Consider song titles such as “Ghetto,” “Locked Up,” “Snitch” and “Soul Survivor.” Then, picture hip-hop heavyweights the likes of the L.O.X.’s Styles P, Obie Trice and Young Jeezy. Are these the track listings and featured guest appearances of some rapper on the verge of mainstream mega-stardom?
Although he appeared on the legendary Fugees’ album, The Score (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1996), after “meeting ‘Clef (Wyclef Jean) at the barbershop in Newark,” the SRC/Universal-signed crooner is a relatively fresh face in the crowded sea of rhythm and blues artists. Despite this, Akon has managed to quickly race to the front of the proverbial pack, largely due to his ability to mesh smooth, traditional ballads with raw, gritty narratives about his days on the corner and behind bars.
The budding superstar clearly feels that his ability to walk the thin line between girl- and gangster-friendly music has helped solidify his spot in the game. “I just like to write and sing about what’s real…about what I see,” he says. “The realer the music, the better it’s gonna be. When I make a song about something that I’ve seen or been through, it comes through.” Although it may be difficult to balance the romantic with the realistic, his debut disc Trouble (SRC/Universal, 2004) proves that Akon can traverse that tightrope as nimbly as a highwire acrobat.
Instead of resting on his laurels, Akon created his own imprint named (what else?) Konvict Records. With stripper-enamored T-Pain and recently acquired Toronto mainstay Kardinal Offishall contracted to the label, Akon is incredibly optimistic about the future.
“T-Pain’s album really popped off; we’re doing really well,” he says. “Kardinal is gonna bring something to the table that I don’t really feel any other artists can.” Yet, Akon refuses to stop simply at the recording studio. He’s taking his hustle to an even more lucrative arena—the film set.