Akon may joke about being called an ugly African kid in his younger days, but hes definitely got the last laugh these days. The SRC Records golden child has blossomed into an edgy, international sex symbol, and is in process of building his own empire of companies. His debut album earned him platinum status in the United States and triple-platinum status worldwide, and his unique voice has made him a top collaboration choice amongst Hip Hop and R&B artists alike.
With his new song Smack That smashing Billboard chart records in October, Akon is ready to set the world on fire with his sophomore LP. He has also paved the way for a slew of artists on his own imprints, including T-Pain and TLCs Chilli. We lounged for a bit with the suave young singer to discuss the hustle that drives him to be the best in everything he does.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Youve had a great deal of success overseas. What do you attribute that success to in comparison to your success in the U.S.?
Akon: The success overseas – I would definitely contribute that towards my African following, because no matter where I go Africans are deep. [laughs] We just got a sense of pride to where we really always support each other.
AHHA: In terms of Africa, do you have plans for a major tour over there?
Akon: Yeah, were about to do a tour of the Afrique, its probably going to start in the spring of next year in 2007. Were doing a world tour starting in February, were gonna start in Europe and hit Africa and then swing it back around to the U.S.
AHHA: Speaking of world tours, what do you think about Jay-Zs MTV project where theyre creating wells in Africa? Secondarily its been stated that he may collaborate with African artists. How do you feel about that?
Akon: Im happy hes doing it. To me thats a big step for Jay, because Ive been in the African market forever. Thats like one of my biggest markets, I know the importance of that market. Jay doing it just shows me how smart he is, thats a market that a lot of artists here in the states dont tap into and they dont even think to tap into that market. Watch, after this its gonna make Jay-Z so much bigger, not only that but him doing that only helps certain artists get noticed that I feel deserve to get noticed too, because when you do collaborations with an artist such as Jay-Z it helps to build your prestige as well. So I think its a good thing overall for what hes doing for Hip-Hop.
AHHA: Do you personally have any plans to collaborate with African artists?
Akon: Ive collaborated with African artists – its great too, because the next couple of albums Im gonna do an all international album, collaborate with a lot of African artists. Puerto Rican artists for the reggaeton side of things, Asian artists. Ive done Asian remixes. I wanna put one album where Im doing straight international [music]. To me its fun, its more innovative to give you something to dig into.
AHHA: Considering the success of Locked Up, do you feel the pressure to repeat with another big single from this new album?
Akon: Actually my fear was never getting a hit record. Now that I got one its easy. I know exactly what they crowd wants to hear. I never really ever had pressure – if anything Im gonna have pressure off of this album, because I just put out two singles simultaneously and theyre both in the top 5. Literally [Smack That] jumped from 95 to 7, the biggest leap in Billboard history. How am I gonna top that is the next question at the end of the day? [laughs] So its been pretty cool. I feel like as long as Im working hard and putting out good music it shouldnt a problem to retrace and hit it again.
AHHA: Locked Up was a huge hit with the prison system and with people who have been locked up in the past. Have you personally done anything with prison programs – whether its performing, speaking to or interacting with prisoners?
Akon: Oh yeah, thats my whole movement. The whole Konvict movement is about that and even when I was promoting Locked Up we did a penitentiary tour. A lot of people out there dont even know that – thats what broke the record. We did a penitentiary tour, the inmates would call their families and have their families call the radio station on three-way to request the record. Thats how the record first got played, we always did a lot of programs like that.
I got little small outreach programs where I go into juvenile facilities and speaking to those kids over there. I work with certain cities like Fulton County and certain areas around Atlanta where juveniles can learn how to play and work certain parts of the studio just to keep their minds off of going out and doing something crazy. Celebrity ballgames and stuff like that Let alone, I got a lot of convicts that help me out with my charity too. Were setting up major concerts every year, almost like Live Aid, but we just continued the movement, and then the money goes straight to hospitals and schools in Africa. This year were doing Snoop Dogg, Sean Paul, Beenie Man and myself, and its already sold out a stadium of 80,000 people. You cant beat that.
AHHA: I know everyones been asking you about the conversation you had on the Angie Martinez show. How many wives do you really have, and what type of vitamins do you take everyday to keep up with that?
Akon: Well actually I dont take any vitamins, I just exercise a lot and eat healthy. Me and Angie were having a conversation, and there was a book that was there that set off the whole conversation altogether. In the beginning it was cool because I said, Okay I got enough fans out there, I got a lot of supporters I can get open with them. I trust them and I can speak out how I wanna speak out. But then after me and Angie had that conversation, situations started getting heated on her side, I started getting heated on my side like, We cant have open conversation?
Come to find out, that opened up a bigger door than we expected. It was only supposed to be in New York, and then it started affecting other people that had nothing to do with us. Because of that, [the label] said they dont want me to promote that aspect, and I cant talk about that too much because its destroying other peoples families and other things. It reached another level to where it could have potentially been damaging for other [people]. Not really me, because you know I dont care, Ill talk about it and say whatever. But it was like it started destroying other peoples lives, so just out of responsibility I said, OK, no problem. I gave them the word to where I wont promote it too much, to where it wont be a topic to where it gets starts getting tainted into those situations. Theres people out there thats actually doing it now. The tension is gearing towards them, and here its one of them types of situations where its not right or legal, and some people come from foreign countries and are actually practicing it here. Its getting in positions where its making it uncomfortable for them.
AHHA: Does it make it you uncomfortable at all that you have to hide certain aspects of who you are?
Akon: I mean, it makes it uncomfortable for anybody that they cant just live freely. I feel like if it doesnt affect your life, whats the problem? I mean really Im happy [and] theyre happy. Why are you upset? Whats the problem? I mean I dont get it, it shouldnt affect their lives. Unfortunately this is the world we live in, people do judge you by your beliefs and how you think. A lot of times if youre not agreeable to the same common beliefs, its always gonna be a conflict. Its a free country, but its really not free.
AHHA: Did you ever have to take any psychology classes or anything before entering into having more than one woman in your life?
Akon: Nah, a lot of men do it. You aint gotta be married to them. You know how many dudes I know that got like three or four girls? All of them Im not gonna say all of them but most. Thats what they do, theyre dating all of these chicks. Its the same thing, only difference is on that side you got a title. This side aint no title, but really its the same thing. I know how it gets.
Me personally, I would love to just crack it wide open. Its fun to talk about stuff like that, it opens the line of communication so people can get to understand each other. Women can get to understand men and why they do what they do, and that was the purpose of even bringing that up altogether. So right now Im working on some situations to where we might create a show around this whole thing and just do it. That would be dope.