Akon needs no introduction – the Senegalese-American musical icon, producer, and entrepreneur has left an indelible mark on the industry with his unique sound. With numerous chart-topping hits and platinum-certified songs, his influence on the music industry is far-reaching. Whether it’s the club banger “Sexy Chick” feat. David Guetta, his breakthrough hit “Lonely” or the catchy Gwen Stefani-assisted “The Sweet Escape”, Akon has hits for days. As the founder of Konvict Kulture, the singer also continues to sign and develop artists, using his musical influence for good. Besides his achievements in music, he is also recognized as one of the most successful African entrepreneurs and has been listed among Forbes’ top 100 influential people on the planet.
Only last year, he dropped a brand new EP, TT Freak, released under Konvict Kulture, which features seven tracks that showcase Akon’s undeniable talent and equally sheds light on the incredible artists Africa has to offer. He has now released the long-awaited video for the single “Slow Motion”, shot in South Africa by Sesan Ogunro.
We caught up with Akon about nurturing African creatives, why he doesn’t work with viral TikTok artists, and how he reached and maintained his legacy status.
Your new music video for “Slow Motion” is out now and it was shot in South Africa, which is super exciting. What was the whole experience like and how was it working with Sesan Ogunro?
Yeah, Sesan is amazing, man. We’ve known each other for over 10 years, worked with a lot of the same people, so we were always communicating through others, and we finally got together to do some stuff together. We brought him on board to head a lot of the Konvict Kulture videos, and he’s now the product and video manager for all the stuff that we’re doing relating to anything viral or music videos. But you know, I wanted to start shooting a lot of my content in Africa. I really wanted people to see the quality of videos and stuff that’s coming out of the continent. Not only is it cheaper to shoot, but we also have the exact same resources now. And then we can really bring the culture and the creativity out in those terrains and those backgrounds and locations and the people and the dancing. I really wanted to start visually promoting Africa differently from how it’s been promoted in the past.
Your EP TT Freak has so many great African artists featured as well. So, how do you identify that talent?
In my case, we’re always running up to great talent that just needs that extra little support or that extra little machine to give it some exposure. And the way I look at it is that I was built to be a machine for those types of artists. You know, to just give them the opportunity to expose themselves to the globe. Because Africa’s resources were just so limited at the time. So now it’s a little bit different because people are paying attention to what’s happening in Africa. And my goal is to try to expose as many great African talents out there as possible.
I agree, there is plenty of amazing talent out there. With your EP you’ve also collaborated with TikTok, which hasn’t been done before. How did that whole idea and opportunity come up?
That was an idea that I actually pitched to TikTok. After my record “Bananza (Belly Dancer)” actually became one of the highest shared and streamed on TikTok at the time, I was like, wow, this is a record that I released 20 years ago. People didn’t even know this was my first single before even Locked Up. And it’s like whoa, for it to come back 20 years later and become such a huge hit on TikTok, I said there’s something that we can actually do together. So that’s when I approached TikTok about doing this partnership with them and it was something also new for them. So we knew this would be an experiment, whether it be good or bad, at least now the concept is out there we can always expand on it in the future. They loved it and they said, come on let’s do it.
Even “Locked Up” is trending these days.
Yeah, and I noticed that because ever since I saw how well “Bananza (Belly Dancer)” did, I started paying attention to all my other catalogs. And it seemed like my whole catalog has literally revived on TikTok. And I mean, as an artist, I’ve probably been the most shared, reshared, reposted amongst my whole catalog, period. So it’s been like, okay, now’s the time to do a partnership with these guys. This younger generation now knows who I am. So that’s why I said this would be a perfect time to kind of put something together with them.
Do you use that platform to find up-and-coming talent at all as well?
I haven’t used it for that. With talent, I have to physically see it. It’s just the way because I choose artists differently. Sometimes, social media can fool you. Because a lot of what I see with social media artists, they’re just great marketers, but they don’t really have talent. They’re great marketing artists. If I was to get a marketing company, those are the guys that I would hire to run the marketing for the artists that I actually sign. But oftentimes, just because they have millions and millions of shares and followers don’t mean that they’re really good, they’re just good at knowing how to spread that content throughout the platform because oftentimes when I actually meet with them in person and I hear their music or I hear them performing live it’s a huge disappointment. When I build, I want to build around artists that when the people actually go to a concert, they have just as good of an experience as they did when they were online, viewing them on TikTok or YouTube or Instagram or wherever else they’re going to view them from.
Yeah, I see your point. You’ve released plenty of projects over the past year, so for your new EP last year, has your creative process changed at all? I can imagine it may have changed a lot over the years.
Recently it’s been a lot more experimental than anything. I’ve been trying to find the gauge of how the industry is actually moving, more from a technical standpoint, but also the fan base and what they’re actually out there looking for and paying attention to. But at the same time, it gave me the opportunity to do the kind of music that I normally wouldn’t do or are not known for doing. So, these are things that I always wanted to do, but then couldn’t do because I was locked in a specific style, you know? So now, because a lot of it is experimental, a lot of my fans know that I’m just doing different things and trying different things, it actually helped me in a different way because it allowed me to really get the creative space and creative mindset out. So that way when I come back to re-salvaging my album, then I’ll know exactly how to approach this album because of all the data that I got while I was experimenting.
Yeah, I did notice that TT Freak had a different vibe sonically. Considering you have been around for so long, what is your secret to staying relevant in such a fast-paced music industry?
It’s just about being true to you. Most artists lose sight when they start doing what other people are doing because it’s working for them, knowing that what they’re doing may not work for you because you and they aren’t the same. So you almost have to be just true to what you do because people love what you do. So as long as you’re doing what you do, you can do it in any genre as long as it remains you when you do it. I think as long as you capture that, you can be around forever because people just respect you for you. And they always supported you for you because it was you who they believed in and who they bought into. Then it becomes a tricky thing to have to support because now you feel like It’s not really what I want to hear from that person because it’s not really what I fought and loved and bought into you know. And then you start and try to become someone else and it kind of gives the audience a different perspective of you, and they don’t have to decide whether or not they want to continue to support you. I don’t want them to have to choose that.
Looking back, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I actually liked everything the way it went because everything that I went against the grain was to get more information. I think the key to life and the key to success is knowledge. Like, you have to have the information to know which direction to go, which direction to keep going, and oftentimes when to shift. I think it really boils down to you feeling the vibe because I think when people try to dictate and utilize numbers to dictate what’s hot, that’s where you go wrong. That’s why a lot of executives and a lot of record companies are failing because they’re so busy calculating data and not listening to the music and seeing what it brings out in them. And what is it about that song that makes me feel a certain way? They’re missing it completely.
Yeah, I agree in a way. I feel like these days record labels have become much more numbers focused rather than nurturing the talent. As a music entrepreneur with your own label and other ventures next to being an artist, how do you juggle everything?
It’s the music business. And I think people forget the business in the music entertainment world. I remember when I was coming up, everyone would say, you’re in the music business. Yeah, I’m in the music business. I never forgot the word business. The music is automatic, but the business comes with it. People don’t realize that music is only 10%. It’s the business that makes the music pop. If you don’t have a business plan around that music, the music is going nowhere. So with that, I just utilize the music as a vehicle to get to the business. And oftentimes, music opens doors that most businesses don’t open. And it brings you and puts you in rooms that no other instrument will put you in a room with. I’ve had the experience of sitting in rooms with kings, presidents, and prime ministers, all because of music. How do you not take advantage of those moments?
That is great advice, and so true. Thank you for your time!