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ALBUM REVIEW: Akon – Freedom

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Akon has reached a crossroads that bedevils most

superstars at this point in their careers. Now three albums deep with over 100

guest appearances since his 2004 smash debut, the Senegalese singer has the

options of continuing the formulaic yet massively successful sound that’s made

him a star, or taking a huge gamble and redefining his art through trial and

error experimentation. Instead of choosing, Akon blends both philosophies on

his third studio album Freedom,

(Konvict Muzik/Universal Motown) an uneven but ambitious mixture of Hip-Hop,

Europop, and R&B.

One of 2008’s biggest trends has been

American artists incorporating international music rhythms into their art.

Akon’s Wolof Senegalese heritage gives him an air

of legitimacy over his peers, but that distinction doesn’t translate to results

on the beginning mid-tempo tracks “Right Now (Na Na Na),” “Beautiful” or “Keep

You Much Longer.” The melodies are straight out of Europe’s synth-heavy dance

scene and Akon’s limited vocal abilities aren’t enough to elevate the

simplistic production.

The work behind the boards becomes

more inspired on “Trouble Maker.” Here, the use

of background vocals and thumping bass fill out the song and negates the

hollow, skeletal feel of the previous three. Akon is in his element, weaving

his lyrics around his allure to women, partly due to his alleged street

background.

The singer starts to build consistent

momentum over the LP’s second half as the album shifts to the familiar Hip-Hop

tracks (“I’m So Paid”) that have become Akon’s trademark. Akon protégé T-Pain brings his off-color humor to “Holla Holla,”

championing groupies to explore the benefits of lesbianism. On “Sunny Day,”

Wyclef’s strong backing vocals provide a good contrast as Akon reflects on the

rise from his criminal past to a position of personal peace. The production

here allows the conversational element of Akon’s delivery to shine without

being drowned out by overproduced arrangements.

Akon gives a nod to the mawkish power

ballads of the ‘80s with “Over the Edge.” The throwback melodies combined with

Akon’s airy timbre proves highly effective in illuminating the desperation of

love lost detailed in the lyrics. On the appropriate album closer “Freedom,”

the star turns his attention to mother Africa and the triumph of the human

spirit against adversity.

After a shaky start, Akon’s redeems Freedom over the second half with his

signature Hip-Hop collaborations and a better handle on using Europop rhythms.

Akon’s experiments on this album are not home runs, but they’ll serve well in

the singer’s continuing maturation process.

Holla Holla Ft. T-Pain – Akon

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