Review: Jack Foley
AKON is the latest R&B/hip-hop sensation to emerge from America
and his debut album, Trouble, is designed to showcase
the many different sides of the artist's personality - from his
adolescent problems with the legal and school system to his newfound
The artist, whose father is legendary percussionist and jazz
musician, Mor Thiam, is probably best-known to UK listeners for
this breakthrough single, Locked Up, which looks set
to do for Akon what I Don't Wanna Know did for Mario
Winans last year.
But where Winans' single promised great things that the album
didn't really deliver, Akon's Locked Up is a precursor
to some pretty good stuff on the rest of the album.
Ironically, it was Akon's father, Mor, who raised his son to
believe in and understand the power and influence that music could
have and even though Akon, at first, thought hip-hop was 'rubbish',
he gradually came to realise that much of the stuff that he was
going through shared many of the same themes of various hip-hop
Hence, he embraced the medium and set about delivering his debut
long-player, which provides a satisfying mix of styles and marks
Akon out as a major new player on the R&B/hip-hop circuit.
As the artist states: "Trouble evolved from the
struggles I went through and what I did and am still doing to
correct those things.
"I've got a habit of writing about everything I go through
and this album gives a glimpse of where I am now."
The result is a crafty blend of soulful hip-hop that positively
reflect the singer-songwriter's life experiences.
Locked Up, for instance, deals with his youthful brushes
with the law and is packed with hard-hitting, frustrated lyrics
set over a relaxed beat and some really great underlying piano.
It is an instance of the album at its finest.
Heavier, gang-related stuff comes in the form of Gangsta,
which begins with the sound of gunshots, and is littered with
profanities and attitude. It is the type of track that could easily
make it onto a D12 album, thereby proving that Akon can mix it
with the heavyweights.
But it is also a little too generic for this sort of thing and
probably finds the album at its weakest.
The somber, soulful Ghetto is a far better example of
how the artist deals with difficult subject matter in a far more
sincere way - and it rates as another of the album's highlights
(beginning with the memorable lyric, 'these streets remind me
Strong, too, is the pensive, slow-building Pot of Gold,
which really marks the point at which Akon emerges as a unique
voice in the genre - he doesn't wallow in self-pity, but rather
prefers to inspire people through his lyrics.
Even Lonely, which features a deliciously vocally-distorted
sample, comes across as a breezy lament to a lost love that is
certain to have you reaching for the rewind button once you've
heard it. The track feels classic in style and distinctly old-school,
yet fun with it.
The hip-hop element is strong within tracks such as Journey,
which recalls the energy of Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg's The Next
Episode, while Don't Let Up is a classic example
of where the soul is allowed to come to the fore (and features
some great guest vocals).
Akon's path may have been a difficult one, but it makes for a
satisfying, even fulfilling musical journey that surely will rate
among the finest hip-hop/R&B albums of the year.
And it's refreshing to find an artist who refuses to give in
to bitterness and resentment. For, as he states in the sleeve
notes: "Last but not least, thanks to the jailhouse in which
I was confined - which made me a better, stronger and wiser man."
Listening to Trouble, it's hard not to agree.