Akon came out with one of the most diverse urban albums in recent memory with Konvicted. Filled with everything from social commentary, huge ass shaking records, grimy hip-hop cuts to a song that In my opinion could be considered an anthem for a whole country. That track by the way is ‘Mama Africa’ which is one of the most beautiful songs I have heard in a while. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Akon to discuss his new album, his past work with the Fugees, all of his big callabos, recent big purchases and as always much much more.
Note: This interview was conducted in late ’06, but due to some serious glitches with our recording equipment its hitting you up a little late.
ML: Hey, Akon.
ML: What’s up?
Akon: What’s poppin’ baby?
ML: Not much. I just want to say congratulations on the single. I saw that it was breaking records on the charts.
Akon: Yeah man, it jumped from 95 to 7.
ML: That’s incredible.
Akon: Biggest leap in Billboard history.
Akon: That’s crazy.
ML: I want to start talking about your album. How is this album different from your debut album?
Akon: Ah, man. It’s pretty much the same format. You know I try to keep the same format €“ the only difference; it’s like really a step up. You know my production got – way better, you know what I’m saying? The songwriting, like, the skills and attitudes is way better. It’s just another Trouble album but two or three times steps up. You know what I’m saying?
ML: More advanced?
Akon: Way more advanced.
ML: Do you prefer to do your own production or would you rather have someone else handle the production; does it matter to you?
Akon: No, actually it really doesn’t matter. Honestly I don’t care where the hit comes from €“ the hit record. I want to be a part of it. But when it comes to like Akon records, a lot of times I would prefer to do it myself because I know exactly what I’m thinking and exactly where I’m going as Akon the artist. But normally, sometime I may be working with people and they may have an idea that may be in a direction of where I’m going and I will definitely get a part of that. You know like, even with this album I had three producers which I co-produced with. It was not like the first album where I produced the whole album alone. This album I produced the whole album but I had three co-producers on a couple of records which was Giorgio Tuinfort out of Amsterdam; he’s like the biggest producer on that side of Europe, you know what I’m saying? And I had Benny-D which is my DJ. You know he’s an inspiring producer but he came up with a track that was like, yo €“ we gotta get with that, let me add this add that to it, you know.
Then I had Hakim Abdulsamad which was with the group formerly The Boys, you know he was the singer. And he had some ideas for the song I had called Mama Africa so we did that together.
ML: What was the most challenging or difficult song that’s on this album?
Akon: The most challenging song that I had on this album would probably have to be Smack That with Eminem. And the reason why I say that is because when me and Em got together we was trying to figure out what kind of record could we do that people wouldn’t expect us to do. That’s the only record where we had to literally think about okay, what are we gonna do man? What are we gonna do? *Laughs* But you know that was really because, like he’s a reality artist. He sings a lot about his things that goes on around him. And I’m the same way. I sing about things that goes around me so it’s like, we both do a reality record. People gonna expect that. How about we try to do something that they would never expect like a crazy party record about smackin’ a girl’s ass. You know what I’m saying? *Laughs* So it was like that humor where it was something that catered to his sense of humor and mine at the same time.
ML: Yeah. And it’s like, probably your lightest, not the most serious of your tracks, you know.
Akon: Exactly. Because you know the last album was so dark . I had so much going on around me; it was like I kind of wanted to brighten up just a little bit as far as the records I release. And I saved the majority of the dark records for the album, you understand?
ML: How was it working with Eminem? How long did it take you guys to finish that track?
Akon: Oh gosh. Man, we did that record literally within hours. Record was finished, all wrote and done. You know what I’m saying? Because the chemistry we had was incredible. The way he work and the way I work is so much similar, like we really got a connection in the studio.
ML: You mentioned chemistry. I was looking at who you have on this album and you have Styles P again on this album.
ML: How is it working with him? What kind of chemistry do you guys have?
Akon: Nah, like the chemistry with him is infinite. You know what I’m saying? And there’s like a friendship with me and him too, so like we understand each other both musically and personally. So it was like, working with him was like working with a brother. So, it was so easy. I like to do records with Styles man, he’s crazy. The reason I’m so lured to just dealing with Styles on a lot of records – I want to make sure he’s on every album – is because when I first came up as an artist he was already established in the street. And he was the only artist that literally came out and lended a hand with my project after reaching out to some many other artists and getting rejected, you know. He was one of the few artists that was like, “Yo, that’s not a problem. I got you dog, I got you.”
ML: So, are you going to be on his album?
Akon: Yeah. I’m all over his album.
ML: Alright. How did you guys meet up?
Akon: Actually we met up through Hit. That’s his road manager. Me and Hit had a relationship from way back in the day. I used to deal a lot with Dee and Waah from Ruff Ryders so that connection just made it naturally happen together.
ML: What were some of your first works that people may not have heard or did you have any works prior to your first album?
Akon: Yeah, you know I was on the Nappy Heads remix with the Fugees. You know a lot of people €“ like, if you listen to that album real closely you’ll hear my voices all in the backgrounds of songs and stuff. You know what I’m saying? Like that was like my original family. I used to be a part of Refugee Camp before all this was over. Then I got locked up of course and they blew up and I came out and had to start over because they was already too far gone.
ML: Yes. So, any other records like that that people, you know, some hard core Akon fans should know about?
Akon: Man, there’s so many. I can’t even think that far back, you know what I’m saying? It’s crazy because I’m putting together like a catalog of my records from way back in the day that people didn’t know I had anything to do with. I’m putting it all together on a CD, like a compilation type situation, you know what I’m saying, for the Konvict album so people can get to know what I’ve done in the past and what I was involved in and so on and so forth.
ML: Is that going to be with the album?
Akon: Nah, that won’t be with the album but I do have a DVD that I’m putting with this album. It’s going to be in the DVD jacket.
ML: I saw the trailer for that and that was crazy. How does it feel, like, was it filmed in Senegal, right?
Akon: Yeah, that was actually when I took my trip to Senegal €“ that was my trip to Senegal.
ML: How does it feel, like, going through the streets and having like hundreds of people running after you? How does that feel?
Akon: Man it’s crazy. Like I have €“ no, that’s ridiculous, you know what I’m saying? Like, people would never know how that feels unless you actually experience it. Because there’s no way, no words to describe that. That’s just nothing but a whole bunch of love just coming at you at one time from every angle.
ML: How does Senegal influence your music?
Akon: It influences my music more spiritually than it does physically. You know, because a lot of times like when I am creating records and I’m in a position where I’m creating a lot of stuff that comes directly from me, always when I’m recording I keep in mind that I’m representing a lot of people from Senegal. Because when people listen to me the first time, when they ask, well where is he from, they just naturally say Senegal.
So I try to be the best representation for Senegalese talent that I can be so it makes the whole country look great.
ML: When you go to Senegal do you have like a spot like, or a thing you need to do like the first thing you do when you get there? Is there anything like that?
Akon: Yep. You know the first thing I do pretty much is go pray. You know I go pray with my family. We go to tooba and pray and you know, pray for like a better future, healthy future. You know anything bad that’s to come to us we try to pray to get it prevented before it happens. You know, things like that, spirituality, I think is very important. And after that we just go on about our regular program throughout the day.
ML: Well, in your music, for example on your first album, you had most of the songs with a lot of social messages. Right now, in the world what do you think is the biggest social issue that we’re facing right now?
Akon: The biggest social issue I think we’re having is this religious war thing going on that’s started by Bush. You know I think, like, it’s to a point where it’s almost like dividing Muslims from Christians and other religions. Because they made it more like a religious war than it was basically, you know what I mean? And I think that’s crazy because, like, people are people. What they believe in has nothing to do with the decision that a president should make. And I think really that whatever decision you make as far as your religion, if it makes you a better person then that’s great, because it only makes you a better person to be able to surround yourself with other people that may even believe different, but at the end of the day if it makes you a better person it makes the world a better place. So I think the biggest mistake that they’re making is they’re making it a religious thing where it’s Muslims against the Christians and stuff like that when it has nothing to do with religion whatsoever. You know what I mean? So I think that’s definitely one of the main political issues that I think that we need to, you know, address, face and try to control before it becomes a race war later in the future.
ML: Yeah. Yeah, ’cause you can sense it, you know, there’s signs of it already.
Akon: You can, ’cause it’s going in that direction. And I think we got to start doing little things so it don’t become a religious war that it’s just something they can make, keep political and deal with so regular people don’t be effected by it.
ML: Going in a little bit different direction about some of your other projects you have on your table. I read you’re going to be on the Gwen Stefani album?
ML: Can you talk about that?
Akon: Oh man, we got a crazy record. I did a couple of records on Gwen Stefani’s album. And one of the singles that actually gonna be on it is one I produced and wrote called “Sweet Escape.”And I think that record is like the biggest record I’ve done in my career. You know what I’m saying? It’s crazy. It’s like I took her back to the whole “No Doubt” sound.
ML: Oh, shit.
Akon: Yeah. Cause I feel like it was missing . . .I needed her to do that so I was like we gotta get it bangin’. So as soon as she heard the record she just fell in love with it.
Akon: Actually, you know, got in the booth and did her thing; you know what I’m saying?
ML: Yeah. It’s one of those albums you can’t wait for fans to hear, huh? It sounds like.
Akon: Yeah, definitely, definitely.
ML: The other thing is talk about your label and also the project Chili’s trying to put out through your label.
Akon: Yep. I got KLD, Kon Live Distribution.And that’s done, it’s actually cut through Interscope with Jimmy Iovine /Geffen Records. It’s crazy because that’s like one of the main deals that I cut this year that I’m really proud of. I got a chance to really set myself, set my mark to be an exec. So now it’s like I’ve gotta choose the right artists to put out that I really believe in, that I think that I know can definitely do some damage out there. You know I went and signed Chili from TLC whose been hungry since day one to do, you know, her personal project.You know what I’m saying? She really came to me and was like, “I need to get this project poppin, I know you can do it, I trust you with this project.” So I didn’t want to let her down with it, I want to make sure we put the right music on her that really tells her story. Because she has a story that the rest of the world don’t know nothing about. And like it’s literally a real story. You know what I’m saying? And she has the energy and definitely has the talent to bring it across on the album so we definitely going to make that happen.
ML: What direction would you want to take an album like that in? Would you want to take it maybe more towards your style of music or more towards a TLC style of music? Like how do you balance that?
Akon: Well pretty much we’re really going to shy away from the TLC stuff. Like I don’t want her to sound €“ I don’t want no record on the album to sound like a TLC record. Because then it would be a TLC record. *Laughs* You know, and that’s what she’s already known for doing. She has like, literally, her personality is totally opposite from what the TLC group had portrayed. Even though it’s all a part of her, but it was like three different personalities mixed into one.
ML: It’s one third of her.
Akon: Exactly. There’s so much more of her that she even wants to express though. The music, even that she’s choosing, like when I do a record, she’s choosing certain records that fit her personality that sounds totally different or opposite of what you expect her to do. And that’s what’s so interesting about this project.
ML: The other thing I wanted to ask is, are you going to be handling most of the production on this?
Akon: Yeah. I’m going to be doing half the album and then I’m going to toss her off to other producers that I really do business with. I’m going to grab Missy Elliot to do some. Actually she’s in the studio with Missy Elliot now doing a couple of records. And then I’m going to grab Will.I.Am to do some records, you know, grab Polo to do some records. You know what I’m saying? Get with Timbaland, get a record. You know what I’m saying? So that way we make this record an event.
ML: When can we expect the album?
Akon: Well it’s going to definitely be 2007. We don’t know if it’s going to be, you know, second quarter or third quarter but it’ll be soon.
ML: Alright. Also I wanted to ask you, you were actually on an episode of CSI with Obie. How was that experience? Is that something you’d like to get into?
Akon: Yeah, definitely. The next step is motion pictures. I’m working on a movie now called “The Illegal Alien.” Which is based on my life story. Little things like that just slowly stack up, you know what I’m saying?
ML: I was actually reading about that. Has that “Illegal Alien” come closer to starting and what’s the status of the movie right now?
Akon: Yeah I’m like literally in the last chapters as far as writing it. Cause like, it’s pretty much based on me, I want to be like really the main writer so that I can just be able to give the director direction as far as where we want to go. But I’m not going to actually be the lead, you know, like star, I’m not going to star in the movie. I always felt like that was corny when the person that they’re writing about was the one, you know. So you know we’re going to get Mekhi Phifer to play my role in this movie.
ML: So that’s a done deal that Mekhi Phifer going to be starring as you?
ML: Oh, that’s cool. That’s cool. Any guess on when you’re going to start filming? 2007 probably?
Akon: Nah, well actually we’re going to be, I know we’re casting in February. And hopefully before the end of the year we’ll actually get the production together and start to shoot. Because we’re going to be shooting in Africa, Jersey and in L.A.
ML: So are you going to make sure like everything’s authentic, like everything’s shot in Senegal and not like on the set.
Akon: No literally. Just like that. Because I mean it’s like a mixture of you know like, “City of God”/ “Menace II Society”/ “Ray” like all in one movie. You know it’s like crazy, the whole concept.
ML: Another thing I wanted to ask you is, are you going to have a tour to support this album or . . .
ML: Is that in the works?
Akon: Mm hm. That’s in the works now. Actually I know we’re doing a promo run to just get the album to where it needs to go, then I’m going to do a House of Blues tour. And through the House of Blues tour we’d be promoting the world tour that we’re going to be doing in 2007.
ML: Oh, alright. That’s something to look for. Something I always ask people I interview, are you a fan of any sports teams?
Akon: Me? When it comes to basketball my team is wherever Shaq’s at.
ML: Oh really.
Akon: I’m loyal to Shaq, I ain’t loyal to the team. *Laughs* Wherever Shaq goes I go.
ML: *Laughs* Even if Shaq goes to the Bobcats, you’ll still . . .?
Akon: If Shaq goes to the Bobcats I’m a Bobcat fan.
ML and Akon: *Laughs*
ML: You’ll be talking to your friends like, “Man, I don’t give a shit.” *Laughs*
Akon: I don’t care. I’m wherever Shaq goes. *Laughs*
ML: Have you met Shaq?
Akon: Yeah. That’s my dog too.
ML: He’s a cool dude?
Akon: Real cool man.
ML: Some other random questions I wanted to ask you is what’s the last thing you bought?
Akon: The last thing I literally bought . . . Lamborghini Gallardo.
ML: Uh oh. That’s a big purchase right there.
Akon: That was a big, and the last purchase of this year.
ML: Uh oh. *Laughs*
Akon: Cause I’m broke now.
ML: *Laughs* This album better do well now.
Akon: This album better do well now. If not I’m taking it back! *Laughs*
ML: *Laughs* Alright. What color?
Akon: And get a used one!
ML and Akon: *Laughs*
ML: You still gotta have it you just gotta downgrade a little!
Akon: I still gotta have one.
ML: What color?
Akon: It’s orange.
ML: Orange? That’s a nice color.
Akon: Yeah, it’s incredible man.
ML: What’s the last thing you listened to?
Akon: The last thing I listened to was “Shake Down.” Song off my album.
ML: Oh alright. So you like to listen to your own stuff.
Akon: Yeah. I just stay focused, like really focused on my own stuff. Especially around this time so I can have all my energy set up on it now. The last six months I haven’t listened to anything outside my album.
ML: Really. When you listen to your stuff do you see things like that you can improve on?
Akon: Oh yeah. I used to get that all the time. But then after a while I found myself constantly going and fixing stuff. Now I just allow it to be. You know what I’m saying? Unless it’s something that definitely needs to be changed then I’ll go in and change it.
ML: Another thing I wanted to ask you is when you go back to Senegal, …and do you live in New Jersey? Or Atlanta?
Akon: Me? I live in Atlanta.
ML: When you go from Atlanta to Senegal, what’s the biggest difference that you feel?
Akon: Ooh, big difference. It’s not even no comparison.
ML: What’s like the pace of life? Is it more calm there? is it the same?
Akon: It’s more calm in Atlanta for me. In Africa everything’s fast.
ML: Really, everything moves fast?
Akon: Even going to the bathroom is fast.
ML and Akon: *Laughs*
Akon: I gotta run to the bathroom!
ML and Akon: *Laughs*
ML: Sprint, you see Akon sprinting to the bathroom.
Akon: Sprinting. I’m like that. I gotta keep the blinds closed €“ I’m like Michael Jackson. As soon as I go out and put my hand out “ahhhhhhhh!” It’s ridiculous.
Akon: Mm hm.
ML: Do you have a fan club based out of Senegal?
Akon: Yeah, like every, every section. Like every borough, every county has a Akon fan club.
Akon: All independently, they’re like cells. It’s ridiculous.
ML: Like a cult following . . .
Akon: Yeah. It’s like cells. And every time I’m there I try to go visit as many fan clubs, you know, you know, like organizations as possible but it’s over two or three thousand fan clubs over there. It’s mine, and I don’t even know these people.
ML: That’s incredible.
Akon: Yeah, it’s incredible.
ML: The last thing I was going to ask you to wrap it up, You said you’re going to go on tour and I saw that you did shows from Senegal and you’ve obviously done a bunch of shows in the U.S. and Europe. What’s the difference between a fan from Senegal and a fan from the U.S.?
Akon: Wow. I think the fans here in the U.S., they’re more, it’s like an ego thing. Like they’ll be very, very excited but they can’t let you see they’re excited. So like, right as you’re leaving they’ll build the nerve to say, “Oh, can I have your autograph” or “Can I get a picture?” Whereas, over there, the moment you step down, as soon as they see you they jumping on you. Aaaah! *Laughs* You see off the top they like, “I want a picture, I want a da da da!” So you can see the excitement, it’s totally different.
ML: Yeah, you can see that they’re genuinely excited to see you.
ML: That’s big. Alright, well, it looks like our time is pretty much set. Thanks for taking your time; I know you’re on a busy press schedule right now.
Akon: Yeah man, they got me tied up over here. I’m telling you.
ML: Alright well, have a good one now. I really appreciate the time.
Akon: Thank you man.
Thanks to Akon for his time & the lovely Ms. Battle for hooking up the opportunity. Konvicted is in stores NOW. Hit up his MySpace for all his up to date tour info.
*Gwen Stefani-The Sweet Escape (Konvict Remix)) which is one of the top club songs this year.
*Apparently Akon is a big fan of ’24′ and thats also his reason for not wanting to be president, read:
I don’t even want to be president no more. Remember, back then I used to say I wanted to run for president in the next 10 years? Now I’m like, ‘Never.’ I see what I have to go through as an artist, on a day-to-day basis. Can you imagine what the president goes through?
Then after watching 24 the series, I was like man… I’m good. I’ll just be the ambassador.