On the face of it Akon (real name Aliaune Thiam) could be just another 50 Cent type, a kid who struggled, had run-ins with the law and ended up making music to get out of the ghetto.
But there’s cultural depth to the man that generates that little bit more interesting. Having spent his first seven years in Senegal before moving to America, and having a musical legend of a father (Jazz musician Mor Thiam) has certainly helped contribute to the originality on Trouble.
When the album starts with Locked Up a track that has ‘smash hit’ rubber stamped all over it there’s a worrying flashback to Mario Winans‘ debut album which flattered to deceive despite the success of I Don’t Wanna Know. These fears are somewhat allayed though by Trouble Nobody.
At first there’s a slight uneasiness in the music, the beat is too upbeat and bashful to be classed as R&B yet the vocals and rapping is too smooth to be classed as hip-hop. The easiest thing then is to avoid trying to pigeon hole the track and accept it for the emotive piece of music it is. It is a standard story of misdemeanours and a plea for reform, but Trouble Nobody isn’t riddled with tired clich�s.
The Senegalese, or certainly African influence shines through in Bananza (Belly Dancer) which is reminiscent of Marcus Houston‘s Pop That Booty in flavour and delivery. Yet it has an edge that cannot really be explained, maybe it’s the fact Akon didn’t launch his career in a poor excuse of a teen-comedy show.
Gangsta may be fairly homogenous in terms of lyrical content with every other track ever written about Gangsters and has a beat that TI would feel at home rapping over. But with a closer listen it is essentially a skit on the lifestyle, the surprises flow in Ghetto with its strong moral overtones particularly with relation to AIDS.
Lonely will bring back comic memories for anyone who has seen Team America – World Police but for those of you have not, there’s an emotive song – but songs about ‘that special one’ have been done to death, and no matter how poignant they lack originality in my cynical eyes.
Fortunately it leads into the best song on Trouble, When The Time’s Right which has an early allusion to KRS One‘s Sound of the Police and develops into a head banging track with an infectious bass-heavy beat. Journey continues the strong back-end of the album, with another example of Akon’s production talents.
It’s almost fitting that the album officially ends with a remix of Locked Up featuring Styles P‘s aggressive rapping, the cyclical structure of the album makes it seem complete – and it is a break from the intro/outro some choose to use. As if that’s not enough the UK’s very own Taz gets an outing on the bonus Locked Up remix.
There is something almost tribal about Akon’s vocals which is what makes the album such an intense listen, but conversely Trouble is also very easy to listen. That contradictory blend could and should propel this debut effort to the top end of the charts.