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Akon - Trouble

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 musical success.

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 anthems.

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 of quicksand').

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.

Click here to find out more about AKON

Track listing:
1. Locked Up
2. Trouble Nobody
3. Bananza (Belly Dancer) (12" Version)
4. Gangsta
5. Ghetto
6. Pot Of Gold
7. Show Out
8. Lonely (Old Version)
9. When The Time's Right
10. Journey
11. Don't Let Up (Version Without Sample)
12. Easy Road
13. Locked Up (Remix)
14. Gunshot (Bonus Track)
15. Locked Up (Taz Remix) (Bonus Track)

Click here to find out more about AKON

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