There’s no question that Akon pretty much has the R&B/hip hop game on lock. Between his production efforts and frequent guest appearances, it’s hard to go half an hour on any radio station playing an urban or Top 40 format and not hear something he’s touched. He’s been successful with his own songs too, going platinum both of his first two times out. With lead single “Right Now (Na Na Na)” pretty much inescapable, there’s every reason to expect that his new album, Freedom, would continue his winning streak.
Alas, a good chunk of Akon’s third album seems to ignore Eminem’s old warning that “nobody listens to techno.” While they’re not electronica, many of the 13 tracks – co-produced by the artist himself – share a similar sound that conjures images of a strobe-lit dance floor a lot more easily than it does the corner. For an artist who’s found success balancing the club and the street, jettisoning half of the formula doesn’t seem to work.
Even some hot guest stars don’t do much to break up the monotony. Colby O’Donis and Kardinal Offishall can’t lift “Beautiful” to the level of the songs that Akon did for each of them, and Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne seem a little out of place on the breezy “I’m So Paid.”
Where Akon goes, T-Pain is sure to follow, and mentor and protégé team up on both vocals and production on “Holla Holla.” The result sounds good thanks to its mellow guitar loop, but the girl-chasing lyrics border on inane. It’s a shame that a duet with Michael Jackson titled “Hold My Hand” got scratched from the final track list, as that would have at least given the music world something to talk about.
Just when everything appears lost, Akon switches gears toward the end of Freedom and gives listeners something with a little more depth. On “Birthmark,” the singer paints a picture of regret over a lost relationship that is easily relatable. And the uplifting title track provides some autobiographical details – which Akon has previously left intentionally vague – to close out the album on a high note.
The big disappointment of Freedom isn’t that it isn’t listenable, because it is. It’s just that most of it is easily forgettable as well, with songs that disappear from your head as soon as they’re done. Fortunately for Akon, he can rest secure that more songs he’s worked on are probably coming along in a few minutes to take their place. – Nick Tylwalk
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