Akon’s accolades and ubiquitous vocals are unmistakable. Whether it be as a rapper, songwriter or a producer, the American-Senegalese singer is responsible for some of the biggest beats and dance floor bangers of the mid-2000s.
But then the synths suddenly stopped, and his name disappeared from the Top 40.
“Where have you gone, Akon?”
It’s been a question asked by so many ever since the five-time Grammy nominee silently slipped from the spotlight of the mainstream music sphere. So much so that his narrative should might as well be remixed into Simon & Garfunkel’s famous line in “Mrs. Robinson” when they wonder about Joe DiMaggio whereabouts.
But this time, it’s Akon who’s turned his lonely eyes to not only a nation, but an entire continent.
Over the last few years, the 43-year-old artist and man of the future suddenly shifted his motivation from mingling with music royalty to a commendable one toward philanthropy and working with world leaders and drastically changing the state of solar energy and climate change in his home continent.
By the end of this year, Akon Lighting Africa estimates that it will provide electricity to roughly 80 million impoverished Africans in rural areas with its solar energy program.
Although Akon has been away from the spotlight while the likes of Drake, Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd have commandeered the radio waves, he’s still lent his name to numerous hits as a writer and producer while working on his benevolent solar energy program.
In the midst of his newfound mission to provide access to clean and affordable electricity, the itch to sing as a star soloist still stayed.
Nine years have passed since Akon released his last album in “Freedom”—and that’s about to change.
After teasing it for the last two years, he soon will be releasing “Stadium,” a four-part concept album that’s each rooted in a different musical genre—hip-hop, reggae, deep house and pop. “Stadium” is going to be a collective of 40 songs and will be released through a special app.
“I see music and entertainment as a marketing tool for doing things that you really want to do, and have a passion for. Ultimately, for the last five years, I’ve been more focused on my energy projects in Africa by bringing renewable and solar technologies there,” Akon told [a]listdaily in an exclusive interview. “I know a lot of people want to know when the next album is coming. It’s a matter of what month we want to release it. When I come with new music, it come’s big. You don’t have to worry.”
Although a release date for his fourth studio LP has yet to be announced, Akon says he just finished mastering the album and a single should be dropping soon. The album will also be paired with an official music tour.
“It’s not something you can purchase through iTunes,” Akon alludes. “You have to download the ‘Stadium’ app to actually have access to the albums. It will have a game format where users will be able to unlock each song from each album. Our biggest challenge is ‘how do we market this to the music levels?’ But we decided to focus separately on the music level so they can understand it, and market it to the gamers the way they can understand it. ‘Stadium’ is really more of a streaming platform that will be eventually white labeled for other artists to use.”
The musician has the chops to once again contend for No. 1 hits on the charts in any genre, as he has before with such songs as “I Wanna Love You” and “Don’t Matter.”
He has a total of 45 Billboard Hot 100 songs—including the distinction of being the first solo artist to ever hold down both the No. 1 and No. 2 spots at the same time on Billboard.
“You’ll definitely be able to hear the growth,” Akon assures. “It depends on what you like to hear from me, because I have a vast audience. It’s music that people in different territories haven’t even heard of. The album is on a whole other level. I can’t wait.”
Whether starring in the upcoming film The American King, a movie with a script that’s a flipside of Coming to America with Akon going back to Africa, or taking on the chief creative officer role at Royole, he’s staying busy on many fronts, including keeping an ear out for emerging artists by relaunching his Konvict Muzik label as Konvict Kartel Label—previously home to the likes of T-Pain, French Montana, Red Café and Colby O’Donis, among others.
The under-the-radar moves he’s making are not ending up on today’s TMZ-like news cycle—unless he opines about Donald Trump.
“When working on the energy side of things, it fuses you into the tech side of things as well because there have to be applications created to manage that energy,” Akon says. “Everything that I’m doing has to have a musical or visual and film component. Whether that be gaming, movies or video, whatever it is, the combination of that creates what entertainment becomes. That’s what I’m most interested in. I’m a movie buff. When you look at films, if the audio is whack, you’re not going to enjoy it. If there isn’t a great soundtrack, you’re not going to enjoy it. Video games are also geared toward how the audio feels, along with the game you are playing.”
The antidote to that collective problem comes by way of Royole’s special-edition Akon Moon, a 3D virtual mobile theater for movies and gaming that makes it feel as if you’re sitting in an IMAX theater.
“With all of that, visuals are the key. It’s only right to think about the future, and what that combination is going to look like, and that’s virtual reality. That’s the whole purpose of me wanting to get into that market with Royole so that I can engulf myself in it as it’s moving forward and be more cutting edge toward how things are going to be created. The biggest challenge we are going to face is moving forward too fast,” Akon warns about Royole, a “unicorn” company whose valuation grew to $3 billion this year.
The rapper who fortuitously signed one-time protégé Lady Gaga to his label in 2008 can rest financially off of that lottery ticket alone, but he chose to keep his fire burning with the benevolent project in Akon Lighting Africa.
There are currently 600 million Africans in need of energy infrastructures, and the fast-growing solar-powered electricity initiative spearheaded by the hip-hop artist is primed to be at the forefront of fixing that problem.
“We’re focusing on new ways to innovate and create energy sources that are not normally thought about,” Akon says. “It’s just coming up with new ideas—and I have crazy ones, like creating kinetic roads.”
Crazy ideas aside, Akon aims to provide a concrete response to Africa’s energy crisis and laying the foundation for future development. It has already materialized with a gamut of solutions in 14 African countries, and as a result, remote villages have been connected to electricity for the first time ever.
To circumnavigate the political powers that be with such an ambitious energy project, the “I’m So Paid” singer admitted to having a $1 billion credit line from a Chinese-government owned company to further pursue his passion in impacting people’s lives.
He says he finds this phase of his career more fulfilling than the previous one that led him to selling over 35 million albums worldwide as a multi-platinum recording artist.
Whether it be his upcoming album, new tech or acting, the best part for Akon is that he’s using his music mogul muscle as a bridge to fulfill his true dreams and passions to influence the future of Africa.
“I haven’t been gone. I just have been hiding,” he reminds his fans. “I don’t think I’ll ever retire from music itself. This is stage two for me. Stage three will be hopefully enjoying it.”
Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan