them so many different choices on how to actually grab the music. It benefits in a big, big, way.
DX: You stated that Freedom tells a story from the first track to the last. What is the concept of that story?
Akon: Pretty much, its almost re-facing the stages of my life as it happened, the stages of my music as it happened, from Trouble to Konvicted [click to read] all the way up to Freedom [click to read]. Of course, more defines me as the person itself, the opportunities that I have now, free to do what I want to do creatively because of all the grind I put in from day one, know what I mean?
DX: Okay. What did you want to do with this album?
Akon: I really wanted to expand it to a whole international market. Of course, Ive learned the power of doing global music for all audiences. With this one, I really wanted to focus on every single audience; its a brand new album, all clean with no Parental Advisory sticker. Its a way to merge my domestic audience with my European audience all in one.
DX: What are some of the ways in which you merged audience?
Akon: Well, the music style has changed a little bit. I got some European-flavored records on here that can be exposed to all my domestic fans and of course, I got more records that are related to what I normally do that keeps the existing fans available. So it pretty much gives you the best of both worlds.
DX: I gotta ask features?
Akon: Well, the features are all family so the original Konvict movement, of course T-Pain is there, Kardinal Offishall [click to read] is on there, Colby ODonis [click to read], Lady Gaga, Ray Lavender, Wyclef Jean [click to read], Lil Wayne [click to read] and Young Jeezy [click to read].
DX: Powerful list. You mentioned Kardinal, who was an interesting addition to the label. What is it about him as an artist that you thought would mesh well with the Konvicts vision?
Akon: Well he was always very original. As long as Ive known him, he always had the same style that never changed but was always different. He stuck around for a long time, hes been part of the family for almost five years now. He didnt have the proper avenue to actually cross over and ride with us because of the contractual obligations that he already had currently in Canada. So when that contract expired, it gave him an opportunity to come full-fledged and work with us legitimately so that we can take him to the next level.
DX: There are certain artists who do very well with hooks, and have become both commercial and successful just by doing that. Unfortunately, they cant put together a solid album, or even, a track with longevity. How do you think you differ from such artists?
Akon: You know what? I think in a lot of ways the work ethic has a lot to do with it. Every artist that comes out is very talented in their own right; thats how they became noticed artists in the first place, because their talent allowed itself to branch off to different people that actually noticed it. The work ethics arent vain. Some people grind and feel like success is gonna leave tomorrow if they dont work hard enough thats me. And you got others that feel like its gonna be here forever so they dont feel like they have to work hard enough thats them. So I always feel like the only thing that separated me from all the other artists was the work ethic. I just feel like sometime I want it more than everybody else and Im [gonna] always do what I need to do to stay on top or stay in the Top 10.
DX: Do you think its only the work ethic?
Akon: I think it has everything to do with it - everything to do with it. If you listen to whos on top now, from me to Beyonce to Rihanna, we all have the same type of work ethic. Where I go I see them, and where they go they see me and this is worldwide. Most artists dont want to do interviews and phoners and go out and promote these records. Were out doing it because we know this is what it takes to make a record smash. You gotta think, all these records that we have are available to all any artist. Any artist can come out here and get a record from me, or get a record from Timbaland, or get a record from anybody - so the music doesnt really change up too much. But as far as once you have a smash record, what you do with it determines how large and how big youre gonna be.
DX: Thats fair enough. A large part of the reason as to why listeners are drawn toward your music is due to the emotion emitting from your voice and a great example is the track Ghetto. Were you always aware of that emotion in your music or is it something that occurred to you as people would point it out?
Akon: It definitely was something that occurred to me as people pointed it out. I was just doing music, pretty much reflecting my experiences at that time, and it all really worked out. And it just so happened that that experience was relevant to a lot of other peoples experience, and it really made a significant impact emotionally on people. So as times started growing, thats when I started to realize how much impact it has because people started telling me.
DX: Youre American and Senegalese. How has living in West Africa affected you as a songwriter in America?
Akon: Actually, I think I benefited a lot from it because the beautiful part about it is that I was exposed to both cultures. And the fact that I was exposed to both cultures, it kind of gave me a head start because then I took both cultures, kind of smashed them up together and created a whole other sound for myself: from the melodies of Africa to the music from the States. Putting it together, it created a whole other synergy. So it was really more so to my advantage.
DX: How do the cultures differ?
Akon: Its completely different. I had to kind of adjust here. The family values arent as strong here as they are in Africa, and thats a whole other thing because even with that - that kind of was my main drive for working as hard as I work; really more so for my family to have a comfortable life.
DX: Does your parenting come from the Senegalese and American cultures together, or one more than the other?
Akon: Oh definitely one more than the other, and more parenting would probably come from the African side than the American side. And my mom and my pops were always more African and always believed in the African values; they really wanted us to be in the States just more so for the education; but as far as us growing up as men, they really wanted us to understand our culture and grow up to understand what that is.
DX: How do you go about teaching your children?
Akon: You teach them by leading as an example. Of course children grow up and they have their own minds, they feel like theyre grown, they dont have to listen too much as people but they do pay attention to what you do. As long as you continue to do right and you set an example by your actions, you teach them by them just watching. Every once in a while you put them to the side and have that lecture with them if you think its needed but kids always watch from example.
DX: Tell us a bit about the Konfidence Foundation. Why did you find it important to contribute to philanthropy?
Akon: Just traveling and seeing certain things. If you have a heart youre always gonna wanna do something, you know what I mean? To watch people just suffer like that or see a situation that can be helped and youre in a position to help it and not do anything is just not in my nature really. I always felt like as an artist or as someone of professional status to where youre recognized [and you ask] why? God put you in a position so you can make changes like this. I always wanted to make sure that if I was ever in a position to do it and God granted me that opportunity to make that difference, that I was gonna do it; thats why I started the Konfidence Foundation.
DX: You stated that you would move back to Africa if John McCain won. How much of that was true and why?
Akon: Oh, 100% was true. Id be completely terrified to live here. That would have been really a slap in the face if it went that way because the lead for [Barack] Obama was so large. At any given moment if a miracle happened and McCain won, it would have blatantly told us that the people do not run this government, we choose who gets office and this is how were gonna run our government. That would have been scary to me because thats more of a dictatorship.
DX: What do you feel is most significant about Obamas win?
Akon: I think the most significance in it is the fact that hes African-American. Nobody in a million years thought that this was gonna happen in this decade, day and age. That really showed the difference in the mentality of our generation today and generations of before. And I think that showed that were changing as a people and that were starting to work together to do better and benefit as a whole and not just do things to pretty much satisfy one particular race. It erased the race boundary in a lot of different ways. I think it was a good thing for everybody, and its a more so an example we even set to our kids which is a great thing because they grew up seeing this [happen], so that way they can grow up not thinking that the old ways were the right ways, where one particular race was more superior than the other