Although he was born in St. Louis, Missouri, singer, songwriter, and producer Aliaune Thiam — aka Akon — grew up in Senegal before he and his family (including his father, jazz percussionist Mor Thiam) returned to the United States and settled in New Jersey when he was seven. There he discovered hip-hop for the first time, as well as crime. He was eventually jailed but he used the time — a total of three years, he claimed — to work on his musical ideas. Upon release, Akon began writing and recording tracks in a home studio. The tapes found their way to SRC/Universal, which eventually released Trouble, Akon’s debut LP, in June 2004. The album was an interesting hybrid of Akon’s silky vocals with East Coast- and Southern-styled beats. The success of the song “Locked Up,” a Top Ten Billboard Hot 100 hit, made Akon a star and desired collaborator. After appearing on Young Jeezy’s “Soul Survivor,” his number of guest appearances seemed to multiply each month. Konvicted, his second album, was released in November 2006. Soon enough, two of the album’s singles, “I Wanna Love You” and “Smack That,” made their way to the upper regions of the Billboard charts.
A significant stylistic shift occurred with Freedom, his third album. The December 2008 release avoided the rugged hip-hop/R&B hybrid of his earlier work and courted a broader audience with a dance-oriented Euro-pop sound. Despite the bold change, the album repeated Konvicted’s chart success by peaking within the Top Ten of the Billboard 200; “Right Now (Na Na Na),” its most successful single, reached the Top Ten of the Hot 100. Akon slowed his own output but subsequently collaborated with dozens of artists, including David Guetta (the world-wide smash “Sexy Bitch,” 2009), Artists for Haiti (“We Are the World 25 for Haiti,” 2010), parodists the Lonely Island (“I Just Had Sex,” 2010), and close friend Michael Jackson (“Hold My Hand,” 2010).