In the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” hosts N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN spoke with Akon to discuss gifting French Montana a fake watch, building Akon City, hit records like “Locked Up,” and much more.
Born Aliaune Thiam in 1973, Akon grew up in Senegal before moving to the United States. He catapulted to fame in 2004 with the release of his debut album, Trouble, which featured the hit singles “Locked Up” and “Lonely.” His subsequent albums, Konvicted and Freedom, yielded further hits like “Smack That,” “I Wanna Love You,” and “Right Now (Na Na Na).”
Throughout his career, Akon has collaborated with a plethora of artists, including Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Gwen Stefani, and Michael Jackson. His music incorporates elements of R&B, hip hop, and international stylings reflecting his African heritage. Notably, he’s also been instrumental in kick-starting the careers of several prominent artists, such as Lady Gaga and T-Pain, through his own record labels, Konvict Muzik and KonLive Distribution.
In recent years, Akon has shifted his focus from music to various entrepreneurial endeavors. These include Akon Lighting Africa, a project launched in 2014 that aims to provide electricity via solar energy in African countries, and the ambitious plan of building a “crypto city” in Senegal. According to the musician, construction on Akon City has begun after receiving a full round of funding in 2022.
REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from Akon’s “Drink Champs” interview. Check them out below, and watch the full episode here.
1. On South Africa
Over the years, Akon has publicly encouraged African Americans to relocate to Africa, firmly believing that such a move could transform it into the world’s most powerful nation. He emphasized that the continent possesses all the necessary resources and needs the people to realize its potential. Kicking off the interview, Akon took the time to dispel stereotypes about Africa.
“South Africa is the real Africa. Any amazing part of Africa that’s beautiful, that attracts tourism, they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s not really the real Africa.’ But if it’s poor, impoverished, and full of diseases or plagues — ‘Be careful, you don’t want to be in that part of Africa,’” Akon shared. “That’s what we gotta break. To South Africa’s credit, they had help by the British… Those are real Africans. Them white boys over there, some of them are more African than the Africans.”
2. On getting turned down by Universal Music Group
Following Universal Music Group’s refusal to offer him a deal, Akon successfully launched his own record label, KonLive Distribution, with Interscope Records in late 2006. The label housed prominent artists like Colby O’Donis, Lady Gaga, and Kardinal Offishall. According to Akon, Jimmy Iovine offered him a deal that doubled his original expectations.
“With the success of T-Pain, that’s when I doubled back to try and do a direct deal with Universal again. That’s when Marilyn Winter told me what I’m asking for, nobody would give it to me,” he explained. “That’s when I met with Jimmy [Iovine]. I already had my full portfolio out, he knew what it was. He said, ‘Listen, this is what you’re worth. This is what we want to give you. We want to do the deal here.’ It was double what I wanted.”
3. On signing Lady Gaga
Akon is widely credited for kick-starting Lady Gaga’s career by signing her to his KonLive label in 2007 as well as helping her write “Just Dance,” which debuted the following year. Although he severed his professional ties with the pop sensation, he still remains supportive of Gaga. The musician detailed signing Gaga after Interscope Records had no clue what to do with her career.
“After speaking with her, talking to her, I was like, ‘This b**ch is mad talented.’ So we write the record; she goes in to demo the song now. As she’s going in to demo the song for the girls to hear, I’m looking like, ‘Man, this b**ch is a star,’” he told N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. “I called Jimmy. I said, ‘Yo, Jimmy, what’s up with this Lady Gaga chick?’ He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘I think I want to sign her.’ He said, ‘Take her.’”
He added, “We go in there and we’re playing this record. ‘Just dance, we’ll be okay.’ He’s going crazy to this… The whole time, he’s thinking this record is the perfect record for The Pussycat Dolls.”
4. On Styles P helping “Locked Up” go viral
Released in 2004, Akon’s “Locked Up” became a significant milestone in his career. The song featured Styles P and peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The track’s success led to multiple certifications, including platinum in the U.K. and RIAA-certified gold in the U.S. just one year later. The musician spoke about working the record for months and it taking off as soon as Styles hopped on the remix.
Akon stated, “Before Styles P got on it, we was working that record for about seven, maybe eight months. When Styles got on that record, it took off. Then we did another remix with Beanie Sigel. It was on the B-side, but what happened was the Styles P version just triumphed it.”
5. On building Akon City in Africa
Akon City is a $6 billion eponymous project conceived by the singer. The futuristic 2,000-acre smart city, featuring high-tech amenities, sustainable energy solutions, and its own cryptocurrency, is designed to stimulate the local economy and serve as a haven for the African Diaspora. Despite pandemic-induced economic uncertainties, the city has already secured substantial funding with construction beginning earlier this month.
According to Akon, “Just think of what Dubai is today and what it used to be 15 years ago. That’s what we would want it to become, but it’s going to start small with 2,000 acres… The first stage is 3 1/2 years. We literally just started building last week.”
6. On collaborating with Jeezy on “Soul Survivor”
“Soul Survivor” is a notable collaboration between Jeezy and Akon that garnered significant success in the early 2000s. Featured on the former’s debut album, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, the track not only peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it also achieved platinum certification. The song also landed on Def Jam: Icon, a fighting video game that featured the artists as playable characters.
Akon revealed, “I wasn’t sure if he liked it or how he felt about it because it took almost till the end of the day until I got [it] back. But the fact that I got [it] back the same day was kind of common because a lot of people at that time was excited to get a Konvict contact, so they would do it real quick and send it back. Jeezy took a little bit longer than normal and I was like, ‘Damn, this s**t ain’t back yet?’ When it came back though, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’”
7. On “I Wanna Love You” getting leaked by Plies
In a surprising revelation, Akon shared that his hit track “I Wanna Love You” featuring Snoop Dogg was initially intended for Trick Daddy. However, due to a mix-up, the song ended up with Plies, who promptly added his verses, leaked the song and made it a big hit on Miami’s satellite radio. Nevertheless, Akon’s official release stormed the charts in October 2006, securing his first No. 1 hit and Snoop’s second.
“When it got leaked in Miami, Plies was on the record. Plies had the record first because what’s interesting is I originally did it for Trick Daddy… When I sent the record to Slip-N-Slide, I never knew how Plies actually got the record. All I know is one week, Steve got a call that, ‘N**ga, we got a smash in Miami that’s all over satellite radio, in every f**king strip club. We gotta do something about [it],’” Akon revealed.
“I felt bad. He was a new artist; this would’ve been his big break,” he added. When asked whether Plies was the reason for it leaking, Akon responded, “Without a doubt. That n**ga debo’ed the f**k out that record.”
8. On an incident in Trinidad with an underage girl making headlines
In 2007, Akon faced significant backlash and a $3 million sponsorship withdrawal from Verizon Wireless after an incident where he was filmed dancing inappropriately with a 15-year-old girl on stage during a concert in Trinidad. Apologizing afterward, the singer expressed regret for any embarrassment and pain he may have caused to the girl, her family, and the community. The controversy could have impacted his position as the supporting act for Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape Tour”; however, Akon said that she let him stay.
He explained, “There was a huge controversy about the club appearance that I made in Trinidad, and an underage girl snuck in and was part of this whining contest. Unfortunately, she snuck out of the house. Her dad was a preacher, and he woke up and saw that she won on the front page… He flipped out. At that point, her age was revealed.”
Akon continued, “Verizon pulled my sponsorships. Gwen Stefani, though, rode with me. That Verizon sponsorship sponsored the whole tour and I was on it. So they came to her and was like, ‘If you want us to continue sponsoring this tour, you need to pull him off your tour.’ She was like, ‘I’m not doing that.’”
9. On accidentally gifting French Montana a fake watch
In an amusing mix-up, Akon initially gifted French Montana a counterfeit Hublot after having been swindled in New York City. The musician corrected his error by giving Montana a new, authentic timepiece, which was enthusiastically showcased by the rapper on Instagram. According to Akon, “I kept wearing mine — I ain’t give a f**k.”
He said, “Me and French both got, got that day. I’m the one that lost money. I bought two of them watches. One for me and one for him. He came to me like, ‘That’s a nice watch.’ I said, ‘N**ga, I got one for you too.’”
Akon joked, “I’m thinking I’m doing a good deed. Like, this my n**ga, you know what I’m saying? I’ma show you that I f**k with you… We both walking out like we chilling. We looking for a reason to show the watch. We fixing the hoodies. We fixing the waves. We’re doing everything just to show n**gas what we got.”
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