Friday, 6 March 2009

Akon - 'Freedom' - Interview


Many questioned whether Senegalese Hip Hop artist Akon was just another flash-in-the-pan when he initially burst onto the scene in 2004 with the convict’s anthem Locked Up. He topped the charts early 2005 when he utilised a sped-up sample of Bobby Vinton’s ‘Mr. Lonely’ for his first UK number 1 Lonely.

Much has changed since then; he has produced and/or featured on many smash hits with Hip Hop and Pop music’s elite, released T-Pain’s two Gold certified albums through his imprint Konvict, as well his own triple-platinum album Konvicted which spawned his second UK #1 ‘Smack That’. Most recently, he ended much speculation when he officially signed UK Hip Hop’s very own Sway.

Marvin Sparks sat with Akon to discuss signing Sway, controversial events and negative press, being the 12th richest Hip Hop artist, charity work in Africa and the follow-up to 2 multi-platinum selling albums, Freedom.

PyroRadio.com: We have to start off with you finally signing Sway. How did that come about?
Akon:
It’s been in the works for like a year and a half now. We finally inked him - we finally got the contracts and signed him officially now. He has been a part of the family forever but we just had to grow into it and make sure it was something he really, really wanted to do. Set his tone together and get his sound right and all that other stuff. More so in development but now he’s ready for us to go full speed with him.

PyroRadio.com: What are your aims for him?
Akon:
Well the main aim really is to break him out of the UK. Take the whole UK rap scene and get it recognised globally and Sway is the first [artist] we think has the potential to make that happen.

PyroRadio.com: Is the deal to Konvict or Kon Live?
Akon:
Konvict is the movement itself. Kon Live is the actual label. A lot of the artists are signed to KonLive but they represent the Konvict ‘because that’s the actual movement. Konvict has always been a movement more than anything.



PyroRadio.com: I read in tabloid that there was some interest in Dizzee Rascal; is there any truth in that?
Akon:
Right now the main focus is definitely Sway. If we don’t break Sway - because Sway is the answer - when you’re dealing with territories like this you can only break one act at a time. Especially in the States, if Sway breaks then they are definitely going to want to start checking for whatever else is hot in the UK. But if Sway doesn’t break then it’s going to be the same story, so that’s why I’ve been really trying focus on Sway to make sure he’s on time.

PyroRadio.com: You’ve toured with Sean Paul and signed reggae acts Tami Chin, Brick and Lace and Kardinal Offishall; are there any other Reggae acts you are interested in?
Akon:
Well we are actually trying to set-up The Yard which is reggae-based label, so we’ll definitely be working with that and eventually be breaking that in a whole different way. We’ve got 2 Reggae artists that we are looking to sign now. Until we [make] those deals [official] I wouldn’t be able to bring those names out yet.


PyroRadio.com: So I couldn’t get a hint on whom?
Akon:
Nah, I cant right now ’cause we’ve got to close the deals out.

PyroRadio.com: As a producer, are you still hands-on with the beat making or is it mainly the business side?
Akon:
Oh definitely, it all starts with the beat-making. It starts with the track first, then you start selecting how you’re going to release it and who’s going to feature on it and stuff like that. But it all starts with the song before it gets started.

PyroRadio.com: You’ve worked with a wide range of artists from Gwen Stefani to Young Jeezy; how do you select who you work with?
Akon:
It all depends on the territories with me. Territories where I’m weak in and I need more energy, I’ll do records in them territories to try to create a better energy for me in that area. A lot of times that‘s how it all started - it started with me just using certain territories and collaborating with artists that are strong in those markets to try and showcase my talent for that market [for them] to be able to see what [my talent] is.

PyroRadio.com: Now we arrive at your new album Freedom. Am I correct in thinking it was originally meant to be called Acquitted?
Akon:
Yeah, originally it was supposed to be acquitted.

PyroRadio.com: Why the name change?
Akon:
Right now we are at a stage of just refurbishing the whole movement and giving the whole concept of Konvict a whole make-over - it just came off too negative. When you think of Konvict, I want people to think more positive feel for it; a convict getting [into a bad] situation but then changing their whole life over. With Acquitted, the first thing you think of is a convict getting away with something on a negative level. Freedom means the exact same thing, so we felt like with the new image we wanted to make sure that all this came out together, it felt right and it felt real positive when you grabbed the album moving forward.

PyroRadio.com: And the first single is ‘I’m So Paid’?
Akon:
‘Right Now’ is the official single. Every album we release two singles first; the first official rhythmic pop single is Right Now and then the first Urban single is ‘I’m So Paid’.

PyroRadio.com: We’ll deal with ‘I’m So Paid’ featuring Lil’ Wayne and Young Jeezy; how did that one come about?
Akon:
Well, a lot of these records just came [together] as they go. They weren’t really scripted or choreographed as far as how they were going to come [out]. As far as this record, I heard [Young] Jeezy and Lil Wayne on the record, so normally when I hear it I do it the way I hear it, you know what I mean? And Weezy and Jeezy been around with me for so long - since the beginning of my career - so this was kind of more to celebrate the success itself, so I definitely felt like it would have been a good idea to put them on this record.

PyroRadio.com: Considering the current climate with the recession do you think that you saying “I’m so paid” may get a negative reaction?
Akon:
Nah, well for me it wouldn’t. The recession wouldn’t make me walk around depressed. I always felt like because situations aren’t as happy, you shouldn’t necessarily be [unhappy] - and don’t dwell on it. It will eventually get better, but I think those songs - a lot of the times - are to more encourage people to go out there and get things done. One thing we are not going to do is go out there and let our year’s hard-work and commitment let something like [the recession] stop us from celebrating it. If anything, we are going to celebrate against it.

PyroRadio.com: Speaking of being paid, I recently saw that you are listed as the 12th Richest R‘n’B and Hip Hop acts according to Forbes Magazine.
Akon:
The 12th what?

PyroRadio.com: Richest.
Akon:
Really? I didn’t know they knew how much money I had [laughs].

PyroRadio.com: Your estimated worth was $12m.
Akon:
Well I never gave them my worth, so that’s a guesstimate.

PyroRadio.com: You like to keep your finances private?
Akon:
Oh absolutely. One thing I don’t do is share my finances with the public. I could have a billion dollars and they’d never know it. I’d rather be number 12 [LAUGHS]

PyroRadio.com: Aside from music, what other ventures have you got going? I know you’ve got the clothing line coming.
Akon:
We’ve got a clothing line that we are launching. Konvict clothing; which is the urban brand. It’s the brand that actually collaborates with the music aspect of it. We’re launching that in January, but we’re distributing that throughout - it will be in stores throughout the States all through the holidays and worldwide, we will be launching in spring of 2009. Then we have Aliaune which is the more upscale brand which we will be launching in the fall of 2009 - later on in the winter.

PyroRadio.com: Those will both be available in UK?
Akon:
Yep, definitely available in the UK.

PyroRadio.com: How has the money affected your creativity and what you write about? When you first came out it was songs like ‘Ghetto’ and ‘Locked Up’ but you can’t really do those types of songs anymore.
Akon:
Well, it‘s not the same anymore ‘cause I‘ve changed. My music changed with how I am moving. In the beginning it was more - that was the lifestyle I surrounded by, so it allowed me to get that experience to sing about that. Then as I grow, I started traveling and experiencing different things. Of course, I’m a lot wealthier so the topics will change. I can’t be making millions of dollars and be singing about the ghetto because the experience is completely different.
As I’m growing, I’m maturing and I’m starting to realise certain things in my life that wasn’t there, but now is there - so you know you sing about happier things and happier times because I’m more successful at the moment.

PyroRadio.com: Apart from Lil’ Wayne and Young Jeezy, who else features on the album?
Akon:
This album is real family-orientated; I kept it all family on this particular album’ we got T-Pain, of course, Kardinal Offishall, Colby O’Donis, Ray Lavender. We also have Wyclef who has been there since the beginning, [Lil`] Wayne, [Young] Jeezy - so it’s really just the people I came up with as we came up together. We’re also doing a remix album for Freedom, which I will be reaching out to other collaborators to be apart of that record.

PyroRadio.com: Will that be a worldwide project?
Akon:
Yep, yep, worldwide.


PyroRadio.com: You have been centre to quite a few scandals in the last year or so: Smoking Gun investigated your criminal past and showed you’ve never had any drug charges; you’ve also had controversial performances. How do you deal with the negative press?
Akon:
You don’t deal with it, you just continue moving on a positive level and I’m glad they put it out there because I was never, ever attached to drugs and they were right about that. But the perception, of course, you would not know that hadn’t I told you that. You’ve just got to move forward in a positive way. A lot of times, success breeds that just so you can’t be able to use that success to do good things in life.

We always wanted to be looked at, just that we came into the business and didn’t just leave, we actually did something with it and encouraged other people to do [good] things and create their foundations. That’s why we started Konfidence so we could do good things and rebuild Africa and so on and so forth. But you really can’t focus on it. You just got to keep doing the right thing and have to hope that people with common sense will follow that motto and ride with you.

PyroRadio.com: Could you explain a little bit more about the background of Konfidence?
Akon:
Yeah, Konfidence is a foundation that we started in 2004. It’s a real family-based foundation. My mum - actually right now - is running it out of Atlanta and my dad is running it in Africa. It’s one of those situations where we are trying to find new opportunities and pretty much preparing the children for the big responsibility that they have because it’s going to be up to the kids, really, to take Africa to the next level as far as rebuilding it for future development. We’re starting off, with the children with healthcare and education and doing whatever we can to make sure that’s a lot more comfortable environment for their learning facilities. Like, we just rebuilt a whole new elementary school over there, remodeling schools that‘s now existing, then we are going to go into hospitals and do the same thing - starting with health and education for the kids.

PyroRadio.com: If there was one thing you could change about the continent of Africa on a whole, what would it be?
Akon:
I would definitely provide more opportunities. I would definitely provide a lot, lot more opportunities for Africa. That’s the only thing that Africa needs, really, is the opportunity to take it to the next level.


PyroRadio.com: Lastly, why should Freedom be an album in everyone’s collection?
Akon:
Well you’re definitely going to be happy when you pick up the Freedom album. If you pick up any other album, it’s like picking up a Konvict album because they are doing everything we are doing. Only difference is, on the Freedom album, there’s a lot more substance to it - it’s the real thing. It’s a creative sound, straight from the heart that has been worked on forever and it’s real. You’re really going to enjoy this album - there’s not much I can say about the album. Check the previous albums. If you were happy with the previous albums, you’re going to be overly satisfied with this album.

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