Sexing up Akon's past

Akon_lEver since he started minting his ceaseless string of hits, Akon has told every interviewer in sight — including EW — about the three years he spent in prison after being caught leading a grand theft auto ring, and what a pivotal experience that was in terms of his growth as an artist. But the professional bluff-callers at The Smoking Gun posted a lengthy piece yesterday claiming to prove that the R&B singer never did any serious time behind bars at all, nor did he commit the major crimes he’s talked about in depth so many times. They say he fabricated his car-jacking exploits out of thin air, adding fictional details as he went along, and concealing his relatively humdrum past.

Is Akon really "James Frey with catchy hooks and an American Music Award," as TSG calls him? We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s a bigger question: Why? What would be the point of making up such a comprehensive fake backstory, knowing it could crumble at the slightest investigation? (Compare this with someone like Jay-Z, who talks a lot about how he supposedly used to deal crack in Brooklyn, but purposely keeps it all very vague, instead of saying, "I was locked up in this specific prison for this specific number of years after committing this specific crime.") TSG seems to think it’s all about commercial expectations: "Because without the embellishments and fabrications, without the havoc and heartache, what separates him from every other wannabe clawing for commercial success? Why chance having your work judged solely on its merits when a little artistic license can make you so much more distinctive and marketable?" That might be part of the story, but I’m not sure it’s the whole thing. After all, who’s articulating those demands? Was Akon egged on by more explicit pressures from label execs with a narrow conception of how "urban" artists are supposed to have lived? Or is there another explanation entirely? You tell me…

Comments (14 total) Add your comment
  • Snarf

    Street cred, yo!

  • EP Sato

    Exactly Snarf. Chris Rock once said that in the ‘hood you get more respect for coming out of jail than you do for earning a Master’s Degree. My guess is that Akon’s producers felt the download purchasing public would feel the same way. Rather than say Akon’s a “decent middle class kid who worked really hard to get where he is”, it’s catchier to say his career was the circumstance of all those famous rap clichés.
    Incidentally, before becoming a frequent Popwatch poster I was the drug kingpin of NYC, head of the Puerto Rican Mafia, President of ENRON, an Oscar Award winning set designer and the Heavyweight Champion of the world…….Wow, making up fake credits IS kind of fun!

  • daisyj

    Yeah, I’d say the evidence they put together there is pretty damning. Kind of incredible that no one thought to look into it before, really, especially considering the thing with his kid.
    By the way, did I ever tell you guys about the three years I spent as a Basque resistance fighter in the mountains of Spain? That was after my stint as a top runway model, but before I jogged barefoot across Antarctica.

  • mscisluv

    Very intersting…but we already knew Akon was a liar. Anyone remember that scandal involving his giving away “a trip to Africa” to a concert attendee? Apparently, Akon was Africa, and the prize actually involved being held down on stage and endure somewhat violent simulations of sex.

  • mscisluv

    And can we PLEASE change the timestamps to represent actual EST??

  • Nix

    Sometimes it seems that being popular/making money in the arts is pretty much just taking willing part in a glorified freak tent. I’m a woman with a beard! I am a bat boy! I was a drug addict who became an author! I was a boy prostitute! I am a teenage ethnic prodigy writing in English! I’s gangsta yo! (Can’t tell you how many upper-middle-class white boys I’ve seen who say that with their clothes.) Sigh. Anyway, I am the fifth Cylon.

  • Phil

    Now if only we can determine Akon’s TRUE age and how many wives he TRULY has! The reports of him being a polygamist with multiple kids, are they real also!? Anyways it really is a shame since I do enjoy many of his songs & productions. He definitely has one of the most distinct voices in the music biz. No one can deny that. And I too have a hidden past! Before I was a PopWatch regular poster I was in an ill-fated boy band, but due to Lou Pearlman’s awaiting trial, I’ve been sworn to secrecy! HaHa

  • Not Buying It

    I don’t buy it at all!! I am a black American by way of parents from a particular country in the continent of Africa; and I don’t see how a prison story is a selling point. I have always wondered why he keeps announcing it because it is something to be terribly ashamed of and hide. I figured it was because he knew people can check it out and figure out his past and therefore he would open with it. I think the logic applies the other way as well. He is not that stupid. It would be so easy to check out. It doesn’t make any sense.

  • Houstonian Jen in DC

    Ep Sato, I love how everything can always be connected to a Chris Rock routine (“So, are you my master now? Tell me this: Can you kick MY A$$?!”)
    RE Akon: I’m not surprised. Exaggerating for street cred has been used by rap artists for years (9 shots, 50?). Akon’s past has always set him apart from other R&B artists.
    Before I was a regular Popwatch reader, I worked in North Korea as a production assistant on Kim Jong Il’s failed movie project.

  • EP Sato

    I’m a huge fan of Rock’s stand up routines and must admit that a lot of what he’s said relating to race struck a chord with me.
    This may also be due to the fact that I was in Chris Rock’s entourage for years and was the one who gave him that whole “Livin’ la vida loca” joke. That was right after I’d won the olympic gold in women’s gymnastics…

  • t3hdow

    Actually Houstinian, there are gang documentaries on TV that have some of the gang members bragging about being grazed with far more bullets. Seriously, one of them had a chest that looked like a checkerboard, because he got peppered by so many bullets and shotgun pellets. Compared to that, 50 getting shot nine different times isn’t unbelievable. Miraculous, yes, (he must’ve got shot down by the worst hitman on earth, since none of the nine shots hit anywhere fatal) but not impossible.
    I’m not surprised hearing this. In this age of reality TV, fabrication is the rule of thumb. No wonder, because without them, most of our lives besides some brief stories aren’t all that interesting. Even if it’s that dynamic, I don’t think the majority of us would brag too much about it.

  • Allie

    I have to admit – I’m a little disappointed with EW for not getting this information before TSG. I know it’s not EW’s schtick to root around for scoops, but they are an entertainment news magazine. Before they run “back stories” as facts, they should do a wee bit of investigating. As it stands, they seem like shills for the biz.

  • Dom

    Honestly, I would excuse Akon for this. I think this relates to the pressure that is put on baseball players. The way that some take steroids (whether or not it is from public/private pressure). It seems like it could be psychological as far as the pressure from the media or fans go. If some players don’t take steroids, their behind-the-scenes lives could be changed; if Akon didn’t have a backstory, his record deals and popularity/demand could go down. But hey, that’s just what I think.

  • Soul

    Whtevr he sayz is his personal business.itz jst dat I luv his(Akon)voice

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