"The versatile musical dichotomy is always at the heart of each Akon album."


So says Akon's website. Does anyone actually read the bios on celebrity websites? Maybe "musical dichotomy" means "saying one thing while meaning another." Regardless, what is not known about pop singer and songwriter Akon is almost as interesting as what is known.

The Senegalese-American artist is named Aliaune Badara Akon Thiam, according to Wikipedia. Or Aliaune Damala Thiam, according to The Smoking Gun. Or Thiam Aliaune, according to ASCAP. And he could have been born in 1973. Or 1981.

In 2004 he released his debut album, Trouble, which featured the hit single "Locked Up." For some, it may have been a prison anthem. For others, it may have simply built up street cred. After all, the song was based on Akon's three-year stint in prison "for being a ringleader of a notorious car theft operation." Or it may have been inspired by some minor run-ins for gun possession and driving a stolen vehicle. Or it could have had nothing to do with anything. Because, at the end of the day, the album was an accomplished blend of "West African-styled vocals mixed with East Coast and Southern beats." Or it could have been heard as familiar R&B pop offset by Dre-ish ivory-tinkling hip-hop -- with the occasional sound of jail doors clanging shut ("Kon~vict...").

His 2006 sophomore release, Konvicted, moved closer to the pop arena, and featured the Grammy-nominated "Smack That." He also worked with Gwen Stefani on her hit single, "The Sweet Escape." Things were looking up for Akon. So, maybe it was for the sake of irony, or maybe it was all a big misunderstanding, but during the ensuing tour Akon's crew videotaped the star dry humping dancing provocatively with the 15-year-old daughter of a preacher. Two months later, Akon threw a concert attendee off a stage. Or was that a staged incident?


In any case, Akon refused to be kept down and released an album in 2009 titled Freedom. In it, he shed both his legal woes and the constraints of R&B by reaching out to audiences around the world and employing the thread that connects all nations' pop music: a thumping 4/4 beat. Or, he simply returned to his Jersey roots and channeled Snooki's Bridge & Tunnel aesthetic.

As if international exports of the Akon brand through Akon were not enough, Akon has worked actively around the globe. He appeared as a celebrity guest in Philippino and Brazilian reality television. In March 2010 he flew to Mumbai to record a track for Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan's upcoming film, RA.One. Back at home he worked on the hit single "Just Dance" from Lady GaGa's breakout album, The Fame. He has made efforts to become an international celebrity that blows up dance floors. Or headphones. Or cars. Or hair salons, shopping-mall elevators...    ~Dan Nishimoto


Photo Credit: Chris Owyoung/

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