He says he’s a businessman first and musician second. And those business interests are placing him squarely in Africa, where he was born. One of the world’s most sought-after musicians is Aliaune Damala Dakha Bouga Time Puru Nacka Lu Lu Lu Badara Akon Thiam. You hear his voice quite often, and know his beats well if you’re a top 50 fan. Of course, he had to shorten his birth name to Akon fit on the album cover.
Now his name is increasingly associated with bringing solar lights to rural Africa.
Here are 17 things you didn’t know about Akon, a Senegalese-American recording sensation.
Akon is Born
Going by Aliaune Thiam, Akon was born either April 16 or April 30, 1973 in St. Louis, Missouri. He is reportedly protective of his birth date and likes to keep it a little ambiguous. His father is famous Senegalese jazz musician and percussionist Mor Thiam. Akon split his early years between Dakar, Senegal, and Union City, New Jersey, settling permanently on the East Coast of the U.S. at age 15.
An affinity for Hip-Hop
While hanging out in Jersey City, he learned to play many different instruments including djembe and drums. Some reports say he developed a love of hip hop while hanging out with friends in Jersey City. Others say he learned to appreciate his musical talent while behind bars.
Did he Really go to Prison?
Although he is rumored to have spent three years in jail for an array of charges including armed robbery, drug distribution and car theft, Huffington Post in 2008 reported that Akon may have fabricated the jail time for the sake of lyrical motifs in his music. According to police and corrections records, Akon was sentenced to three years of probation for gun possession in 1998, and was arrested at least five other times.
A Pious Lifestyle? You Decide
A devout Muslim, Akon prides himself on never touching alcohol or smoking. Like many men who practice Islam, he has multiple wives — three, to be exact. Their identities are well hidden, as are the names of his six children. He is said to have a healthy relationship with all of his spouses. Rumors, rumors, everywhere. TMZ provided this interview via Necole Bitchie.com, where he has apparently confirmed his polygamy.
The Music Career Starts
The president of Upfront Megatainment, Devyne Stephens, became a huge advocate of Akon in the early 2000s when rapper Lil’ Zane brought him into the studios. Becoming his den father, Stephen provided Universal’s SRC Records with recordings of Akon. SRC’s Jerome Foster flew to Atlanta to meet him, and a distribution deal was secured.
Akon’s debut album, “Trouble” was released June 29, 2004 to immediate success. Tracks such as “Locked Up” (about that “jail time” of his), “Ghetto,” “Lonely,” and “Pot of Gold” shot to the top 10 on U.S. and U.K. charts. It raked in $2.8 million in sales in the U.S., and achieved double-platinum status.
Collaborations with New Zealand rapper Savage for the single “Moonshine,” and Young Jeezy’s track “Soul Survivor” catapulted Akon to greater heights. “Konvicted” was released in November 2006, featuring Eminem and Snoop Dogg. It rose to second place on the Billboard 200 charts, and the song “Smack That” broke records on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing from No. 95 to No. 7. The single remained at No. 2 on Hot 100 for five weeks in a row, and is still a hit song today. A Grammy nomination followed.
A Smarmy Scandal
In 2007, while performing onstage in Trinidad and Tobago, Akon engaged in a very risque dance with an underage girl, despite the fact that the club claimed to have a minimum age admission requirement of 21. A recorded video uploaded on the Internet led to heavy criticism, and the backlash included losing a Verizon sponsorship of Gwen Stefani’s Sweet Escape tour featuring Akon as the opening number. In response, Akon recorded the hit song, “Sorry, Blame it on Me.”
While conservatives wagged fingers at Akon for his sultry antics, another onstage event pushed the nail deeper. In June 2007 while Akon was performing in Fishkill, New York, a 15-year-old male concertgoer hurled an object onstage. Akon called for security on his mic, had the young man hoisted up to him, then picked him up over his shoulders and threw him back into the audience. While the rapper claimed it was a publicity stunt, Fishkill police charged him with a misdemeanor for endangering the welfare of a minor. He pleaded not guilty, and was subsequently arraigned.
Akon’s 2008 album “Freedom” offered the hit “You’re Beautiful,” featuring Colby O’Donis and Kardinall Offishall. Although it did not enjoy the success of Akon’s first two efforts, that hasn’t stopped him. He collaborated on the single “Just Dance” with Lady Gaga, which became an immortalized musical sensation. Another collaboration: “Hold my Hand,” with Michael Jackson, released posthumously. Akon owns two clothing lines — Konvict and Aliaune. His charity, Konfidance Foundation, provides educational tools, health services, and recreational facilities for underprivileged children in Africa.
Akon recently took on a mission to bring electricity to 1 million homes in Africa in 2014. His project, Akon Lighting Africa, included a nine-country tour.
Akon invested in an African diamond mine
Akon has stirred up some controversy by purchasing a diamond mine in South Africa. Akon has gone on record saying he doesn’t believe diamond conflict exists.
Akon’s song “Snitch” was on the show CSI
Akon’s song “Snitch” was featured in Season 20, Episode 6 of CSI: A Crime Scene Investigation. The episode looks into the death of three street rappers.
Akon got too omfortable in prison
Akon has said in an interview that after spending about half a year in prison for the first time, prison began to feel like home to him. When Akon realized that he says he also realized he needed to make some changes in his life.
Africa played his album first
Akon has said in an interview that after releasing his first album he sent it to Africa and that African radio stations had played the entire thing before American outlets got their hands on it.
Akon needs military assistance to get home
Akon said in the same aforementioned interview that he’s become so popular in his hometown that he cannot get from the airport to his home without a military escort.
Akon hopes to retire from music
Akon said in an interview that he doesn’t want to be a recording artist forever, and that’s why he’s gone into other business endeavors—so he can eventually move out of music.