Akon: The Truth Will Set You Free

 

With the birth of every hitmaker, it seems there is a

controversy waiting in the wings to rattle the cages of success. Controversy is

the one ailment that platinum records, a large entourage, and millions of

dollars do nothing to assuage. No one knows this better than Mr. Konvict Music

himself, Akon.

 

Akon burst onto the music scene in 2004 when his hit single

“Locked Up” topped the Billboard charts. Since then it has been one hit record

after another for the West African entertainer. Aside from his massive

achievements as an artist, Akon has also achieved significant success as a

producer and songwriter working with the likes of Leona Lewis, Kardinal

Offishall, and 50 Cent just to name a few.

 

However despite his prolific musical abilities, in the past

year he has been in the news more for controversy than for his music. In April 2007, Akon received backlash for

having on-stage simulated sex with fifteen-year-old Danah (Deena) Alleyne, at a

club in Trinidad and Tobago which was supposed to be a club for those who were

21 and older.

 

Then in June 2007

lightning struck twice, this time for throwing a young fan off of his stage

after he threw an object towards Akon during the performance. Then adding grist

to the rumor mill in April 2008, “The Smoking Gun” published a report which

implied that much of Akon’s criminal past was a complete fabrication.

 

Yes, to many it

would seem that there are many questions surrounding the multifaceted

entertainer. Fortunately, it also seems that Akon has answers.

 

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: If you could just talk a bit

about the title of the album and why you picked it.

 

Akon: Freedom.

This new album – it literally is freedom to me. Jumping off the first

album with all the struggle going into the Konvicted album and tying everything with the story,

originally this album was going to be called Acquitted. But I started to notice how the whole “Konvict

Movement” started off as more of a positive venture for the people, so you can

understand how you can take a negative situation and transpose it on a positive

level.

 

As time went on the translation of it started to steer away

a little bit, and I thought that the media really didn’t understand what the

movement was going towards and it started to turn into something negative.

Because of that a lot of the controversies kind of tainted the brand as well.

So before we actually lost the whole movement, I wanted to find a way to

resurface the brand and try to find a better way to translate it to people that

wouldn’t understand that struggle had they not been there.

 

So instead of naming the album Acquitted, I decided to name it Freedom, which means the same thing, but just says it in a

different way so it sounds more positive. It was more so just that who I am as

an artist and how I’m growing. I actually had the freedom to do what I wanted

to do on a musical level.

AHHA: Sonically what can we expect different on this

album than your previous albums?

 

Akon: I think every

album you are definitely going to hear the growth. From Trouble

to Konvicted and now Freedom. You are definitely going to hear the difference and

the growth of it. I’ve been traveling a lot, so I got the chance to experience

a lot of different sounds. Coming back I realized everyone had already adopted

the “Konvict” sound. So it wouldn’t have felt like growth if I continued with

that same sound. I think it was about that time where we had to change up. Now

we are actually going to push the envelope a little bit more and take it to a

whole other level, bringing the Euro sound here to the States.

 

AHHA: What do you think has been the biggest

misconception about you?

 

Akon: The biggest

misconception I think is the fact that I was known as a convict. It was more so

the traditional meaning what a convict is. Not knowing who I am and what I do

just outside of music alone. They [people] could easily misconstrue me for

being a real convict. I think that was the most misconstrued thought people

might have had.

 

‘Cause if you really didn’t know my history or know the

whole story, you could easily think, “Oh he’s just another dude coming out if

jail that’s ignorant that’s just trying to find a quick dollar and doesn’t care

about nothing and nobody. He does this and that to his fans and so forth.” You

know what I’m saying? It was definitely the opposite of that.

 

AHHA: Who are you today and how do you feel like

everything you have been through has changed you?

 

Akon: Believe it or

not, everything I’ve been through I think has made situations better for me.

Even thought it might have seemed bad. It actually made situations better

because it allowed those experiences to be focused on – Number One.

Number Two – it allowed people who normally didn’t know who Akon was to

be exposed to me and gave them the opportunity to research who I am and what

I’ve done and get to know the artist.

 

Then it actually helped in a lot of different ways because

it saturated the story, which actually saturated me. Because of that, when

people did more research and actually got to know me they actually learned

different than what the media was actually portraying. So it actually helped

me. It opened up a lot of doors for me to do a lot of things in

poverty-stricken areas because it opened those doors and let them know that ok

he’s just like us and he’s been through the same situations so he understands.

It was a bigger voice for me because now I can speak in a way to where they can

relate.

 

AHHA: When “The Smoking Gun” published the report on

their site about you and your criminal past, why do you think it caused so much

of a stir?

 

Akon: I think it

definitely did because of the status where I was at the time. If I had no

success, no one would have cared. Believe it or not I was cool with the fact

that they did it. All [“The Smoking Gun”] did was gather information that they

figured they had or thought was true. I never denied anything that they said,

because at the end of the day, me fighting it would only create a bigger energy

around the controversy. I always looked at it like regardless of what a person

did in their past, that’s a situation that they should learn from. That should

be a situation that should better the person. I was always the type of person

that if I made a mistake then so be it. I would eat that mistake, but I would

learn from that mistake to make sure that I don’t do it again.

 

My whole controversy with “The Smoking Gun” was whether I

did three days in jail or three years in jail, it shouldn’t even matter. It was

the actual experience that allowed me to be who I am today. That gave me to

opportunity and even the thought process to become who I am now. Had I not

gotten locked up, I wouldn’t ever have made a record called “Locked Up” or been

Akon or been able to do the things I’m doing today. So while that experience

and making the mistakes and decisions I did when I was young got me caught up,

it still at the same time allowed me to be a bigger person and make better

contributions to the world.

 

AHHA: Do you feel like “The Smoking Gun” pieced together

the story in a way that was inaccurate?

 

Akon: That’s exactly

what happened, because there is some truth to it, but there is also alot of

false to it too. Some people will get confused, those who don’t know. But those

who really know will look at things and be like, “Wow I didn’t know that.”

Because they know if “this” is true, they would just actually assume that the

lie goes with the truth. I just think the words could have been put together in

a way that actually reflected the truth. I think some of it was definitely made

to mislead the people. I really believe that.

 

AHHA: Do you feel like you were targeted?

 

Akon: Oh yeah! Of

course, because there wasn’t no reason for it. Think about it. What reason did

they have to do it? Even to put it out? Let’s say hypothetically that all of it

was true. I would have just come out and said it. The same way I admitted the

fact that I got locked up. The same way I admitted the fact that whatever

mistake I made that I did it. One thing about me – I never had a problem

with attacking whatever issues there were or admitting to my wrongs or

wrongdoings.

 

Anything that was said in that article that was untrue I

would have came out and said no they are lying. Anything that I felt like was

true I would have said yeah I did it…and? I’m not the person to run away from

it. If you noticed after that article it stopped there. There was no relevance

to keeping it moving.

 

AHHA: Do you have any regrets from the past couple of

years?

 

Akon: No. Not at

all. Never. My Grandpa always told me that some things you think are good for

you often times are bad for you and things you think are bad for you can be

good. That just goes to show you that in life everything that happens is all

written. But you can control how it’s done. A lot of times that determines the

kind of person you will be remembered as. Prime example, hypothetically let’s

say that you might pass away tomorrow. You can determine how you are going to

die, but you are going. You are either going to commit suicide or you are going

to run in front of a truck.

 

You can determine how that fate is going to happen. But the

fate is going to happen either way. So when things happen, I always look for

some sort of positivity in that situation. Because that can always open up

bigger doors for you. So I think everything had to happen for the success to be

where it’s at. I always look at everything as fuel or energy on a positive

level to just further my career or whatever dreams and aspirations I may have.

So I never look at anything as a bad situation.

 

AHHA: Another drama that has followed you has been the

many discrepancies about your age. A lot of people in entertainment are

misleading or flat out lie about their age. Why do you think it was such a big

deal when you did it?

 

Akon: I just never

really told anybody my age. Period. I’d rather you just not know. So if anybody

put an age on there, they did it on their own free will. They figured it had to

be done, so they put it there. I don’t remember me ever telling anyone how old

I was. And reason being is because I don’t think it’s important. So the hell

what. I could be 50 I could be ten. Does it matter? The one thing I do know

about the industry is once they do know your age, you got a ten year lifespan

from that time they know how old you are.

 

Like I could be 55 right now. Like really. I really could be

that old. But you would never know that. The day I tell you that, if I try to

put out another record they wont support it because they will think I’m too

old. So I figure if you never know my age, then it won’t ever have to be an

issue. As long as you like the stuff that we are putting out and you are

supporting everything that we are contributing to music or whatever we decide

to go into later, you are buying it because you love the fact that it makes you

feel great or you just love it as a fan as opposed to my age, my gender, my

experience or whatever that may be. I just felt like age was never really

important.

 

AHHA: You have definitely worked with a lot of people

over the years, whether as a producer or on your own albums. Is there anyone

you want to work with but haven’t?

 

Akon: I have never

worked with Jay-Z and I would love to work with him. And I haven’t worked with

Beyonce yet. Those are the only two I haven’t really worked with yet. I’ve

pretty much worked with everybody else. I can’t really think of anybody else

that I haven’t worked with that I would personally like to work with. Those are

the only two left on my list.

 

AHHA: Looking back to all you have been through in the

past two years – from “The Smoking Gun” report, to the incident with the

underage girl in Trinidad, the incident with throwing the fan off the stage, is

there anything you would have done differently?

 

Akon: Well

everything I would have done differently, I’m doing differently now. And it’s

only because of those incidents. Like now nobody is allowed on stage. Before

every show from three years before that incident, we would grab a fan and bring

them onstage and we would have fun. But naturally it’s perceived by everyone

differently. Everybody does not see it as fun. So we don’t catch that again,

let’s not bring nobody else on stage. Now a lot of things that we would

normally stage in a show, we don’t do that anymore, because it could easily

come out to look extra violent. So we don’t do that anymore.

 

I also don’t do club dates anymore. Period. I can’t be

responsible for the club’s negligence. I can’t come there and card everybody to

see how old they are. Or somebody may walk in with a weapon and somebody gets

shot and they’ll blame me and my entourage for it. It’s a lot of things and a

lot of stuff that comes with dealing with clubs that if they are allowed to

blame whatever happens on the attraction that was there that night or that

artist or entertainer or whatever, then that’s a big risk for me.

 

That’s a liability and I don’t want to have that. So guess

what, we won’t even do clubs no more. Unless we have full control of the

environment. Other than that we do the basic things that people ask for. We do

the arenas, we do the stadiums, and we’ll do real concert events where we have

more control over the environment. I think that’s more important because a

small incident can kill a career. It almost killed mine had I not had the right

people in place to help diffuse the situation.

 

AHHA: A lot of artists say that they don’t read internet

blogs or gossip magazines, but they say the hardest part is when their families

see it and read negative things about them. Would you share that sentiment?

 

Akon: I think that

is a real valid point because I can’t remember the last time I actually read

something unless a family member or friend came to me and was like, “Yo did you

read that about yourself?” Then I’ll look at it and be like damn, if they only

knew. Sometimes I think people will write without full information. They don’t

have accurate information before they just go with a story, not understanding

how many people it actually affects. That’s the part that’s sad, because

sometimes they will just hear something through the grapevine or just grab a

rumor and remix the rumor a little more to make the story more compelling.

 

Not understanding that it’s more to that story and there are

a lot of people that person actually supports. Not only that person’s family

and friends, but even employees at that point. Because if that article destroys

that person, that’s a lot of people that are out of jobs. So I think that part

needs to be taken a lot more serious.

 

AHHA: So where do you go from here? What’s next for you?

 

Akon: After music,

I’m probably going to get into movies. I always wanted to get into movies. You

know, score some movies, direct some movies, write a couple scripts and

eventually act in some of them one day. I think that’s probably the next step

after this. I feel like I have accomplished everything on the music side that I

wanted to accomplish. I think there is really nowhere else left to go besides

the one thing that is tied to it, which I think is movies, which I think goes

hand in hand.

 

AHHA: I wanted to comment on this. Whenever there is an

artist with some controversy surrounding them, there is usually some sort of

warning for the journalist to not ask certain questions or the questions may be

asked without a clear response. Is there any reason you were as open as you

were about everything?

 

Akon: That is the

only way that you are going to get the truth out. How do you expect them to

know what to write about if you don’t tell them? They are going to write what

they are assuming or what they heard from everybody else. I’d rather they hear

it from me. So that way if it’s written, I can easily say well that’s the truth

or that’s what I told them. That’s what it is. Take it or leave it. Believe it

or not. But If I sit here and run from you and say I’m not talking about that,

then I can’t blame you for what you decide to write, because you don’t know.

[Then] I had the opportunity to clear it up and I didn’t do it!

 

So you can’t blame a journalist at that point, because they

gave you the opportunity to speak your piece. I love it when they call me

directly when they hear something. Because then I have the chance to speak on

my behalf because a lot of times the story is only told on one side. And that’s

only because the artist or whoever never took the time to speak on their [own]

behalf because they’ve been prevented from other sources.

 

AHHA: Twenty years from now if someone asks the question

who is Akon, what would you hope the answer would be then?

 

Akon: I hope they

would say he had a great ear for music and he signed a slew of incredible

artists and gave the blessings back that were given to him. Outside of being a

good producer, a good songwriter, a good family man, and philanthropist, he

definitely set an example for those who were in the same position that he was

in. There are no boundaries when you are thinking positive.

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