Wed, 26 Nov 2008 15:06:30
Akon's a pretty friendly guy. Sitting inside his record label's office, he answers the phone, "What's up big boss?" However, Akon's the true boss on this call. His voice is unmistakable at this point, and the man's an undeniable force in R&B and hip hop. His powerful pipes have carried hooks to platinum status on his own records as well as those of his high-level homies like 50-Cent. A self-proclaimed workaholic, Akon's preparing to drop his hotly anticipated new album, Freedom, due out December 2nd. In the meantime, he chatted with ARTISTdirect about composing, making the jump to films and how to be a gentleman.
"Right Now"is a great first single to come out with.
Awe man, thanks a lot! I definitely appreciate it. We've been getting great feedback from that record.
It feels like a progression from your older stuff, but it's got the same vibe, style and soul.
Oh, that's wonderful! That's exactly what we were searching for. I wanted to make sure that on every album you could hear the growth and hear that there is another level of each album. You can tell the growth. Every album gets better, and the sound grows wider as far as global feel. That's definitely what we were aiming for.
Would you say "Right Now" is more of a pop song?
Yeah, I love the fact it's got more of a pop feel because that starts steering you slowly. I started from the underground, and I've gradually branched out to the pop side, so that definitely feels good.
Did the writing process behind Freedom differ from the last record?
Well, the beautiful part is that the creative process always stays the same because that's exactly how I continue to create, doing different things. But as far as the concept goes, I was definitely trying to switch the sound up a little bit more because everyone had already adopted the Konvict sound. Between me and T-Pain, everything sounds like that. We had to switch the sound up and come up with something crazy and new. We had to push the envelope a little bit more. If anybody would come in that lane, then they would actually be coming out of their lane to get that. That was the whole purpose of this record, to create a brand new sound for the following year.
Is there a particular story behind "Right Now?"
The story is moreso about me being in a present relationship, but I'm reminiscing on a relationship from back in the day—the beginning, early on before the success. Around that time, the relationship is just completely raw. You have nothing to lose. You just have some fun. You're doing so much that in a way you feel like, "Maybe these are my last days," so you just have complete fun. That was even the concept for the video. Whereas now with my current relationship, everything is cool. I've got money now, but my lady is also rich, and she's more conservative. So it's about a lot of things she wouldn't normally do because of her status and so on and so forth. It's about a lot of things from your past relationships that you miss. You're like, "Damn, I wish I never really broke up. I wish I could just link up and do the things that we used to do."
A lot of people feel that way too. When you look back on a relationship like that, it's never the same.
Yeah, it's never the same...you're right.
Let's talk about some of the collaborations on the record. How did "I'm So Paid" with Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy come about?
I've got a record called "I'm So Paid" featuring Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy. That record is crazy. It was one of those records that I knew where it was going to go. A lot of stuff reflects from the beginning, and it brings you all the way up to where I am with today, with all of the success and so on. Before, I would talk about not having any money and living in the ghetto. Now, I'm in a different state. I'm a lot more fortunate and a lot more success. I'm a lot more paid. These are the guys that came down that same road with me and actually enjoyed the same kind of success. I felt it was great for us to come together and make this record, especially in a time where all of this recession and stuff is going on. I wanted to uplift myself and everybody around us. I'm like, "Listen man, we can't sit here and be sobbing about mistakes those people made. Don't let it affect us. Let's enjoy this because we worked hard for it."
You've come from the underground. You have to earn your stripes through all of that struggle and work. You three have all earned it.
No, absolutely. Thank you a lot for saying that too.
You have a certain integrity too, and you haven't changed.
I'm the same guy since day one—since "Locked Up." The only thing that's changed with me is my dress code. Seriously, that's only because I can afford to wear some designer suits and custom-made European cut clothes. I've always wanted to do stuff like that, and I always wanted to express and dress the way I actually felt—the intelligence. I always wanted to do a lot of good business and walk into a corporate office with a suit and tie. That's what I always wanted to do, and I can do it now.
R&B and hip hop are moving towards a refined gentleman look. Is that something you see yourself going towards too?
That's always been me. I've always been that way since the beginning. You just can't do certain things in certain instances because of the circumstances. Now, I'm like a full-fledged businessman. I can be that and really mean it. It puts me in a better position in terms of decision-making. I feel so much happier now because I'm free to be able to do that. I've earned my stripes, I've put in the work, and I've paid my dues.
To succeed in the music business these days, you have to be a businessman and you have to be on top of everything in your career.
Absolutely, I think the way you come across really affects the business in a good way or a bad way. It's no different from athletes that come from the slums but happen to be great. As soon as they sign that big contract, they're on ESPN with a three-piece suit. They're very intelligent. All of that has to play a role. Your appearance says a lot about you as a person.
“I've earned my stripes, I've put in the work, and I've paid my dues.”
A lot of kids don't realize that early on. They adopt the ghetto style, but they need to hear someone like you say this. You can come off as intelligent and refined even if you don't have a lot of money.
No, you're absolutely right.
The album's got a positive vibe despite the world's climate. Your music's an escape.
Thanks a lot, man! The goal was to keep it fun. I want to create great, fun music that my kids can listen to, other people's kids can listen to, and adults can enjoy and even play it for their kids. I'm at that level where I'm completely mature. A lot of the stuff is about having fun and enjoying life. I want to make the kind of music that allows that and provides that for people.
What are some of the other collaborations you're especially proud of?
T-Pain is on the album, as well as Colby O'donis, Wyclef Jean and Kardinal Offishal. I kept it really family-oriented. Of course we're going to do a remix album that I'm going to put even more features on. I want to give the remix album that Akon-collaboration-type feel.
That would be quite a tour if you could lock everyone down for it.
Oh yeah, that's the great part—all of them will be available for the tour. That's one of the main reasons behind my choices for who I picked for the album because I need them to be available for when we go to tour. When fans can see the songs happening and exactly re-created onstage, that's another experience for them, which is wonderful.
Is that movie about you starring Mekhi Pfifer still happening?
Actually, I had to put a hold on the movie itself because there was so much going on in my life that needed to be incorporated into the movie. I didn't want the movie to be so premature. I just saw my career quickly evolve into something out of what I expected it to be, so I said, "Let me just let this thing ride a little bit longer before we start writing the script." There are a lot of things happening right now that we need to document for this movie [Laughs].
Did this album come together really quickly?
Yeah, the album came together extremely fast. I'm always recording. Even now, I'm recording for the next album. I'm always pre-prepared for my records. By the time the label calls and says, "We need a record by this release date," I always turn it on time because I'm constantly recording—if not for myself, for other people.
From all of that work, your voice has become very recognizable all across pop music.
I know. That's what's up! That was definitely the goal. It feels great, man [Laughs].
How do you juggle running your label and constantly recording? Are you working 24/7?
Yeah, constantly! I'm working 24 hours. I really don't get a chance to sleep unless I'm on a plane. That's why I love those long European, Asian and New Zealand flights where I'm on there for like 20 hours [Laughs]. You've got to juggle. You've got to do it. It's the life I chose at the end of the day. The more I put on my plate, the more I have to be responsible and know that if I take something on it's another hour that I may not sleep that day.
How does your label differ from other artist-run labels?
That's another thing too. Coming up, I've seen a lot of artists coming out with their own labels. I used to say, "I'll never be like that. If I make a label, I'll take it as serious as I take my artistry. I'm not going to just pick an artist because he's my friend or we're cool, whatever it may be. If I put out a record, it has to represent the label itself—the way I represent myself as an artist." I always wanted to make sure I grabbed artists that were talented, hardworking and actually can stand up to the job. If you can't stand next to me onstage, then it can't happen. If you can't stand next to me 24 hours a day, grindin', then it can't happen. If your record is not quality enough to stand up to one of my records then it can't happen. There are all of these obstacles they have to go over literally just to qualify to be on the KonLive label. I want it to represent the movement and we can't really accept anything less than just being great. We're convicted for excellence, period. I'm blessed to find artists like that because nowadays artists like that are hard to find. You see a lot of talent in some people, but they don't have a work ethic. They've been through so much in the business that they lost a sense of why they're here. There are a lot of things that go on in an artist's mind that you just hope that they don't come with this package. You hope they come sane, hungry, ready to work and are talented on top of that.
What inspired you to call the album Freedom?
Konvict. Originally, the album was supposed to be called Acquitted. Now, I'm just trying to make sure that none of the words are misconstrued or interpreted that differently because I noticed a lot of things that we were doing were interpreted in a negative way. The whole purpose of the Konvict movement was all positivity—just to show that you can come out of a situation like that and create a better life for yourself. You don't have to be as ignorant or think that because you made those kind of mistakes in the past that you can't be a changed me. We decided to change the name Acquitted to Freedom, which sounded a lot more positive. It covered a broader spectrum when it came to that aspect of it.
The media has often focused on the wrong things with you and misinterpreted your message because they didn't focus on the music—which is what they should be worried about.
Absolutely, it should always be about the music. Sometimes with success, this happens. You've got to be responsible and know how to deal with it. It's all about how you manage every situation. The key is not to jump overboard and over-exaggerate the situation to where it gets out of hand. You have to be professional about it and think it through before you make the decision and figure out how it's going to affect anything that's attached to you because, a lot of times, that's what it ends up hurting. It doesn't hurt you—it hurts the things that are attached to you.
Is your song with Michael Jackson going to get an official release?
Yeah, me and the King of Pop—that was one of the highlights of my career right there because I never thought that could ever happen. That was always my goal. I've put together this five-year plan. It says, "I'm going to do this before I do that." Mike was like the last goal. I said, "Okay, I'm going to shoot for the moon. Even though it may not happen, but I'm going to put it on this list anyway and hope that maybe one day I can probably do it." It happened within three or four years [Laughs]. I was stuck there. I don't know where else to go because that was like the ultimate goal. I was completely shocked. When I met the dude, he was just one of the most humble guys. It was the most incredible experience. That song is not on Freedom because it actually got leaked on the internet. It killed the whole surprise. It killed everything we were trying to do from a marketing standpoint in terms of impact. It was already out, and people had already heard it. We decided we're going to use that record for some kind of charity or something, just to raise money and then create something new for future purposes.
You're a real fan and that's more important than anything.
Exactly, that's the whole key. You've got to go into it knowing it, loving it, and it's something to be instilled in you that's the only way you're going to keep making hit records and enjoying what you're doing. You've got to enjoy it to keep it moving.
What's the next mountain to climb?
Oooh, next mountain? The only thing I can really say is, once I conquer this music thing, I want to be able to go into movies, score some films, direct and maybe produce a couple major motion pictures. That's the goal. Every movie I produce, I'd score it. That's what I do in my sleep, I do this all day. I do this period. I may take some footage off the street, put it in my Mac and make some music around it. This is something I always loved to do. When it comes to the movies, the music is going to be a piece of cake.