NEW MUSIC: Akon, "Konvicted"

Akon

“Konvicted”

(SRC/Universal Motown)

3.5 Stars



Akon is sick of just about everything.

He’s sick of violence, his career, America, his voice, his whining, himself. By the end of his new album “Konvicted,” you might be sick of Akon. But that doesn’t mean you won’t like him.

The album’s first two singles, “I Wanna Love You” and “Smack That,” are certified hits. But hearing these songs in context changes their complexion; the atmosphere of “Konvicted” is de-pressed, passive, maybe even a little despairing. Whether it’s intentional or not, Akon—who’s been providing hooks for big-name rappers with a Nate Dogg-like frequency—sounds like he’s sick of playing the party guy.

He just doesn’t quite know what else to do.

Not that he isn’t a great party guy or anything. The album’s opening track, “Shakedown,” has a simple, stomping, horn-based beat (think Scott Storch in the third grade) that leaves plenty of space for Akon’s ultra-smooth tenor to fill. He does an exciting job until the gunshot repeating in the background starts shoving its way forward, breaking up the fun.

“Blown Away” continues to favor toughness over fun. “If you ain’t man enough to make shit clear / guaranteed you’ll get blown away,” Akon sings, but then he steps back from his tough realism: “Tryin’ to hold on a couple more years / tryin’ not to get blown away.” What starts out as steely-eyed fatalism turns into helpless desperation, a sentiment that gets echoed later on “Gangsta Bop.”

Singing over a laid-back parody of every G-Unit beat, Akon starts out with a broken flow, giving the half line “you die quicker” room to sink in before he quietly says “Paramedics drive back slow to this hospital / You get pronounced dead before the hospital.”

Whether they’re flamboyantly immoral or wanting redemption, Akon’s characters always find themselves failing.

Akon sings from inside a jail cell on “Tired of Runnin’,” which is probably his best expression of futility. The “thug who wants to make good” is a mantle that many rappers have been only too eager to take up, but Akon knows that if you’ve already been caught, it’s too late.

Some of the beats on “Konvicted” are horribly saccharine (“Never Took the Time” is unlis-tenable), but Akon’s voice, which seems intentionally dispassionate throughout the album, signals a frustration that he can’t quite put on record.

He may be frustrated with his own musical limitations. He never manages to transcend them, but the album’s strength is the force of his frustration. His weakest tracks are more disappointing than infuriating.

But in the center of the album, Akon stops the self-loathing for a moment to romanticize his homeland of Senegal on “Mama Africa.” The equally hopeful “Don’t Matter” does the same thing. Akon doesn’t so much leave his problems behind as successfully pretend that they don’t exist.

Akon, who brings Eminem out of semi-retirement on “Smack That,” has publicly credited him-self with getting Slim Shady excited about music again. “Konvicted” suggests that Eminem should stay away while he still can—this hip-hop stuff is exhausting.

—Reviewer Richard S. Beck can be reached at rbeck@fas.harvard.edu.