Konvict Muzik/Universal Motown
2 out of 5 stars
R&B superstar Akon has made a name for himself by attracting controversy. While he’s unarguably one of the most successful R&B stars of the day, with an astonishing 23 songs hitting the Billboard Hot 100 over the past few years of his young career, Akon has simultaneously been forced to dodge a series of rumors to his name. With whispers that the Senegalese-born, Jersey-raised performer has three wives, a widely circulated video showing him dry-humping a 15-year-old girl onstage and damning allegations that he fabricated extensive portions of his “thug” background, Akon revels in his infamy.
Despite these less-than-savory reports, Akon’s star power continues to grow. Rising to fame on the coattails of singles like the repetitive “Smack That” and the bluntly-titled “I Wanna Fuck You,” Akon has developed his art of singing catchy hooks over club beats. He’s a male Rihanna, albeit a bit skeezier and more likely to carry on about strippers than umbrellas. He continues this trajectory on his third studio release, Freedom, which picks up right where his previous albums left off. Rather than move toward unexplored R&B territories, the formalistic album rehashes the same played-out hooks that made Akon a star while tediously churning out top-10 pop beats.
Like previous albums, Freedom consists of a few R&B gems hidden between a muddled mix of filler tracks. The album opens with its first single and arguably best song, “Right Now (Na Na Na),” a bumpin’ ode to lost love that is curiously devoid of Akon’s usual crass lyrics. While the old Akon probably would have professed how badly he wanted to “tap” his ex, the newer version is much more restrained. He repeatedly laments “I wanna make up right now / Na na / Wish we never broke up / Na na,” spewing middle school-esque musings over sharp beats.
This newer, PG-rated version of Akon permeates the album, the artist’s first disc to be released without the past prerequisite parental advisory sticker. The club-beat infused “Beautiful” features no unfiltered allusions to the subject’s body; the song simply repeats — ad nauseam — how “beautiful” its subject is. This newer side of Akon may reflect a desire to attract a more mainstream audience, and as long as the new style doesn’t impact his ability to churn out club bangers, it’s unlikely to dissuade his more loyal fans.
The remainder of the album continues to swing between cheesy Friday night pick-up lines (“We Don’t Care”), slow R&B love songs (“Be With You”) and allusions to the “bad boy” lifestyle (“Troublemaker”). Amid these homogenous and formalistic tracks sits “I’m So Paid,” the album’s second single, featuring cameos by rappers Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne. It illustrates the trials and tribulations of being a hustler: Akon sings, “I get it in till the sun rise / Doin’ 90 in a 65 / Windows rolled down screamin’ out / Ay ay I’m so paid.” Though lacking in imaginative lyrics, the track has a more memorable beat than most of the other cuts, and the dual cameos from renowned rappers give the track a strikingly different feel from the rest of the album’s more vocal-based songs.
With Freedom, Akon proves he hasn’t lost his knack for churning out mass-produced pop songs with an R&B flavor. While a few of the radio-released singles stand above the rest, the album as a whole is a stale reproduction of easily digestible beats with little substance holding it together.