Akon - Freedom

Posted December 3, 2008
Tags: Akon,

There are a million stories in hip-hop - Akon’s is one of the most interesting. The son of...

Akon - Freedom Album Review

There are a million stories in hip-hop - Akon’s is one of the most interesting. The son of Senegalese musicians, Akon grew up loving music, but it wasn’t until he was jailed for auto theft that he decided to make music his livelihood. Upon his release, he quickly became one of the most sought after producers and singers in the game, charting 25 hit singles and even receiving a Grammy nomination for Smack That (marking the first time the Grammy committee has openly endorsed booty smacking). But his rise to the top hasn’t been without incident. In the last year alone he’s been caught throwing a skinny white kid off a stage, dry-humping a teenage girl, and it was revealed that he greatly exaggerated his criminal past, none of which have put a dent in his popularity. Take a minute to let it soak in; because that my friends, is one hell of a story.

The next chapter in Akon’s rags to riches tale continues with the release of his third solo album, Freedom. Freedom relies heavily on romantic lyrics and European club sounds, a serious stylistic shift for a man whose breakthrough single was Locked Up. Akon could have easily just made another Konvicted, and he deserves credit for exploring new territory, but the simple truth is that Freedom just isn’t as interesting as his past work. I wish it wasn’t true, but the story of a criminal is always more interesting than the story of a free man, especially when that free man is in love.

If you want to know what Freedom sounds like there’s no better place to start than the album’s lead single, Right Now. The track finds Akon abandoning his ass-smacking ways for lyrics like, “hold you, tease you, squeeze you, tell you what’s been on my mind,” while some synths sweetly play over lightly bouncing production. I can’t lie, I’ve hummed a little “na na na” in the shower, and that’s exactly the type of song Right Now is; an enjoyable but ultimately disposable pop jam. It’s the same story on Birthmark, a track built around an acoustic guitar and plaintive lyrics from Mr. Konvict. If Akon wanted to get regular rotation on VH1 he’s in luck, Birthmark is exactly the kind of earnest song they eat up. It’s not Soul Survivor, but it works; whether or not you like how it’s working, that’s a different story.

Freedom isn’t all sweet ballads all the time. Akon’s become the star he is largely because of his slick production and catchy hooks, both of which have become increasingly important in mainstream hip-hop. But even at its most hip-hop, Freedom is still more melodic than banging. Just take I’m So Paid. Based on the title you’d expect some sort of Khaled-esque booming beat, but instead we get a sparse track decorated with only touches of synths and surprisingly deep verses from Jeezy and Weezy. On the same tip is Troublemaker, a club-ready joint that touches on Akon’s harder past, but wraps all the hustler’s talk in a cocoon of echoing snares and a cooing chorus. Perhaps the most predictable song on the album is Holla Holla, an auto-tuned duel between Akon and T-Pain, who’s primary focus in getting as many girls as possible to make out in their Lamborghini’s. Now that’s the Akon we know and love.

Ultimately, Holla Holla’s “you a sex machine” moments are few and far between on Freedom. Akon instead chooses to showcase his tender side with songs like Beautiful, a track that brings on the Konvict label’s Colby O’Donis and Kardinal for some adolescent sweet talk, or the surprising smoothness of Keep You Longer, a plea for his lady to stay just a little longer. It’s pop/dance songs like these that make up the bulk of Freedom, proving that Akon belongs to that rare group of artists whose fans support their music, not just their songs, allowing them to change their music significantly while remaining remarkably successful (see Kanye’s new album for the best example). Freedom is Akon at his least convicted, and in the end maybe he’s declaring his freedom not so much from the legal system, but the expectations of a music industry that had tried to lock him into a cell of criminally minded music.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted December 3, 2008
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