Being the leader of a pack is a distinction that’s admirable in theory. However, the terrain traversed can often conclude in becoming the hunted and the inevitability of extinction. In 2004, the prospects of global superstar Akon not only surviving, but thriving as one of the first African artists from the Hip-Hop community to gain mainstream appeal was a longshot at best. Instead of being preyed upon, the singer, songwriter, producer and entrepreneur has spent the better part of his career prowling for other talents to help put on the map, playing a guiding hand in molding the careers of megastars like Lady Gaga, T-Pain, and others.
He also hasn’t let being an alpha deter his desire to make a positive impact on the world at large, as he’s consistently given back to his home country of Senegal through various philanthropic and charitable efforts. He also hasn’t allowed critiques or obstacles discourage him from his goal of completing the building of Akon City in Africa, which he hopes will be a central destination for natives and tourists alike. It’s the latest move in his effort to shed a positive light on the tranquil culture and vast opportunities that the diaspora has to offer.
Yet, the 49-year-old hitmaker hasn’t completely put music on the backburner, as he remains in a creative zone and has revealed plans to release new music this fall. The “Locked Up” singer recently partnered with TikTok to release an EP on the platform, which will arrive this November. The collaboration came to life following Akon’s resurgence in popularity among users on the app, many of whom helped create their own content with the incorporation of older songs in his catalog.
Having acclimated himself to the current digital climate, the Konvict Muzik founder appears to have gotten his second wind. Releasing his latest single, “Enjoy That” featuring producer Metro Boomin, and with plans for a new full-length studio album in the works, Akon hasn’t allowed him approaching the half-century age mark rob him of his zest to entertain, create, and empower.
VIBE spoke with Akon about his new EP, the status of his forthcoming Akonic album, helping lead the charge for the Afrobeat explosion, introducing the next generation of Konvict Muzik and more.
VIBE: You have a new EP coming out this November in collaboration with TikTok. What is the title of the EP and what inspired it?
Akon: Yeah, so the title of the EP is called TikTok Freak. It’s a collaboration in a partnership with TikTok to be the first EP released under the platform. What inspired it actually was I wasn’t really a social media person. I’m really private because the generation we came up with, artists always left this mystery about them and their lifestyle. So, I just got accustomed to just being super private. So just recently, I started realizing that my records in my catalog start going crazy on TikTok. Songs that I hadn’t heard in many many years started popping up, just streaming crazy on TikTok. And “Bananza” became one of those records, which was my first official single even before “Locked Up.”
That never really worked out but this generation accepted it on a whole different level. So that’s when I was like, ‘You know what, man. I really want to release music in different ways than this traditional way of dropping music. And I felt that TikTok would be the perfect platform to drop this new EP. So we put together this crazy EP that we’re gonna release. There’s gonna be five songs on there. It’s more of like a test-case study, but at the same time, backing up with all the catalog that’s been going crazy on TikTok and just giving people music from Akon.
Definitely. So did the people at TikTok reach out to you or did you reach out to them? How did that partnership come come to life?
Yeah, it was a vision of mine, actually, and then I reached out to them. This is something I wanted to really do. I said, ‘Man. I want to just release a record just for TikTok specifically so people can stream it and post and create content around it. Then I was like, ‘Man, it would be even crazier if I reached out to TikTok and shoot them this idea and pitch it to em and hopefully they’ll be interested.’ And when I pitched it to ’em, they went crazy and said, ‘This could be amazing. This could be a new model that we can probably replicate with other artists in the future.’ So we decided to come together and put this thing together.
How would you describe the vibe in overall sound of the EP?
The overall sound is more global. It is more of a global sound, I would definitely say a lot of influence of what I’m known for, but more so on the international level because I know TikTok is an international platform. This music is slightly different from what would be on my album per se, because this music is more based on the platform and to have fun with. And then, in the process, I have a new artist named Ameerah, who I’m actually featuring on this TikTok EP because TikTok is known to break brand new artists. So I’m utilizing that as well to break my new superstar Ameerah.
You recently unveiled the music video to your new single “Enjoy That,” which features and is produced by Metro Boomin. How how did that song come to life?
Metro Boomin, man, that’s like family. One of my mentees, one of the most explosive producers of our decade, especially this generation, man. So me and him used to just get in the studio and just vibe out. We never really had no purpose, we just wanted to make great music and eventually find the right platform to put it out.
And as I was getting reconnected with music again and getting re-excited, I said ‘Man, you know what, this would be the perfect record that defined how I feel right now in this day and time. This could be the first single from the album that’s to be released in the future.’ We haven’t decided whether we’re gonna release it or keep putting out singles back-to-back-to-back or a body of work, so we’ll see in a minute. But I will be announcing if we do put out the body of work. It is ready to go, fully mastered and ready to move.
So yeah, I guess depending on the success of the single will determine if we drop the body of work right away, or do we want to just ride the wave a little longer, you know what I mean. We’re gonna kind of feel the energy that people have.
Right. So “Enjoy That” won’t be a part of the TikTok EP?
“Enjoy That” is the official single to the future body of work that’s gonna be released as the Akonic album. And then the TikTok EP is completely separate from that. That’s specifically for the TikTok platform just to have fun with.
What was it like filming the music video for “Enjoy That?
The “Enjoy That” video, it was just fun, man. The whole concept of the video is from the moment I wake up to the moment I walk out the door. Like how my life is kind of pretty much set up from the moment I wake up, getting dressed to walking out the door to the world and getting to the business. So the video is almost gonna be like the beginning of the intro of the mini-movie video style that I’m gonna be shooting because every video connects to each other as a part of the story.
What artists and producers did you work with on the TikTok Freak project?
The TikTok project is mainly me, I produced the majority of it. I do have a brand new producer that I just signed out of Africa called Nektunez, who’s also on the album as well as a producer. It’s one of those things where it’s just really pretty much the Konvict style, adding the producers that’s attached to the Konvict umbrella. But I’m pretty much the main producer on it and then Nektunez is also featured on it as a producer as well. So we’re really excited about everything and where it’s going with it.
Being that you were one of the first African artists to reach considerable acclaim in Hip-Hop, how has it been to see the rise and evolution of Afrobeats music and all of the artists who’ve emerged from the diaspora?
Man, it feels amazing. Especially after fighting for Afrobeat to get its visualness in the U.S. for so long and trying to kind of expose the local African artists to major labels here. Everybody remembers me walking into these buildings trying to get all this interest in the last 10 years. To kind of get them just pretty much understanding what’s happening and how the wave is working this way, you need to step in front of it.
So there’s no secret the contribution that we made to getting this thing recognized out here, but to see now the respect that it’s getting and to see the love that its receiving from the audience, it feels amazing. Because at one point, I thought I was going crazy. I’m like, ‘Is it just me,’ you know, that people don’t see this. But it kind of helps though because I noticed the game is kind of really a bad wagon type of industry where people lag on to it when it’s working, but then it takes forever to get the ball rolling.
People don’t believe in it from the gate until other people believe in it and then the support comes, but sometimes that work is worth putting in to be recognized. And I think Africa played that role as kind of just waiting its turn. And it went from Hip Hop to Reggaeton and the Latin world and then now, Afrobeat is actually being recognized.
So I just hope that everybody respects the aspect of what that is and treat it fairly. And not only that, but the artists coming from Africa understand the appreciation that’s being held for this and not take it for granted. Like really maximize on the opportunity they’ve been given right now and really treat it like it’s meant to be treated.
You recently commented that Canadians are running Hip-Hop in light of the success of Drake, The Weeknd, Tory Lanez, and others. What do you feel is the reasoning behind that?
I think it’s multiple reasons. You know, [the] U.S. has been dominating the music scene for a long, long time and I think Canada being the neighbor has always been the underdog when it comes to that. So that’s a big motivation, to really focus to come at that. That’s one of ’em, obviously the motivation stemming from the U.S.
Number two, the government putting in a lot of initiatives to help grow the music and entertainment business in Canada. They create these rebates and these bonds and they create a support level for it. And they also create a policy that gives Canadian artists a lot more airplay than the foreigners in Canada itself. So they really drive traffic for local artists in Canada, and that will definitely translate outside of Canada. But more than anything, the third is the talent. You really can’t deny the talent, man, them boys out there are super dope.
Like you can’t just blame it on answers one and two, answers one and two supports what really is because talent’s always gonna find itself and it’s always gonna find its audience. A hit record, as you know, will always find this way to the light. So at the end of the day, you can’t discredit the talent that comes out of Canada, there’s amazing talented there. But then they also have infrastructure that support that talent to give it the level of capacity and visual-ship that it actually needs. So I think it’s a combination of those three things that give Canada the up on the music right now.
You’ve played a role in the careers of Lady Gaga, T-Pain, Kardinal Offishall, and French Montana, all of whom have received international acclaim. What’s your current label situation and are there any artists you’re currently working with that you have high hopes for?
Yeah, one of the future artists that I have super high hopes for is Ameerah. She’s the first female rapper that I’ve ever signed and I think she has what it takes to become the next biggest superstar. Not just from a rap standpoint, but she also crosses over genres into Afrobeat and R&B, as well. So I’m very looking forward to where Ameerah’s future career is gonna be going. And then Nektunez, he’s the producer that I signed out of Africa. He’s more of a producer/DJ like the David Guettas I’ve been attached to, the Black Coffees that I’ve been attached to of the world, the DJ Khaleds I’ve been attached to of the world. So I think he’s gonna be one of those, but from Africa, specifically. Not only in the Afrobeat lane ’cause he’s one of those monster producers. One of his biggest records was the record that tore TikTok up, with Goya [Menor].
That record is one of the records that he produced, so his work is out there and very recognized, but him as a producer, he was very low key. Super humble, always stayed behind the scene and I was like, ‘No man, it’s time that the world know who you are and what you actually bring in the contribution to Hip Hop. So I believe he’s going to be the next big thing on the DJ and producer level. But then, of course, on my legacy building, I got my son Jahvor, who we’ll be releasing his EP very, very shortly. I think that if the world understood what I was doing and accepted my music, I think when they hear him, they’re gonna really go crazy because to me, he’s better than me. I believe that he’s me on steroids and I really don’t wanna oversell him, but I think when the audience gets to hear his music, they’ll understand.
Speaking of your son, how would you describe the music that he makes. Is it R&B, Hip-Hop, or is it a blend?
See, that’s the thing, when I came up, people didn’t know if I was Hip-Hop or R&B, but now it’s all one in the same. It’s very melodic. It definitely has huge Hip-Hop roots to it, but it’s more of an R&B, international Hip-Hop sound, but it’s really different though. Kind of eclectic and kind of hard to explain, but he does things with his voice that I could never do.
Being that you’ve spent the past few years playing the background, do you feel you have something to prove, in terms of maintaining your reputation as a hitmaker and one of the more globally-appealing artists in music?
No, I never really ever felt like that ever had anything to prove because everything that I got, I had to work for it. So it wasn’t like I got it easy or it was laid on my lap with a silver spoon. The people know my credibility so I’ve never felt like I ever have to prove myself to anybody when it comes to music, but the aspect of enjoying it again was my main focus.
I really wanted to come back into the music business the second time around and enjoy it. The first time was building legacies making money, you know. Creating, just breaking records. Tt was really about proven to myself that I was worthy of supporting. Now, it’s like, ‘ Okay, a ni**a already know what it is, I don’t have to stay out loud.’ Now, I’m out here to have fun and party and I’m inviting everybody party with me.
So it’s not about accolades at this point, it’s about enjoying the legacy that we actually put in, the influence that we gave to this generation when I listen to radio. I hear so many records that remind me of myself so I know I was a huge influence to the business and to me, that was enough. So now it’s about really having fun with this thing, man. Enjoying myself and hoping that everybody enjoy it with us.
Your last studio albums, El Negreeto and Akonda, both dropped in 2019. When can fans expect a proper full-length studio-album from you?
Yeah, so those two albums you just mentioned were all pandemic records that I put out just so I could have music to listen to myself ‘I was so heavy into Afrobeat at the time, Reggaeton Just to myself. experiment with things, get myself back in motion and just have fun with it. So ultimately, if you haven’t heard the Afrobeat or the Reggaeton album, you should definitely pop it up and download it, it’s on all platforms as we speak now. But the next studio album, the official one, it’s gonna be Akonic which will be attached to the official single, the “Enjoy That Record.”
What’s next for Akon moving forward?
Next right now is rebranding Konvict Muzik. It’s now currently Konvict Kulture, we’ve got brand new artist that we’ll be pushing out that I just mentioned to you earlier that I’m super excited about. And then outside of that, we’re definitely gonna get into the film department.
I’ve got a lot of African stories, like literally Wakanda-style stories that we wanna get in with people like Marvel and do real big budget films that tell real stories and real history. Kind of get us back to our roots, but understand the power that we always had and how a lot of our stories are being implemented in Hollywood, but utilizing white actors. So you think they’re white stories when they’re really African stories.
So I really want to go into Hollywood and really fix the narrative of how great we are as a people and just put out music that’s really gonna inspire us to be and become and stay great, for sure. But of course, outside of that, my retirement and legacy will be Akon City. Once the city is built up, I can invite and hosts African Americans and all the Africans from the diaspora and foreign people to come back to African really invest there, lived there and raise families there. That’s really my main bread and butter, man. Just being able to invite people back to Africa just show them an amazing life that they had never thought existed.
Hopefully the single does as well as it can, so the public can get that as soon as possible.
Absolutely, judging from how it’s looking right now, man. We were No. 2 in the country, right up under Beyonce. Which is amazing to me because I think she’s one most… I can’t even describe how amazing this woman is and what she brought to the business. So just to know that we’re on the same level after dropping the records in 2008, it shows the anticipation for the new album is gonna be great. So I think we might be pushing things up a lot more than I expected.