Akon is straight outta Senegal. Born and raised in this small African nation (estimated population of 10 million) until he was 7 years old, this future hip-hop artist professes on his website that he actually didn’t much care for rap when he first arrived in the United States. “I thought it was rubbish because I didn’t understand the concept of people talking over music,” says Akon. Growing up in New Jersey changed his mind, as a troubled childhood led Akon to find he could relate pretty well to the harsh realities of hardcore hip-hop.
Oddly enough the claims in his bio that he developed into a rapper don’t really translate into a poetical lyrical flow on his album “Trouble.” That’s not the only thing that’s deceptive about this album, which carries a parental advisory sticker and the promise that it’s lead single “Locked Up” features the rapper Styles P. Since it also happens to be the album’s first song, one would expect the hotness right away. While even the lyric that was submitted to OHHLA contains just such a rap, it’s nowhere to be found on the opener. In fact, it’s not until you get to the unlisted and uncredited thirteenth track of the album that you hear Styles rapping, meaning that the more popular version of “Locked Up” is in fact a remix. Quite honestly, they should have flipped the two, and had Akon’s version alone be the bonus cut. Still it’s impressive due to the fact it’s self-produced, and despite the lack of a “rap style” per se Akon’s musical voice is pleasant and his words of warning ring truthfully:
“Headin up town to Rhea
Back with a couple ki’s
The corner block’s on fire
Undercovers dressed as fiends
Makin so much money
Product’s movin fast
Put away the stash
As I sold the last bag, fucked around and got locked up!”
Other than three tracks (“Ghetto” poduced by B. Darius, “Pot of Gold” and “Easy Road” produced by Sha-kim Allah) Akon handles the beats to go with his “rhymes” throughout the album. He generally sticks to slow-flowing hip-hop tempos, although he does change up the pace and go back to his African roots on “Bananza (Belly Dancer).” His topic matter doesn’t deviate much from the hip-hop norms, talking about ducking the cops and flossing his wealth on “Show Out,” even tossing in a reference to “The Message” in the process. His production technique gets Kanye and RZA-like on “Lonely,” which has the potential to be a breakout single thanks to it’s heartfelt message of loss and sped-up Bobby Vinton sample. The closest to sounding hardcore this album gets is on “When the Time’s Right,” otherwise it’s a mostly mellow affair vocally and musically.
To be honest, although I found this album largely unoffensive, I don’t think it’s really a “rap album” at all. While some have made the same claim about Nelly, this album is clearly two or three steps even beyond his tendency to sing-song his style. Whereas Nelly’s style is fast paced and injected with a lot of rap attitude, Akon seems to be crooning on all of his tracks. With Styles P. being his album’s only big guest and not appearing until the end of the album, you might get the impression your store incorrectly filed Akon under hip-hop when it really belongs in R&B, parental advisory on the front or not. Whether his label or even he himself thinks so or not, Akon is definitely more a singer than a rapper, despite all of their protestations to the contrary. To call this and shelve this as hip-hop album is more of a marketing trick than an actual fact. To be fair though, despite being tricked into buying this album, I actually like it quite a bit – it’s just that I’ll be filing it with SWV and Mary J. Blige instead of with Nelly and Nas. Maybe he still DOES think rap is rubbish, cause he ain’t rappin’.