Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Yet Another Reason To Hate Vocoders.

Last week's epic Vocoder Anthology post broke the not-so-new musical phenomenon down to it's very last compound. Among the many modern-day practitioners of this artform is R&B Singer[1] and producer Akon. For those of you not familiar with Akon, a good percentage of his tunes revolve around his ex-convict back story. Apparently this guy spent 4 1/2 years in prison for running a Gone In Sixty Seconds type of car-thieving criminal enterprise. Or at least that's the story Vibe, XXL, Rolling Stone, etc. have been running for years.

Turns out, Akon's street cred ain't all it's hyped up to be.

A recent investigative report by The Smoking Gun[2] revealed that not only had Akon not been at the helm of a multimillion dollar criminal enterprise, but he also hadn't done 4 1/2 years in prison either. Quite the contrary, it turns out this moron only did a few months for getting caught in a stolen car.
In the hip-hop world, a performer's street cred can often be gauged by the number of entries on their rap sheet, the time they have spent behind bars, or the gritty details of their illicit escapades. By any of those metrics, the chart-topping R&B singer Akon appears to have compiled an exemplary outlaw resume, one brimming with scrapes from a hard knock life.

As recounted in scores of interviews since his first album, the platinum-selling "Trouble," debuted in 2004, Akon was incarcerated for a total of four-and-a-half years, including a long stretch for his role as the "ringleader of a notorious car theft operation." Akon's gang specialized in boosting Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Mercedeses, he owned four chop shops catering to "celebrities and drug dealers," and he frequently escaped from cops in high-speed pursuits. His criminal empire collapsed, though, after underlings--who "felt like they deserved more than they were getting"--cut deals and ratted him out to law enforcement. In fact, the singer not only named his company Konvict Music, but he settled on "Konvicted" for the title of his second album, which sold nearly three million copies last year.

As it turns out, however, "Kontrived" might have been a more accurate choice.

While the performer's rap sheet does include a half-dozen arrests, Akon has only been convicted of one felony, for gun possession. That 1998 New Jersey case ended with a guilty plea, for which the singer was sentenced to three years probation. Another 1998 bust, this one in suburban Atlanta, has been seized upon by Akon and transformed into the big case that purportedly sent him to prison (thanks to his snitching cohorts) for three fight-filled years. In reality, Akon was arrested for possession of a single stolen BMW and held in the DeKalb County jail for several months before prosecutors dropped all charges against him.

There was no conviction. There was no prison term between 1999 and 2002. And he was never "facing 75 years," as the singer claimed in one videotaped interview.
So, you have yet another rapper more or less trumping up his criminal record in the name of "street cred". Those of us alive in the 90's might remember gangsta raptress BOSS, a hardcore female signed to Eazy-E's Ruthless Records. She was more or less a female version of Ice Cube, but some similar investigative reporting revealed that not only wasn't she a gangster, but she was a product of a suburban middle class upbringing a private schooling who simply cooked up a false background because she knew it could be profitable. Needless to say, her career was pretty much toast immediately. I'm sure she's got a degree to fall back on.

That said, I wonder what the longterm effect on Akon's career will be. While he doesn't necessarily sing "thug anthems" (I has done songs with Gwen Stefani after all), his whole persona is built on a back story that has since been revealed to be mostly fabricated. Does this mean an immediate debit to his street cred? Will his career suffer? Does this mean the hopeful end of the Vocoder Revolution?

Only time will tell, but I guess the fundamental issue here is why artists continue to make up stories to sell records. Wouldn't the people who like Akon (assuming these folks actually exist) like him just as much if he were just a regular guy with a weapons charge, not some imaginary Nicholas Cage? I don't have the answer, maybe you do.

Question: Do you think Akon's fabricated bio will ruin his career? Why does a quasi-singer even need street cred in the first place?

Akon's Con Job [The Smoking Gun]

[1] I guess you'd call it singing. Not really sure.

[2] Uhhh, shouldn't hip-hop publications like The Source and XXL be doing this sorta investigation? I know they're largely funded by these same act's record companies advertisements, but still.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.