Akon is a legend in his own right, and he continues to use his platform for the greater good.
His impressive catalog of smash hits include “Locked Up,” “Lonely,” “Smack That” featuring Eminem, “I Wanna Love You” featuring Snoop Dogg, and many more. With 5 Grammys to his name, endless plaques, and even listed by Guinness World Records as the #1 selling artist for ringtones around the world, it’s safe to say Akon has achieved what most artists wish they could in a lifetime.
While he was originally born in St. Louis, Missouri, Akon credits his hometown as Senegal, a country in West Africa where he was raised. Which brings us to his efforts today as an entrepreneur and philanthropist, constantly giving back any chance he can. In fact, Akon is currently planning the first phase of Akon City in Senegal to open in 2016, a $6 billion project directly inspired by the movie Black Panther. Akon City will reportedly be home to the largest hospital in the entire continent of Africa to date.
The Fox Magazine spoke with Akon in downtown Los Angeles, moments before he stepped into B-Real’s Dr. Greenthumb podcast.
Read below as we discuss his new single “Enjoy That,” love for traveling, who inspires him most, conversations with Michael Jackson, philanthropy, making a TikTok EP, and more!
How are you? How is LA treating you this time around?
Man, LA’s treating me amazing as always. I’m doing really well.
How does it feel to be here, with the legendary B-Real from Cypress Hill?
Aw man, B-real is my childhood. So to be sitting with this guy in that movement that Cypress Hill pulled together… Actually, it’s interesting. Because as much as they were into weed, they’re the reason why I don’t smoke weed. Isn’t that crazy? I was so inspired by them growing up, I got caught trying to smoke weed. Boy, I got my ass whooped so bad. Because of Cypress Hill, I never touched it again. [laughs]
I know you just released your new single “Enjoy That.” How are you feeling?
That was my first record in a long time. I haven’t dropped a record since 2008, it’s been a minute. Well you know, I’ve been doing a lot and I didn’t realize how time flew by so fast! Time flew by so fast. In the midst of me starting my energy company in Africa, doing all the philanthropy stuff and now building the city, dipping and dabbling in and out of crypto, I didn’t realize how much time flew by that quick.
By the time I opened up my eyes, I’m like man, my sons are damn near grown. [laughs] Fans are constantly asking me, “When you dropping a new record?” Yeah yeah, I gotta put another record out man. But this time, I wanted to enjoy it. I didn’t want to just drop a record and become part of the businesses, I wanted the music part to be the one thing in life that I enjoy. Coming back the second time around, I’m doing it in a way to where I’m actually enjoying it.
Especially at this point in your career, being able to enjoy the simple things is a very powerful message.
I’m telling you, right. It’s the best.
The video hit 1.5 million views in less than 10 days!
Aw man, it makes me obviously feel good. I still got active fans out there! [laughs] They’ve been waiting too, huh?
What are the simple things in life you enjoy?
That’s the thing, family really. Spending time with my family, my friends, traveling and enjoying the places I travel to. Because one thing about being an entertainer: you go to these places, but you never really enjoy them. From the moment you get to the airport, they take you straight to the hotel. You’re stuck in this hotel until you change to go to the venue, back to the hotel, then back to the airport. So you never really enjoy the area, enjoy the landmarks, enjoy the history, the people. You may get to enjoy the food a little bit. Sometimes they may bring you local food, because you have to eat right? But as far as the experience, you never really get that. I said this time around, every city I go, I’ma stay for at least a week. Enjoy it!
I saw you were in Uganda last year, right?
Oh man, Uganda’s the most beautiful place in the world. Uganda is a different part of Africa, you gotta visit. You have to. It’s beautiful to go to all walks of life and people get to know who you are. Know your music, sing your songs, even though they don’t speak the same language. That’s a different type of connection man. It feels really, really good to know that you’re inspiring people globally.
The Fox Magazine is all about inspiration, what or who inspires you the most?
My dad was probably my biggest inspiration, because he led by example. He really taught me to be the man of the house, make sure my family comes first, keep your word. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. No matter how much it costs you. He was a real man, and he taught me to be a real man. So I try to instill that in my kids and everything as we’re moving forward. But inspiration, he’d definitely be top. That’s my guy.
You made headlines about you and Michael Jackson wanting to open music schools in Africa, what were those conversations like?
One thing that me and Mike had in common, we wanted to see kids expand on their talent. Africa is one of them kind of places, all they have is their talent. And they’re so dope at what they do! This is why I spent the last 12 years building an Afrobeats scene. When I first went out there in 2010, it was just great local talent, but very traditional. We came in, spruced it up a little bit. Gave it more of a commercial feel, and started signing acts locally. Just helping them branch off internationally, and now it’s the second-biggest genre.
Africa always had it, and Mike knew that. Mike said, “Man, we should build universities that showcase the talent.” I said, “Man if we do it, we have to do this together.” He said, “As soon as the tour was over, that’s going to be the first stop. Go to Africa, start grabbing schools that need to be remodeled. We refurbish them, put a curriculum in there, then start creating a musical program around it.”
Do you have any memories of when you guys recorded “Hold My Hand”?
We actually did it over at The Palm Studios in Vegas. At the Palm Hotel, they got a studio there. Honestly, I’ve worked with probably every artist in the business. As far as a producer, and songwriter, I’ve never met somebody I’ve worked with that was as easy to work with as Michael Jackson. He was so simple. If I asked him to bark on the record, he’d bark on it.
He never asked a question or nothing, he’d just do it. [snaps]
That to me, was full trust in what my creative process was. That was his whole thing. He said, “Listen. If I hire somebody to do something, it’s because I’m in love with what they do. So I want them to do what they do for me.” I noticed that because a lot of times, you may get hired by someone to do something, but they’re telling you how they want it done. If that was the case, you didn’t need me. You could have done it the way you wanted it done. But the collaboration of hearing it out, trying it to see if it works, to me that’s everything. Mike was one of those kinds of people.
Music aside, I respect everything you’re doing to give back. Is there something that you’re focused on right now, whether it’s business or philanthropy?
Philanthropy plays a huge role. Even in business, I don’t get into any business that’s not impacting people. I’m more of a social entrepreneur if I can use that word. I know God put me in this position for a reason. I don’t think he puts anybody in a position that influences millions of people just by dropping them in that situation.
You have to find your purpose, and you have to trust your purpose. Whatever that is.
Sometimes, it may go against what you think is cool. Most people fall into that challenge of trying to be cool, and still follow what they know their purpose to be. Oftentimes, it’s not going to be the coolest thing that you think it is, but it’s going to be a purpose that needs to be stamped and a purpose that needs to be achieved before you leave. I was blessed to know the difference. I believe personally, my purpose was to develop Africa. That’s just me. That’s why I’m building the Akon City, creating the beginning of what the future of Africa should become. If that works out perfectly.
On the music tip, I hear you’re releasing a TikTok EP
Yes! I partnered with TikTok to release the first-ever EP. There’s never been a collaboration with TikTok to release an album ever, so we’re going to be the first.
Are you on TikTok?
I am now. [laughs] What I realize though: everybody has this stigma that if you get on TikTok, you have to be dancing to every record. I think it’s a stereotype. But once I started studying the platform, yo this is like Instagram on steroids. You can do everything that you do on Instagram, but only difference is it’s a little bit more entertaining. I started realizing all the other things that could be done on TikTok, okay this is easy. I can do that.
How do you tailor the music to TikTok?
Well, that’s the thing, I didn’t have to tailor the music to TikTok. What I realized from the data was that my catalog was the top streamed on TikTok. All I have to do is keep doing what I’m doing on TikTok, right? It works! [laughs]
Do you know what the most streamed song of yours is?
The most streamed song was “Bananza.” “Hey, ladies drop it down…” [sings]
“Just wanna see you touch the ground!”
Yeah, exactly. What a lot of people don’t know is that was my first ever single, before even “Locked Up.” People don’t know that, they thought “this is a brand new record.” No, that record was my first-ever single release. Before “Locked Up,” but it didn’t work at that time. “Locked Up” ended up being the bigger single.
Are you sick of that song?
No! I always knew that record was a smash, but I felt like the timing in which they released it was wrong. Because I was in a dark place then, that’s why “Locked Up” was the record that worked. That’s the record that I was more emotionally feeling, and more passionate to put out. because that was the experience that I was going through. I made records like “Bananza” so when I’d blow up, this could be the type of records I do. But the label saw it differently. They felt like, “No, this record is a smash. It’ll work right now.” But hey, God had a different plan for me.
Anything else you want to let the people know?
The album is coming very, very soon. “Enjoy That” is the first single. The name of the album is called Akonic. Look forward to it, it’s coming. It’s definitely dropping, for sure.