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 thats 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 2008s biggest trends has been
American artists incorporating international music rhythms into their art.
Akons Wolof Senegalese heritage gives him an air
of legitimacy over his peers, but that distinction doesnt 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 Europes synth-heavy dance
scene and Akons limited vocal abilities arent enough to elevate the
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
The singer starts to build consistent
momentum over the LPs second half as the album shifts to the familiar Hip-Hop
tracks (Im So Paid) that have become Akons trademark. Akon protégé T-Pain brings his off-color humor to Holla Holla,
championing groupies to explore the benefits of lesbianism. On Sunny Day,
Wyclefs 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 Akons 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
Akons 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, Akons redeems Freedom over the second half with his
signature Hip-Hop collaborations and a better handle on using Europop rhythms.
Akons experiments on this album are not home runs, but theyll serve well in
the singers continuing maturation process.