Akon spun off two number one pop hits and one number two from Konvicted, so he couldn't be blamed for working the same tricks on his third album, yet Freedom is a major change of pace -- the kind of drastic switch-up that normally happens after reaching a creative and commercial dead-end. Hip-hop and R&B are all but scrapped entirely. The set instead is rooted in the gleaming synthesizers and spring-loaded dance beats of Euro-pop.
Aman with an eye for an opportunity, Akon has lent his plaintive vocals to songs by everyone from Gwen Stefani to Michael Jackson, selling 8m of his own two albums along the way. Freedom preserves the populist catchiness of its predecessors, Trouble and Konvicted, but while they addressed his former hard-knock life and reaction to fame, this one is almost entirely dedicated to his ladyfriends. Akon idealises them, especially the ones who, implausibly, have failed to enjoy life as the Wag of an A-list R&B star and walked out.
Akon’s had plenty of smashes, some great (“Smack That”) and some truly bizarre, if not out right awful (“Lonely”). He’s written and produced hits for Young Jeezy and Gwen Stefani and he signed T-Pain— his contemporary hitmaker and the guy who will go down in history along side him—to his label after Pain released a guerilla remix of Akon’s breakthrough hit “Locked Up”. He will probably be remembered for some of these things, but the true reach of his power was seen late last year when he released a digital download called “Sorry, Blame It on Me”, which was his totally insincere public apology after he got caught on camera throwing some hapless kid off of a stage at a concert.
”If you wanna be free/With plenty money/Put your hands up,” Akon sings on Freedom, his third CD. But before you hoist those mitts, you might want to listen to the rest of the disc: Akon’s philosophy of liberty also includes the freedom to reuse nearly identical hooks for 13 songs straight. That approach may bring him plenty money, but it yields only a few legitimately fun tracks, buried beneath a pile of boring retreads.
A streetwise hustler who became a mega-successful recording artist and in-demand hook singer, Akon is now finding that the chart-topping formula that worked so well for him as an underdog ex-con might no longer apply to his new role as a wealthy entrepreneur at the top of his game. Somehow, fond recollections of the bad old days in the ghetto with fellow superstar Wyclef Jean just don't have the same resonance and uplifting power as previous songs that came from a place of near-defeat and unfulfilled aspirations. And bragging about all his money isn't working.