The million Dollar question in the music industry now “where is Akon?”. The renowned artist who just couldn’t stop releasing hit after hit, rising all over the global music charts. What ever happened to him? Akon, whose real name is Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam, is the founder of many record labels and has released albums and singles to that conquered the global charts for weeks. That’s not all he has been nominated for multiple Grammy Awards and has been only artist to remain at numbers 1 and 2 on the BillboardHot 100 charts twice. Four of his songs were nominated as ‘three-time platinum records’, while three songs were certified as ‘two-time platinum records’, and over ten songs certified at ‘one-time platinum record’. The Senegalese-American star has released hits in Tamil, Hindi and Spanish. He even ranked number six on Billboard’s list of the Top Digital Songs Artists of the Decade. Akon was one of the most famous people to come out of Africa, but his career has seemed silent as of late. What has he been up to?
Born on April 16th, 1973, Senegal, a West African country, which he personally describes as his hometown. His mother was a dancer, and his father, Mor Thiam, was a percussionist. As a child Akon learned to multiple instruments, such as the guitar, the drums, and the djembe, a rope tuned skin covered goblet drum that one plays with their bare hands and two more.
By the age of seven, Akon and his family moved to Union City, New Jersey in U.S. According to him growing up was tough, he was constantly struggling to get along with other children and by the time he and his brother reached high school, his parents left them on their own and moved the rest of their family to Atlanta, Georgia.
Akon recognize his musical abilities and he developed an appreciation for his musical background while in jail for a crime he hadn’t committed. Devyne Stephens, a music mogul and president of Upfront Megatainment, first heard about Akon shortly after his time in jail from rapper Lil’ Zane, who brought Akon to Stephens’ rehearsal hall, where talents including Usher and TLC where developed. Akon and and Stephens bonded very fast, as they became friends and Stephens became Akon’s mentor. The artist would regularly visit Stephen’s office asking for advice and when Akon lost his deal with Elektra, Stephens signed him to his own production company and began grooming and preparing him professionally.
Jerome Foster of Universal’s imprint SRC Records’ had heard of this marvel at an interview and said the following: “A guy by the name of Devyne Stephens had Akon signed to his production company. Akon produced his records there. We linked up with Devyne, listened to all his music, loved it, and said, “there is a deal we need to do, there´s something different here. What caught my attention right away was “Lonely” and I said, “this kid is official; this is a huge record.” So right away we jumped on a private plane to Atlanta to meet him. Akon and I hit it off right away. He knew of my work as a producer and there was this mutual respect for each other´s work.”
When asked why he used Akon’s song “Locked Up” instead of the song “Lonely” which is the song that originally got him interested in Akon’s work, he said, “My vision was to break Akon in the streets first and work our way towards cross-over, because his music ultimately appeals to a wide audience. ‘Locked Up’ is a street record. I thought that was the place for us to start to get a fan-base, knowing that we had a record like “Lonely”, which was more commercial, to follow it. “I thought ‘Locked up’ was a huge record. Some people in the label agreed, some disagreed. Eventually, Steve and Akon gave me the go-ahead to make some changes. I got the rapper Styles P on the record and rearranged it a bit. I worked on what I call “drops” – points in the record where it feels different, to break the monotony and make it a little more interesting. I hired Carlos to come in and mix this new version. My work was inspired by the original version of the song that Akon did. Without Akon’s original song, I would not have been able to do what I did.”
His first solo album, Trouble was released in 2004, which included the hit singles “Locked Up” and “Lonely”, while also including some new work including the songs “Ghetto” and “Pot of Gold”.
“Lonely” his standalone single from the album reached the top five on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’, then it topped the charts in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Germany. “Moonshine” another single, which he released with New Zealand actor Savage became a huge success in New Zealand and Australia. He then made his first appearance as a featured artist in Young Jeezy’s debut album, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, with the song “Soul Survivor”.
Akon then shifted his focus slightly on owning a record label and thus, Kon Live Distribution under Interscope Records was born. His second album, Kovicted was released through his own label and it debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling nearly 300,000 copies in its first week.
Just six weeks into the release, the album recorded more that one million sales in the United States. A week later, the album was certified platinum, and Akon’s climb to the top had begun. The single remained on top of the Billboard 200 list for twenty-eight consecutive weeks and peaked at number two on four occasions. On November 20th, 2007, the album was certified three times platinum by the RIAA, with over three million copies sold in the United States alone.
Akon’s following album, Freedom, was just as successful as a critical commercial hit. Akon was subsequently asked at an interview if he were worried about over saturating the market with Akon related material, because of how famous he had become.
“Naw, never,” Akon replied. “That’s actually what I’m tryin’ to do [laughs]. I’m tryin’ to keep that goin’ for the next 10 years until I decide to relax. But I don’t believe in over-saturation, you know? You’re only over-saturated when it’s not quality, you understand? As long as you’re giving up quality records and you’re makin’ hit records, people are always gonna want to hear a hit and they’ll always want to be attached to something that’s doin’ great. As long as I’m positively makin [quality and hit records] and it’s doin’ great for everybody in all areas, I don’t believe in over-saturation, really.
When asked if he could ever foresee himself getting tired of making hits, he said: “I don’t think that’ll ever happen ’cause I love hits just as much as the people listening to them and requesting them [on the radio and in the clubs]. That’s probably why I put so much time into it because if it doesn’t feel like a hit to me then I don’t ever release it.”
The interviewer at IGN asked “What is the secret formula then? Is it just that it doesn’t feel like a hit, and then it becomes one?”
“That’s the formula. It has to be a hit to me. I know if it’s a hit to me then it’s gonna be a hit to somebody else. That’s why I take a lot of time with each record. That’s the most important part because the record drives everything else I want to do. Without the records then none of the other stuff would even exist.”
IGN then asked the following, very interesting question: “Now do you get a certain feeling—not being a musician myself, but being a writer, I can tell when a piece I’ve written is good and go ‘This is the sh!t!” and other times I know when it’s bad as in, ‘This is sh!t (aka horrible)’—I mean you instinctively know if something is good or bad. I have to imagine that it’s similar for you, especially when you’re in the studio. Do you have that same feeling when you craft a song? And is there an entire vault of stuff that you’ve left on the editing room floor, you know songs that made you say ‘This just isn’t all that.’”
Akon’s replied, “Absolutely. But that’s the mistake that a lot of artists make. They may not feel like [a certain song] is the sh!t, but then they still allow it to get released saying ‘Well, I don’t like it but maybe the crowd might like it’ or ‘Maybe these people may feel differently’ or ‘I don’t personally like it, but that’s what’s happening right now.’ They just put it out to see what happens, you know what I’m sayin’? See, I don’t do that. If I don’t feel it, then it’s not goin’ out. I consider myself a consumer, as well. Let’s say hypothetically I was listening to the radio and heard this record. Would I like it on the spot or would I think the way I’m actually thinking about right now as we speak? Do you know what I mean?”
Looking from a consumer’s perspective Akon was asked how difficult it was to become Akon the consumer and not the Artist. “That’s the part where you separate the love of it and the business side of it. I’ve always had the love for it. I always feel like ‘as long as I’m doin’ what I love to do, the money’s naturally gonna come.’ When you start thinkin’ business and you start thinkin’ ‘What’s hot? What’s the wave? Who is hot? Let’s get at that person’ it becomes a point where you’re tryin’ to strategize to make money. And that’s always a gamble. That’s like bein’ in Vegas right and tryin’ to play 21 and just hope that it works out. Whereas if you love it, then your payment is the fact that you’re actually enjoying it. That’s my actual payment, the fact that I can actually make something that I actually enjoy and put on repeat and it’s not related to anything else or anyone else’s thoughts and ideas, it all came from me, I just love that aspect of it. Then when you put it out and people can feel that energy in the music. They can really feel it, as if they were a part of the making of it. You know what I’m sayin’?”
Of late though Akon hasn’t been as active in the music world, If, you ever find yourself asking “What happened to Akon?”, the answer may surprise you, in a good way.
The Senegalese- American star unveiled a new solar campaign for Africa, where he claims brings light to Africa by means of a clean and affordable solar energy solution. The project is titled “Akon Lighting Africa”.
In a recent interview with Inquisitr, Akon said the following about the project, and being a humanitarian. “Well, when it comes to ‘humanitarian’, I think — even outside of being an artist — anyone with success should always put themselves in a position to help others. You know? Ultimately, only a few are chosen to be in a certain status or to be famous, or to even be influential in life. So, you’ve got to understand that those few people that are that position are touched by God. You’re chosen to be in that position. You should always honor that responsibility. You know, most people don’t choose to not do anything. You always have a choice. “Me, personally, the things that I’m doing may be considered to be ‘humanitarian’, but they’re actually for-profit. A lot of my businesses are for-profit. I just choose to get into businesses that are going to help people. So, naturally, it’s a position where — if I’m going to make money — I’m going to make money helping people. That’s just my personal view of how I like to get into business. If I’m always offering opportunity, or someone comes to me with a proposal, the first thing I ask is, ‘Okay, how does it help the community?’ Or ‘where does it benefit in a position where others will be touched by it?’ If they can’t answer that question, then I’m not interested.”
The star is also responsible for founding a solar academy to train Africans the skills needed to use solar power. “Located in Bamako, Mali, the solar academy will train African engineers and entrepreneurs with the necessary skills to produce and maintain solar-powered electricity systems and micro grids. Here, experts will be available to provide assistance with training – and equipment and programs will be supplied by angel investors.”
If you’ve been wondering what Akon has been up to well, he’s been building Africa from bottom up. He’s one of the extremely rare celebrities who actually took the initiative to make a difference.
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