Putting a whiny singer and a growling rapper on the same track has long made for a staid, predictable duet, but singer Akon has managed to freshen up the weary world of R&B/hip-hop collaborations. The Senegal-born, New Jersey-bred artist, who used rapper Styles P on the remix of his own jailhouse blues hit "Locked Up" and guests on the Young Jeezy smash "Soul Survivor," always turns in a brilliant hip-hop cameo. Unlike many of his peers, his lyrics are more concerned with street life than sex, and his quirky, high-pitched voice sounds like one of those distorted, speeded-up soul music samples that rap producers seem so enamored of these days.
During his concert at Love on Friday night, Akon, who appeared with Raheem DeVaughn, further separated himself from the average crooner with material from his 2004 debut album, "Trouble." On the evocative "Ghetto," Akon explored the life of an ex-offender with lines such as "Just got up out the bing doin' state time, teeth marks on my back from the canine, dark memories of when there was no sunshine." Talk of dealing with crooked cops and seeing innocent bystanders killed hardened the springy dancehall rhythm of his 2004 single "Gunshot."
But in between talking about life on the corner, Akon snuck in a few concessions to the club crowd. He helped Tallahassee, Fla.'s T-Pain (who recently signed to Akon's Konvict Muzik) perform his single "I'm Sprung," sang the Bobby Vinton-sampled "Lonely," and invited a bevy of beauties to join him onstage for the strip club-inspired "Bananza (Belly Dancer)."
-- Sarah Godfrey