At the height of his popularity, singer Akon seemed like one of those long-running cases of the sniffles: always there (out on the floor), vaguely at the bottom of your conscience, vaguely but not terribly annoying… And then one day, gone, an absence you don’t even realize until later until you’re all, “Wow, actually I DO feel better.”
But for Akon that absence has spanned a whopping eight years, his last proper album being 2008’s Freedom. (That’s the one that spawned the maddeningly ever-present and earworm-y “Right Now (Na Na Na).” But to beat this metaphor to death some more, grab a pack of Kleenex because the Akon virus is back, and it may stick around for a while.
This morning, Billboard reported that dude is coming out with a concept album—and in not one, not two, but five parts.
So subject-verb agreement isn’t his strong suit. But there are good(-ish) news: He’s released five new tracks to stream already, and for at least 80 percent of the time, he’s left behind the sense-bludgeoning version of dance music he seemed to love crooning over on David Guetta’s 2009 hit “Sexy Bitch.” The other 20 percent of the time, though, yeah, that’s one of the five albums—the concept, it appears, partially means that each of the releases will explore one of Akon’s stylistic sides.
But wait. Yes, you have questions. So do we. Like, what even has Akon been doing since the great economic recession? Think about it: There are present-day teens who might not even remember his recent-past radio reign.
So here, in a nutshell, is what our favorite controversially dancing artist has been up to over the last eight years:
Playing bit parts in movies
In 2012 he appeared in the Nigerian production Black November, playing a kidnapper. Last year, he starred alongside U.S. stars like Hayden Christensen in American Heist, which is due for a theatrical release here this month. In that one, he plays a criminal too, but, hey, if you shout out your convict past all the time, typecasting might happen.
Singing on Bollywood soundtracks
Behold “Chammak Challo,” Akon’s first collab with Indian artists, part of the soundtrack for the 2011 superhero movie Ra.One.
Being a tastemaker (kind of late)
Guess who got on the K-pop train? Yep, Akon—check out this tweet where he name-checked CL’s “The Baddest Female.” (It wasn’t a super-new discovery, though; at that point, CL’s group, 2NE1, was already rotating heavily in this country via this Microsoft commercial.)
We can clown Akon for not releasing music, but money is in touring (and literally anything besides releasing music) anyways. And he’s still got enough recognizable hits to perform as a serviceable opener, which he did for Rihanna in 2009 and Usher in 2011.
Guesting on other people’s songs
As Billboard pointed out, Akon stayed particularly busy in 2014 by dropping cameos—surely a smart act to prime the market again. Here’s one he did with Chris Brown, which is surely a wise PR pairing.
Jumping on the Lady Gaga dis train
Gaga would have found her way to the pop world without his help, but for a while there, Akon loved to take credit for helping to discover Lady Gaga and create her success through his collaborations. But then, in an interview in 2014, he jumped on the Gaga dis train during a Sirius XM interview with Sway:
“When I got it to the peak of where I felt it couldn't go nowhere—and there was nowhere left to go but down—I cashed out. In other words, I sold my share and got out before it was too late."
Well, that was rude, considering that early 2014 didn’t find Akon at the height of relevance either. Let’s hope his friends and frenemies are nicer to him as he tries to climb his way back to the top.
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.