When R&B crooner Akon shot to fame in 2004 with his hit "Locked Up" (Number Eight), he became the go-to star for pop and hip-hop artists wanting a silky voice to sing their hooks. So prolific in his output, Akon twice in a five month period between December 2006 and April 2007 simultaneously owned the Number One and Number Two spots on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart.
The son of Senegalese jazz percussionist Mor Thiam, Akon was born Aliaune Thiam in St. Louis, MO, but lived in Senegal until he was seven. His family moved back to the United States and lived in both Jersey City, NJ, and Atlanta, GA. He began making music at 15, becoming part of the Fugees' extended group of musicians, but he reportedly ran into trouble with the law and was incarcerated for stealing a car. Upon his release in 2002 he began making home recordings, which in 2003 led to him signing with SRC/Universal.
The following year he released his debut album, Trouble (Number 11 R&B/Hop-hop, Number 18 Pop, 2004), a set of autobiographical songs featuring his mix of African-style R&B vocals with hip-hop beats. After his 2004 success with "Locked Up," he released the eerily melodic ballad "Lonely" (Number 4, 2005), which features a sped-up, Chipmunks-like sample of the hook from Bobby Vinton's 1964 hit "Mr. Lonely," and the bouncy "Belly Dancer (Bananza)" (Number 30, 2005). A remixed version of his single "Ghetto" by Green Lantern included the voices of slain rappers Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. That year Akon also sang on Young Jeezy's Top Five single "Soul Survivor," a collaboration that has since led to many subsequent guest spots including appearances with Eminem, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, R. Kelly and even Gwen Stefani and Elton John.
Akon's sophomore release, Konvicted (Number Two Pop, Number Two R&B/Hip-Hop, 2006), spawned a string of Top Five hits: "Smack That" (Number Two pop, Number 34 R&B/Hip-Hop, 2006), with Eminem; "I Wanna Love You" (Number One pop, Number Three R&B/Hip-Hop, 2006), with Snoop Dogg and "Don't Matter" (Number One pop, Number Five R&B/Hip-Hop, 2007). Konvicted remained in the Top Twenty for 28 consecutive weeks and within a year was certified triple platinum in the U.S. and sold four million copies worldwide. His collaboration with Gwen Stefani on her ubiquitous summer hit "The Sweet Escape" (Number Two pop) helped Akon have the nation's top two pop hits twice in five months.
Akon's career has not, however, been without its share of controversies: In 2006 he purchased a South African diamond mine; in 2007 he was widely denounced for simulating sex on stage with the underage daughter of a pastor in Trinidad and Tobago; and in the same year misdemeanor harassment charges were filed against him for throwing a concert goer off a Fishkill, New York stage and injuring a bystander.
In November 2007, the singer appeared on a remix of Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" for the 25th anniversary reissue of Thriller. His third album, originally due out in the spring of 2008, is reportedly titled Acquitted and said to feature a collaboration with Michael Jackson.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies