Akon Talks New Album, Working With Jeezy, Advice For Rising Artists & More
By Tony M. Centeno
November 3, 2022
Akon always has the time of his life every time he comes to Miami. In the past, the veteran artist has traveled to the 305 to party at his favorite spots, like Tootsies, and record music at DJ Khaled’s studio. This time was different, though.
The multifaceted rapper, record executive and entrepreneur was in the Magic City to prepare fans for all the new music he’s got in the works. His first offering from one of his upcoming albums is “Enjoy That,” which has been spreading like wildfire on the airwaves since he dropped it in August.
“I actually recorded this record a little bit after the pandemic,” Akon told iHeartRadio. “I would probably say right around December last year/January this year. I wasn't sure if I was gonna get back in because I'm a songwriter and producer by trade, so I'm always writing and producing for other artists. If anything, that record probably would've went to someone else. When I decided I was gonna come back.. I always go to Tony Neal. He's the CEO of Core DJs and I always play him my records. As soon as 'Enjoy It' came on, he said, ‘Bro, it's your record. Go with it. I promise you this your life right now’ And I was like, ‘Right. Well, let's go.’"
Akon’s been pretty busy since he dropped his previous studio album Freedom in 2008. He’s revamped his iconic Konvict Music imprint into Konvict Kulture and added brand new artists to the roster. He’s embarked on several business ventures including the construction of Akon City in his home country of Senegal, which is close to completion. Now that he’s back in the music business, he’s also preparing to drop not one but two projects: a TikTok-centric EP and his fourth studio album, Akonic.
“'Enjoy That' came from the concept of just living my life the way I want to live it and the way I've been living it because the music industry, as you may know, can get super, super stressful," Akon said, "And then someone like me who uses music as a vehicle to get to business when you combine the stress music business with actual business itself, I mean, there's no time to sleep, no time for vacations or anything. 15 years have passed by, you don't even realize it."
The artists and music mogul sits down with iHeartRadio to talk about what he’s been up to over the past few years, and the plans for his upcoming music. Akon also opens up about his time making music with DJ Khaled, Jeezy and Lil' Zane, who helped put him on at the beginning of his career.
How does it feel really to be like the talk of the music music industry again?
The thing is like I never really felt the talk the first time because I was always working like nonstop. I never had a chance to really check the system to see what numbers I was doing or register for award shows and things like that. Cause I was always focused on just making the fans happy, you know? This time is different because I actually got more air to breathe. I got my own situation. There are no overseers to answer to or tell us what kind of music we can make and when we can make it for whatever market share that they're trying to reach for the year. So it's more control of what I wanna do. So I'm really enjoying every bit of how this actually works. Cause I always said to myself, if I ever get back focused in the music business, I wanna be in it to have fun like I got into it the first time, you know?
Exactly, man. Especially with you who does so much and has so much on their plate. As far as music goes, you got the new single but, I’m sure you've been recording. Since you’re in Miami right now, what's your favorite spot out here to record at?
Normally when I'm here, I always go to DJ Khaled studio. (Laughs) Not his new one that he built in this house, but the old one where all the big hits that I made with him was at and recorded. It's a certain energy in that place that just never goes away, man. The original, We The Best studios man. So that's where I go, you know, when I'm recording.
What's the craziest studio session you ever had in there?
That's the thing, it was never really a crazy studio. I mean, only the craziest thing that we ever really experienced was the transition of DJ Khaled (laughs). I swear to God. I remember he used to be super quiet and just the supers humblest guy. And then as you know, his success came, he became so animated and, and so innovative. But more than anything, he was the one that motivated everybody. He was always that guy that would bring the best out of you or just by giving you all the confidence like, “Bro, you could do this! I'm telling you! You the best hook maker ever! He was the coach that would just hype you up and you'd be like, “Yeah, yeah! Let's go!” Jump in the booth and come out with the ever.
I'm glad that you had those kinds of experiences with Khaled. You're, you're definitely one of the ones that have seen him rise from a DJ in Miami to the superstar artist he is today.
He's always been my brother, man. Regardless of my status, I always wanted to create and bring value to his life, and that's with anybody that I'm connected to. If I can't bring value to your life, then I won't waste your time. I wanna always be able to help you catapult to the greatest you that you can be.
You just dropped the music video for “Enjoy That” In October. Talk about how the record came together.
I got back to Atlanta because I've been in Africa practically for the last two, three years working on Akon City and all the businesses that I got over there with the philanthropy and really getting back home and getting comfortable for retirement one day. When I came back to Atlanta, I sat and I realized how much music that I had created. Cause I went to Magic City and they always honor you when you are an artist and you walk into the club. They just kept playing my records back to back to back. That means so many different records that I forgot I had even made and so many records that I forgot I even wrote or even featured on. So they went literally playing snippets and they just kept going and kept going. Almost an hour went past of 32-second clips to songs and I was like “Wow.” I forgot how many records or records I was involved in at all. But that just created this whole energy of just happiness in my soul man. I was like, “Damn, this is what I'm missing. I need to get back to just music. I've been so busy doing business and everything else. This music piece is the one piece that's missing. I need to get back to it.” And that's when I was like I'm gonna get into it. But it was more about I wanted to enjoy it this time though. I wanted to really enjoy it and depict a part of my life that the world probably never seen me and just let them know how I'm living at this point.
Now you've got your own projects coming up, a TikTok EP and your studio album.
Yes. My own album is gonna be… I'm excited about that. It's called Akonic. We’re dropping that at the top of the year. “Enjoy That” is actually the first single that leads into that album.
What direction are you heading in with that album?
It’s in the international urban record. You’re gonna have a lot of pop rhythmic and some street records on there. It's one of them albums where by the time you press play and you get to the end, you done traveled the world. All my albums always do that. I always start off with street records and then I end up with a big ass pop record. So I like to take people on that journey because you shouldn’t be defined in music in one territory because I still have such a global audience that they wanna know what's happening in the streets. So I always hit them with that. They’re not going through the mid and rhythmic records that radio is gonna to go crazy over and keep on rotation. Then I cross it over to these big pop, EDM, Latin, African Afrobeats. We going into everything on this album.
The lead single has a very familiar sample from The Fugee’s “Ready or Not.” What attracted you to that beat?
Honestly, it was the concept of me coming back to the beginning. When I first started the road to where I'm at today, it all started at the Booger basement with the Refugee Camp, with The Fugees up in Newark. That whole era of that album The Score kind of introduced me to the world of the music business: songwriting, performing, production. Clef was like my big brother. He was my mentor in that time, and just was trying to keep me out of the streets period. That record was one of my favorite records off The Score album period that “Ready or Not.” So I was like, “Ooh, when I come back in, I gotta come back with this.” So I connected with Metro Boomin and Metro Boomin is another one. I think he's one of the most prolific producers of our time. When we connected, man, that record just came automatic, you know what I mean? That's what attracted me to the example. But then it all made sense when it all came back. I'm gonna do so many different versions of it too. We got a piano version of “Enjoy That” that we're also dropping on my TikTok album. People gonna get a lot of big major versions for it. I got all my EDM DJs obviously gonna take these acapellas and do what they do for me on that side. So it's gonna be some experiences with this record.
You dropped the new record through your new imprint Konvict Kulture. You've had several other imprints in the past like KonLive, Konvict Music and your Akonic label that you announced a couple years ago. What's your plan with Konvict Kulture?
The whole idea of Konvict Kulture is really the rebirth of Konvict Music. I realize how popular and how big and influential this brand was internationally. It's so much bigger than me, bro. It's scary. When I was in Japan and when I was in Africa, when I was in Brazil, then we started building Konvict Latino in Latin America. It was just because it was becoming such a huge brand. I said, ‘This is bigger than music, man. This is a culture.’ So we had to rebrand it as that because I would go online and see hundreds and hundreds of artists that would be claiming Konvict Music. And I know for a fact I didn't sign them, you know? But I would let them continue utilizing the brand. Cause the whole purpose of it was to give you a platform to actually get notified. Get noticed. People can pay attention to you. So I never shut anything down or never send out cease-and-desists. If you embrace the brand, we supported you by allowing you to continue to utilize the brand to do what you do. That's when I realized it was more than music and a label. This was a culture for real. So I said, ‘Yo, let's rebrand it as a culture and we're gonna approach it like a culture.’ So Konvict Kulture is now that street brand that you can utilize for sure. If I see anyone on that internet representing Konvict Kulture, and I'm liking what I'm hearing, oh, we gonna get behind it. Reach out to them. Actually offer them real situations and really get behind it like we're supposed to. But in the meantime, the brand, if it could utilize or help you in any kind of way to get recognition by all means, utilize it.
That's an interesting philosophy behind it. Who are some of the artists that you got signed right now that you're excited about?
Man, I'm super excited about AMirror. She's like the first female rapper that I've ever signed. I never signed a female rapper before. She's the first one. And I'm really excited about her. She's sexy as hell, man. Her music is crazy and I know she's gonna break right through. I also signed one of my first African DJ producers by the name of Nektunez. He's outta Ghana. He’s about to go crazy. The first record that was released was a record that was done with him and Goya Menor "Ameno Amapiano.” It’s big record that hit all crazy on TikTok. We already starting off with a huge record so the idea is to build him like we build DJ Khaled in the beginning and David Guetta in the beginning, but he’s just more on the African side of the world of DJ producers.
Since we were talking about samples before, one of your early records, “Bonanza (Belly Dancer)” was used in a Kay Flock’s song “Shake That” and Cardi B gave it the remix treatment. What are your thoughts on that record, and what do you think about the new drill scene in New York?
Man I loved the remix. That's why I cleared it. I just love what the younger generation is doing creatively. But, in general, for the overall culture though, I definitely think that the actions behind these records, you know, me now understanding how the whole thing is moving and, and understanding now the backgrounds of a lot of these stories and lyrics on them, I would definitely advise them to tone it down a little bit. Because I think that music is really supposed to be for entertainment purposes. I think that the way that it's being used now to incite violence to the point where people are actually physically dying. I don't think music was made for that. At the same time, your creativity has no bearing in your skill and talent. I don't think no one should ever get punished for being talented. But at the same time, it's our job as the OGs and as the elders to have conversations with these guys and show them how to maximize this on a more positive level rather than pretty much market and promote, sometimes, the actions behind a lot of these lyrics that they push it out.
That's a great point to make. Even though you're clearing the records, you're also putting it out there that they need to tone it down too. Anyone can respect that.
Yeah because I could be like the old school guys like “No, I'm never gonna clear this record for these guys.” Hell no because you're taking food outta their mouth. At the end of the day, I'm providing an opportunity for access for him to make some money to get out the streets. We all know that a lot of stuff that goes on in these records ain't really real life, but unfortunately the younger generation, these cats are really living this out. They're not living it out. They're actually living it out first, and then they telling you what they did on these records. My generation. It was a little different. You know, sometimes you can actually do some investigation and realize, ‘Okay, cool, this is just a song.’ But these lyrics are things that's getting them indicted for real RICO. Because what they're saying on these records is one thing. But another thing is, everything that they're saying is actually being corroborated by FBI investigations where some of the things that they said was never released to the public. You're like, Whoa. Like what? They snitching on themselves.
So I wanna take it back to the beginning of your career back in the ‘90s when you first met Lil Zane. I know you met him through your brother Bu. What did you first think of Lil Zane at the time, and what did you learn from him as an artist?
Oh, man, Zane, he's the guy that I give credit for putting me on. When I first came to Atlanta, and I was there in 95, I was coming from Jersey. He was the first artist – and mind you, he's way younger than me. When I met him, he was riding a bike. I just liked him. I don't know what it was. He was just super talkative. He approached me like, ‘Where you from?’ Like, just imagine some kid pull up on you with a bike (laughs). And I was like, ”Jersey.” He's like “Ooh, I worked for some producers in Jersey.” I said, “Who?” And then that's when he was telling me about Naughty By Nature. And I was like, “Oh, those my guys.” I said, “Really, so what's going on with you? He had a record deal with RCA at the time. It was so crazy because he played me the record that Naughty By Nature and them did for him and the record was a monster. At that moment I was like maybe I can start working with him. To make a long story short, I became his lead producer and started producing records for him. And through that, of course, we got reconnected with Naughty By Nature, who were my guys from Jersey in general. And then it all came back full circle. The Fugees were in Jersey. It became like a Jersey thing. So ultimately it was through him that got me involved in the music business in general. He was the key that opened the door for me to get into the game. I always gave him credit for putting me on.
In BET’s Finding Lil Zane, he recalls the origins of his single “Callin Me” and how you were originally on the hook and originally produced the entire record. How did you feel once that record changed up and 112 appeared on it?
You gotta understand Lil Zane is my blessing, man. To this day, mind you he still look like the same 15-year-old kid that I met. It was amazing, man, because at that time, you gotta think Zane was coming up. He was like the new kid and he was a monster. 112 had just popped off and they was the leading group Bad Boy at the time. I was super humble. My motto is teamwork make the dream work. So, whatever I could do at that moment in time, even if I had to collaborate with 10 other producers to get that one record, I was always prepared. Just to be a part of that project in general. The production and putting 112 on it was even greater because at that time, I wasn't that confident with my voice and me being an artist, I just wanted to write and produce. So it was always like ‘Oh they putting 112 on it? Oh, that's what's up. Hell yeah let’s go! It also made me understand the transition and I didn't have to be on every record. I could just get amazing artists to do it. I could just demo it out. And interestingly enough, as I was demoing out records for other people, that's when Steve Rifkin heard my voice and was like, ‘Wait a minute. I like this. Who's that guy on that record? Like, who's that singing it?’ It was brought to him by Bernard Alexander, who in return brought it to Kenny Burns. Bernard Alexander brought it to him through Devyne Stephens. That process actually was the process that really put me on just doing records for other people. And before you know it, I'm getting heard on it, doing demos, and the demo becomes an actual single.
You previously mentioned that your song with Michael Jackson is your favorite feature. Personally, I think that one of the greatest features that you've ever done is on Jeezy’s “Soul Survivor.” Talk about how y'all two came together to do that record.
The feature came together with me receiving a call from Big Meech. He was like, “Listen, ‘Kon, I got this new artist, man, I'm gonna need you on this one big bro.” So I was like well let me hear him. I'm at the studio.” He said, ‘No, he gonna actually be at Patchwork so when you get to Patchwork, call me and I have him come through.’ So when I got to Patchwork, I called and let him know I was there. Next thing you know, Jeezy came through playing his mixtape. We listened to his mixtape from top to bottom. I was impressed and at the time, there was a DJ called DJ Nando, who was at the studio with me. And he was one of my very good friends. God bless him. He fell in love with it as much as I did to a point where he put it on rotation at a club called Onyx. That album became one of the classic mixtapes that literally you'll play from top all the way down to the bottom. For the most part, when I heard him, I was so impressed. I said, ‘Bro, don't worry, I got you.’ And surely enough, the next day I reached out to him and sent him the record. Soon as he heard it, he went crazy. Within an hour from the time I'm hearing it, he was sending the record back with his verses already on it (laughs) how the hell get this record back so fast? It was almost like his response was his verses. He killed it, man.
In addition to your greatest feature, what’s the greatest song you've ever written?
That's the thing, man. Honestly, I couldn't really judge a song by my passion of it or what I believe could be the greatest. But judging from statistics, because every record of mine was so personal and everything was an experience that I went through personally. If I were to say my greatest experience, it would probably be “Freedom." It's a record on my Konvicted album called “Freedom” that I have the most passion for. But then if I was to ask people, some will tell you “Smack That,” which I get a lot from my pop audience. And then, my urban artists would tell you “Locked Up” is the biggest record. But then when I look at the stats, the biggest record that I've ever sold and has done the most numbers is “Mr. Lonely.” And that's my international crowd. They will always come and tell me about “Mr. Lonely.”