The titles of his albums tell a story: First, Akon was in Trouble, then he was Konvicted. Now, with his current album, the hip-hop star is enjoying Freedom.
The Senegal-born singer sits down with PEOPLE in an exclusive interview to talk about his recent collaboration with Michael Jackson, working with New Kids on the Block and his thoughts about President-elect Barack Obama.
You did some work with Michael Jackson earlier in the year with 25th Anniversary of Thriller. How did you riff off each other musically?
Akon: The collaboration was incredible. From the first moment we actually met each other face-to-face it seemed like we had know each other for years. I was always a big fan, I knew everything about him. It was just astonishing to me that he knew a lot about me, and he was a fan of me as well. We clicked instantly.
What surprised you the most about him?
Akon: How humble and how smart he was. Sometimes you get a certain perception from how the media portrays him, but [working with him] was completely opposite. An artist of that caliber and as big as he is, you would think he would have certain qualities that you probably wouldn’t like, such as being very arrogant or stuck up. With him, it was like he had never put out a record before – he still had that hunger.
You also did some work with New Kids on the Block. What was that like?
Akon: Those guys were the best. I met Donnie, and he let me be a part of this project. We did “Click Click” and “Put it on my Tab” and one other. That’s when you know if it’s in you: Regardless of how long it’s been since you made your last record, you go in the studio and start creating as if this is the first record. It’s always good to know that people still have that kind of passion for the music.
Were you a fan of them before?
Akon: Of course. But it’s amazing that you can go almost 20 years without putting out a record and still sell out arenas.
Spin reported that you, T-Pain, Nelly and Pharell united to form a supergroup. Is that true?
Akon: This is something that we wish we could do. If it happens, that’s great for the music industry because we’re trying to bring fun back. Whether it can happen realistically, without politics getting in the middle of it, is the question. If it were up to us, the artists, it would have been done already.
Outside of music, what else have you been pursuing?
Akon: Outside of music, I’ve been doing a lot of the label exec thing [at] Kon Live Distribution. The clothing line, Konvict Clothing, is urban streetwear. Then we have Aliaune, which is the more upscale corporate look. Then there’s the Konfidence Foundation where we’re giving back to Africa, creating a better environment for the children of Africa.
Which celebrity would make a good president and why?
Akon: Celebrity? Obama! He’s the biggest celebrity I know. He’s gonna make an incredible president.
Akon’s new album, Freedom, drops Dec. 2.