Akon ushers in "new phase" with "Freedom"

Mon Dec 1, 2008 12:52am EST
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By Mariel Concepcion

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Holding a red velvet cupcake with white frosting and colored sprinkles, Akon stands atop an extended conference room table at Universal Records' New York headquarters. He's ecstatic.

The hip-hop and R&B singer/songwriter/producer is clad in a crisp, white button-up shirt, a black tie, vest and jeans, and sports perfectly rippled waves in his hair -- "Your hair looks good, baby," Universal Records vice president Sylvia Rhone would later compliment him. There's a reason Akon, born Aliaune Thiam in Senegal, is wound up. The 34-year-old musician just completed his third album, "Freedom," slated for release Tuesday (December 2) on Konvict/Upfront/SRC/Universal Records.

"I'm so excited about this album. It's a new phase for Konvict Music, and I couldn't have done it without all of you," he tells the 30 staff members in the room.

Akon's trying to move on from his somewhat tarnished past -- and on "Freedom" he proclaims he's adopted a new sound, setting the album apart from his debut, 2004's "Trouble," and 2006's "Konvicted."

"Everyone knows the Konvict sound already, so we had to switch it up -- a lot," he says. "Now we're bringing the whole Euro-club sound."

To help introduce the fresh style while still catering to his established fan base, Akon followed his usual format of releasing two singles -- the "double whammy," he calls it -- just days apart. First, the fast-paced pop song "Right Now (Na Na Na)," with keyboards and synthetic sounds for the crossover market, went on sale October 7. For his urban fans, the hand-clap-laden "I'm So Paid," featuring Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy, followed two weeks later.

Supporting the techno-driven club sound are songs like "Keep You Much Longer," a dance track about missing a past lover; the T-Pain-assisted, guitar-heavy "Holla Holla"; and "Beautiful," in which Akon sings over double-speed drums.

LEGAL WOES   Continued...

<p>Singer Akon arrives at the 2008 American Music Awards in Los Angeles November 23, 2008. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>