What happened to Akon? Just a few years ago he was releasing hit after hit, rising all over the R&B and hip hop charts. Where is he now? Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam, who uses Akon as his stage name, has founded multiple record labels, has released albums and singles to critical acclaim, has been nominated for multiple Grammy Awards, and has accomplished the feat of being the first solo artist to hold both the number one and number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and he’s done that twice. He has also had four songs go three times platinum, three songs certified as two times platinum, and over ten songs certified at one times platinum. He has even released songs recorded in other languages, including Tamil, Hindi, and Spanish. He even ranked number six on Billboard’s list of the Top Digital Songs Artists of the Decade. Akon was one of the most famous people to come out of Africa, but his career has seemed silent as of late. What has he been up to?
Born by the name of Aliaune Damala Bouga Time Bongo Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam on April 16th, 1973, Akon grew up in the West African country Senegal, which he personally describes as his hometown. His mother was a dancer, and his father, Mor Thiam, was a percussionist. While Akon was a young boy, he learned to play five instruments, including the guitar, the drums, and the djembe, a rope tuned skin covered goblet drum that one plays with their bare hands. The djembe originates from West Africa. This is where Akon first discovered his love of music, and his desire to create his own grew.
When Akon turned seven years old, he moved with his family to Union City, New Jersey. Growing up, he had difficulties getting along with other children. By the time he and his brother reached high school, his parents left them on their own and moved the rest of their family to Atlanta, Georgia.
Allegedly, Akon spent three years in jail due to being framed. While locked away from the outside world, he began to recognize his musical abilities and he developed an appreciation for his musical background. Devyne Stephens, a music mogul and president of Upfront Megatainment, first heard about Akon shortly after his time in jail from rapper Lil’ Zane, who brought Akon to Stephens’ rehearsal hall, where talents including Usher and TLC where developed. The relationship between Akon and Stephens grew very fast, as they became friends and Stephens became Akon’s mentor. Akon would regularly come by Stephen’s office asking for advice, and when Akon lost his deal with Elektra, Stephens signed him to his own production company and began grooming and preparing him professionally.
Akon started recording songs, and they caught the eye of Universal’s imprint SRC Records. In an interview with Jerome Foster, known by hist stage name as Knobody, he had to say the following of him noticing Akon’s work:
“A guy by the name of Devyne Stephens had Akon signed to his production company. Akon produced his records there. We linked up with Devyne, listened to all his music, loved it, and said, “there is a deal we need to do, there´s something different here. What caught my attention right away was “Lonely” and I said, “this kid is official; this is a huge record.” So right away we jumped on a private plane to Atlanta to meet him. Akon and I hit it off right away. He knew of my work as a producer and there was this mutual respect for each other´s work.”
When asked why he used Akon’s song “Locked Up” instead of the song “Lonely” which is the song that originally got him interested in Akon’s work, he said, “My vision was to break Akon in the streets first and work our way towards cross-over, because his music ultimately appeals to a wide audience. ‘Locked Up’ is a street record. I thought that was the place for us to start to get a fan-base, knowing that we had a record like “Lonely”, which was more commercial, to follow it.
“I thought ‘Locked up’ was a huge record. Some people in the label agreed, some disagreed. Eventually, Steve and Akon gave me the go-ahead to make some changes. I got the rapper Styles P on the record and rearranged it a bit. I worked on what I call “drops” – points in the record where it feels different, to break the monotony and make it a little more interesting. I hired Carlos to come in and mix this new version. My work was inspired by the original version of the song that Akon did. Without Akon’s original song, I would not have been able to do what I did.”
Akon continued to gain exposure by collaborating with other artists overseas, including Savage, a rapper from New Zealand. He also collaborated with hip hop producer P-Money, performing choruses as a featured vocalist.
In 2004, Akon released his first solo album, Trouble. It included the singles “Locked Up” and “Lonely”, while also including some new work including the songs “Ghetto” and “Pot of Gold”. Ghetto became a radio hit after DJ Green Lantern remixed it to include verses from legends Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.
He released the song “Lonely” as a standalone single from the album, and the song reached the top five on the Billboard Hot 100, and it topped the charts in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Germany. He then released another single titled “Moonshine” with New Zealand actor Savage, which became a huge success in New Zealand and Australia. He then made his first appearance as a featured artist in Young Jeezy’s debut album, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, with the song “Soul Survivor”.
Akon then started up his own record label, Kon Live Distribution under Interscope Records. He later released his second album, Kovicted, and it debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling nearly 300,000 copies in its first week. After six weeks, the album sold more than one million records in the United States. A week later, the album was certified platinum, and Akon’s climb to the top had begun. It stayed in the top twenty of the Billboard 200 for twenty eight consecutive weeks and peaked at number two on four occasions. On November 20th, 2007, the album was certified three times platinum by the RIAA, with over three million copies sold in the United States alone.
His next album, Freedom, was just as successful, critically and commercially. In an interview with IGN shortly after the release of the album, Akon was asked if he was worried about over saturating the market with Akon related material, because of how famous he had become.
“Naw, never,” Akon replied. “That’s actually what I’m tryin’ to do [laughs]. I’m tryin’ to keep that goin’ for the next 10 years until I decide to relax. But I don’t believe in over-saturation, you know? You’re only over-saturated when it’s not quality, you understand? As long as you’re giving up quality records and you’re makin’ hit records, people are always gonna want to hear a hit and they’ll always want to be attached to something that’s doin’ great. As long as I’m positively makin [quality and hit records] and it’s doin’ great for everybody in all areas, I don’t believe in over-saturation, really.
When asked if he could ever foresee himself getting tired of making hits, he said: “I don’t think that’ll ever happen ’cause I love hits just as much as the people listening to them and requesting them [on the radio and in the clubs]. That’s probably why I put so much time into it because if it doesn’t feel like a hit to me then I don’t ever release it.”
What is the secret formula then? Is it just that it doesn’t feel like a hit, and then it becomes one?
“That’s the formula. It has to be a hit to me. I know if it’s a hit to me then it’s gonna be a hit to somebody else. That’s why I take a lot of time with each record. That’s the most important part because the record drives everything else I want to do. Without the records then none of the other stuff would even exist.”
IGN then asked the following, very interesting question: “Now do you get a certain feeling—not being a musician myself, but being a writer, I can tell when a piece I’ve written is good and go ‘This is the sh!t!” and other times I know when it’s bad as in, ‘This is sh!t (aka horrible)’—I mean you instinctively know if something is good or bad. I have to imagine that it’s similar for you, especially when you’re in the studio. Do you have that same feeling when you craft a song? And is there an entire vault of stuff that you’ve left on the editing room floor, you know songs that made you say ‘This just isn’t all that.’”
Akon’s reply was: “Absolutely. But that’s the mistake that a lot of artists make. They may not feel like [a certain song] is the sh!t, but then they still allow it to get released saying ‘Well, I don’t like it but maybe the crowd might like it’ or ‘Maybe these people may feel differently’ or ‘I don’t personally like it, but that’s what’s happening right now.’ They just put it out to see what happens, you know what I’m sayin’? See, I don’t do that. If I don’t feel it, then it’s not goin’ out. I consider myself a consumer, as well. Let’s say hypothetically I was listening to the radio and heard this record. Would I like it on the spot or would I think the way I’m actually thinking about right now as we speak? Do you know what I mean?”
He was then asked how hard it is to remove himself and become Akon the consumer and not Akon the artist. To stand outside of the song itself and listen to it saying “Hey, I would buy that” or “This song is terrible”.
“That’s the part where you separate the love of it and the business side of it. I’ve always had the love for it. I always feel like ‘as long as I’m doin’ what I love to do, the money’s naturally gonna come.’ When you start thinkin’ business and you start thinkin’ ‘What’s hot? What’s the wave? Who is hot? Let’s get at that person’ it becomes a point where you’re tryin’ to strategize to make money. And that’s always a gamble. That’s like bein’ in Vegas right and tryin’ to play 21 and just hope that it works out. Whereas if you love it, then your payment is the fact that you’re actually enjoying it. That’s my actual payment, the fact that I can actually make something that I actually enjoy and put on repeat and it’s not related to anything else or anyone else’s thoughts and ideas, it all came from me, I just love that aspect of it. Then when you put it out and people can feel that energy in the music. They can really feel it, as if they were a part of the making of it. You know what I’m sayin’?”
Since his release of Freedom, Akon hasn’t been as active in the music world, but his image and wealth remain as strong as ever. If you ever find yourself asking “What happened to Akon?”, the answer may surprise you, in a good way.
What’s Akon Doing Now in 2023 – Recent Updates
Akon released his fourth album, El Negreeto, under his new independent record label on October 4, 2019. His first Spanish-language album, it featured eight tracks including “Bailame Lento”, “Como No (ft. Becky G)”, “Te Quiero Amor (ft. Pitbull)”, “Boom Boom (ft. Anitta)”, “Dile”, “Solo Tu (ft. Farruko)”, “Baila Conmigo”, and “Bailame Lento.”
That same year, he dropped his fifth album, Akonda, which is the second of the three-part series. An English album, it consisted of 10 tracks including “Take Your Place”, “Wakonda”, “Kryptonite”, “Welcome to Africa”, “Boogie Down”, and “Pretty Girls.”
He had planned on releasing the third album, Konnect in 2019, but it was ultimately delayed. As far as we know, it’s currently in the works as of 2023. He did, however, reach a new milestone earlier this year—one billion plays on Apple Music.
What else has he been up to? In 2018, it was announced that he’d be building a tourist city approximately 50 kilometers from the capital of Dakar, in collaboration with the Senegalese government. The agreements for the city were eventually finalized in 2020. That fall, Akon laid the first stone of the $6 billion city.
According to reports, phase one of the construction—which will include a hospital, police station, waste facility, solar power plant, school, residents, and hotels—will be completed sometime in 2023.
Aside from that, he’s made a handful of television appearances over the past few years. In 2021, he appeared on the TV special, DJ Cassidy’s Pass the Mic: BET Awards Edition. Prior to that, he was featured in the documentary, One Tribe, and was a guest on the podcast, V-103 the People’s Station.
That’s not all, he also starred in the 2020 film, The American King, and made a small appearance in the television movie, Miracles Across the 125th Street, starring Nick Cannon, Lil’ Kim, and Bobb’e J. Thompson.
Later this summer, he’ll also be performing at Atlanta’s Joll of Music & Food Festival, which will take place at Piedmont Park.
For more updates on the singer, you can follow him on social media. He has an Instagram account (@akon) with more than 7.8 million followers and is also active on Twitter (@akon) and Facebook (@akon).