Akon: R&B’s oxymoron (with photos from a recent NY show)
Akon embodies the typical ‘soft thug’ fascination for everyone who ever wanted to take a walk on the wild side and keep some fond memories from it. As much as it is a rear occasion, Senegalese’ own was able to provide it for millions of fans and all through his music. So why is Aliaune Thiam a ‘soft thug’ or a thug at all? As with all things in life, answers generally lie in the pages of history. So here is Akon’s.
US born, Senegal raised kid had a few things going for him to get into the entertainment industry. His father is a jazz musician. He recorded his first song at 15. He speaks 3 languages. He looks young enough to be 25, while it seems that he was born in ’73, making him 35. Yet, Akon’s early years were marked with the life of crime. Getting kicked out of high school for gun possession and selling drugs was just the beginning. Later he turned to carjacking and was pretty successful at it. Being a thriving criminal without getting caught nowadays is hard thou. So all that came to a halt and Akon got some jail time. Charges? Armed robbery and drug trafficking.
So that qualifies him as a criminal. Maybe a thug. But ‘soft thug’? Why such a strange title? Well, coming out of jail Akon decided to leave the biz. It’s only the oldest story in the book, yet nobody would call 50 Cent soft. Well, titles of Akon’s songs speak for themselves. At first he introduced himself as a star with his single Locked Up, off of his debut album Trouble. The next song off of that album to gain massive popularity was Lonely. Now, who wouldn’t feel some compassion for this man, who claims that after so many hard years in jail he is feeling… isolated. It seems that for every song about his criminal past he does a song about love and being in touch with his emotions. This internal conflict continues on the same album with Ghetto, song talking about the misfortunes of poverty-stricken hoods and Belly Dancer, song of a pretty girl he gets.
His second album, Konvicted, is just the same. He even goes as far as making I Wanna Love You and the other version of it, I Wanna F— You, with Snoop Dogg. Just in case his fans are not confused enough about Akon’s true thoughts, he Smack That with Eminem and Don’t Matter, both on that album. While Smack That encourages you to do it ‘till you get sore’, Don’t Matter talks of his love that prevails despite all obstacles. Now, how can a girl find a better guy? He appeals to the young girls from the less fortunate neighborhoods with his intricate knowledge of the hardship in the hood and yet his longing for love. He attracts young boys from the streets talking of the same hard knock life and yet his playboy approach.
Akon represents what all urban music carries with it nowadays: a genuine internal conflict of the good and evil, the right and wrong, what you have and what you wanna have. He speaks his mind on all of it and at the same time throws in social and class issues, like on his Mama Africa. He also gets involved back in his native country of Senegal, donating money and giving his time to the good and worthy causes.
Besides being a singer/rapper, Akon is a talented producer and a gifted and creative songwriter. Music fans just can’t help but love him. Almost 2 dozens Billboard Hot 100 hits, Grammy nominations, and all of that off of only 2 albums! His Konvict Muzik label is already filled with upcoming and exciting artists, from the beautiful Jamaican Brick & Lace to the sensual Ray Lavender, who says that My Girl Got a Girlfriend. Even Akon’s tendency to lip-sync during his shows can’t stop the fans from loving him.
Yet, not all is so peachy in paradise. He lost one of his major sponsors, Verizon Wireless, after he was had a little too much fun with a sexy fan on stage. Who knew that a 14 year-old daughter of a preacher would dress up all slick and sexy and try and get busy with him on stage? For those who haven’t seen the footage, it did look rather scary. ‘’Till you get sore’ took on a real definition there. Soon after, in an apparent stunt he threw a young boy off of the stage into the crowd for being an unappreciative fan.With such a powerful palate of successes what will he do next? Over 130 guest appearances on other artists’ songs and he has no intention of slowing down. Currently working with Madonna and Whitney Houston he sees his previous accomplishments just as a spring board for his jump into the true stardom. Currently working with no one else but Michael Jackson on his next album, Akon feels that what seemed the impossible only yesterday is just within reach now. His own next album won’t come out for at least another year and a half but with all the new work he got going on, it’s OK. Talking to 50 Cent on the phone for hours and getting ready to star in a film, Cocaine Cowboys, he’s sure not to let up.Why would Akon slow down? He’s already accomplished the most difficult mission for anyone. He managed to exemplify and personify the concept of an oxymoron. And he became world-known for it. Hence the title, ‘soft thug’.Dmitriy Goldin