NEW YORK - Before he had a hit single, sang a hook on a grimy rap song or wrote hits for some of music's biggest performers, Akon was living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
Instead of being an internationally known singer, Akon was what he likes to call a "hood celebrity" - a small-time hustler enjoying success and fame from the street life in Newark and Jersey City, N.J.
This life repeatedly landed Akon behind bars, and it was a life he was reluctant to give it up.
"I wasn't realizing that same attention, that same cash flow, that same surroundings like that whole hype around it could be done in a legitimate way, too," said Akon, who this week released his sophomore album, Konvicted. "You could be a hood celebrity for the rest if your life, just never leave the hood, always be popular - everybody love you."
It wasn't until he had an extended stint in the penitentiary that Akon explored the talents that could make him money legally. In some ways, it wasn't that much of a stretch; his father is a jazz percussionist, and Akon had been writing songs for his own amusement for years.
"At that time, music wasn't an option. I never even thought about music as a career," he said. "I had a lot of people that was around me, too, just straight street, gangsters, people that really looked (at) R&B like it was soft. So, even though I did those kind of records, they would never hear them."
Now everyone is hearing what Akon has to say - and few would ever describe the singer, writer and songwriter as soft. Though he had a hit with the Bobby Vinton cover Lonely, he's better known for conveying what could be called gangsta angst.
This year, he's worked with another hard-core rapper, Rick Ross, and the first smash from Akon's album is the sexually charged Smack That with none other than Eminem, while I Wanna Love You - the clean version of another naughty song - features Snoop Dogg.
I Wanna Love You is No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts.
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