Your third album Freedom is out and doing pretty well so far. What direction did you want to take Freedom in?
Well, with this album I really wanted to take that international club feel. I wanted to give people a journey, the journey that I get when I’m moving around. That was the concept and that’s why I took it to a whole ‘nother level. It has that club vibe and still I kept that signature Konvict 808-clap that’s more up-tempo just to kind of give everybody the feel that we didn’t stray away from the traditional Konvict sound that we’re known for.
What does the title “Freedom” mean to you?
Oh, for me, “freedom” means happiness. I’m in a state of my life now where I couldn’t be any happier. Looking back 10 years ago, I never thought I would be in this position. It just was incredible. Now I’m in a situation where freedom is just so worldly on a musical and international level and it’s me having the freedom to express and to create and having freedom outside of those bars, it’s just an incredible feeling, even knowing that I have the opportunities now that I never thought I would have had before.
Looking back to when you did “Locked Up” with Styles P, people were starting to get into you but did you ever think that you would have the following that you would today?
Nah. Absolutely not! At that time when I was doing “Locked Up,” I was just in a state of survival. I was hoping that it would take me up out of this ghetto and put me in a position where I could do the things that I wanted to do. Not everybody has that same luck. You could be the best person in the world but the balls just don’t fall on your side. I’ve seen many artists with good hearts and a lot of talent and they’ve been in the game for 15 years and they haven’t accomplished what I’ve accomplished in two albums. It all depends on you being blessed at the end of the day.
What else has allowed you to succeed and reach your level of success where some artists that have been in the game for 15 years haven’t gotten close to that level yet?
Well, somewhere along the line I started to realize what people wanted .They wanted to experience me. They wanted to get to know the artist. They wanted to see and buy into the artist themselves and I know there’s a lot of artists who make the mistake of trying to make the music for the people but there are so many people out there that you can start to lose track of what you’re doing and who you’re making music for. You always gotta do what you do and what reflects you and what identifies you and people will buy into who you are. I think the moment you step away from who you are and try to do something different, you’re in a very dangerous state. You have to be very careful with how you do that. You have to stay true to yourself and what you do and just hope that people buy into that.
How do you balance making club songs like “Beautiful” while making deeper songs like “Birthmark”?
Well, I just make music for the people that support me. I put a variety of songs on the album that signifies different genres of all parts of the world and I just put it out and just hope that someone can find the record on there that they can relate to and that they can like. I don’t really guess as to what’s going to be more popular. I just put out records that I feel like there will be something in it that can affect everybody because it affected me. I know there will be something that will affect somebody and I put out so many records that people can choose what records mean the most to them and what they want to put on repeat. It’s really up to the choice of the consumer.
When MCs make hip-hop albums, they’re usually thinking about how their music will do in the domestic market. How important is the international market to you?
Oh, it’s very important because you gotta think, the music travels faster than man. Music goes to places you will never see in your lifetime. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of those places but I always look at music as having a global voice. I never looked at music as anything outside of a sound wave that can make it to space if you let it. You have to make music that can identify with anyone on the globe because you really don’t know where it’s going to land and they have to be able to relate to it. I’ve always been global when I make music.
Looking at your entire fanbase, what percentage of fans do you think are coming from outside of the U.S?
Oh, man, judging from the sales of my last two albums, a good 60% of my fans are coming from overseas. A good 60-65% of my fans are coming from overseas. And knowing that you can tour anywhere, that’s the greatest feeling in the world – knowing that you can jump outside of the U.S. and stay busy for a year and a half, just knowing that you have things lined up that you can depend on, that’s a beautiful thing when you got support from all over the world. In the States you know that the fans will only last for 15 minutes. The fans overseas will cherish the music a lot longer, sometimes even for a lifetime. The fanbase over there can stay loyal. You need to get the credibility here and once you get the credibility you use that to go to other markets and other regions and perform.
You produce and write your own records. How important is that in today’s industry?
That’s important to an extent. As a producer it’s great for me because I help other people bring out what they’re looking for. They know what they want top bring out but they don’t have the skills to do that. A lot of the times the only person who knows how to express it better than anybody is the artist that’s creating the song and I just happened to be a producer that can create my own ideas and express myself to the point where it’s easier for the crowd to adapt and maintain and relate to it because the way the artists relate it back is the same way I had it in my head. I can naturally translate it into music in the same exact way that I think it so they can share that exact same experience.
Do you think the day will come when you don’t need a label?
Oh, absolutely! I think that time is definitely going to come eventually but I’m not rushing into it. I think the fact that the label is there makes it easier and I have a partner in it. I think I’m going to always go that route. I don’t want to do it all myself because that’s too much work on myself and when you have too much work that kind of stagnates you from accomplishing more because now you have so much more responsibilities that you don’t have time to do. I want to always have the time I need.
Freedom came out on a memory card from Sandisk. Do you think that can have as much impact on CDs the way CDs impacted cassettes and vinyl?
I think that because it’s a transition it is probably going to start slow but as soon as the world catches up on the technology side, it’s going to be a huge impact later. And I’m thinking more to the future. I’m thinking more for the future on that.
How did the Sandisk deal come about?
Actually we were looking to do something with Sandisk anyway. It just happened that they were working with something on that level and they brought it to our attention and they incorporated us into it and I felt like that was the new wave of the future and I definitely wanted to be a part of it while it’s early because that’s the best way to get started. You have to understand it to believe in it.
If people are getting their music on memory cards in the future, will you still be able to bump your music in the Lambo?
Oh, absolutely! My Lambo is equipped for the future. I got an iPod player in there. I grab my one little adapter and put it into my iPod player. Even if I had to transfer it over from my computer and put it in my iPod, I could do that in my car. You know what I mean? I’ll always put out things for the future and be one step ahead. And I can play my whole album from my cell phone with my Slot Music card and I have the adapter that goes out form my cell phone into my car stereo. So either way I’ll be able to play my album.
You also partnered with Maranello Watches. Does that mean you’re switching from Lambos to Ferraris?
It all depends. I have a Ferrari now. I had a Ferrari actually before I had the Lambo. It just so happens that I fell in love with the Lambo and the looks and the style and the doors popping up and all of that and I think that now that me and Marinello is working on some things and Ferrari happens to be a part of it, I might just design a car to my liking on the Ferrari side. I’ve always liked Ferraris, it just happened that Lambos is what I was into at the time.
How would the Akon Ferrari come out?
Oh, man, I wouldn’t even be able to tell you but you gotta believe that it would be ridiculous.
Kardinal Offishall had been grinding for over a decade before he linked up with you. What was he missing before he linked up with you?
I think all Kardi was missing was the record. He always had the grind and the fanbase. He just needed the record to take him to the next level. His records were always so hardcore that only his fanbase could relate to it. He needed a record to expose him to other markets and other fanbases and I think that’s what the “Beautiful” record did for him.
A lot of artists had the talent and grind. Did you see anything special in Kardinal that made you want to work with him?
It was the grind. I love people with the work ethic. You can’t lose with that kind of work ethic. Kardi was the kind of guy where everywhere I saw him he was working. I knew if he had the right record it could be big.
Will we ever hear a song in Wolof [Senegalese language] from you?
Definitely. You're definitely going to hear that later in the future.
Do you stay up to date with current events in Senegal?
Oh, man, I try to pay attention as much as possible with what’s happening. People call me and let me know what’s going on. I try to pay attention.
How much does what you went through before you started making money in music affect what you do with your Konfidence Foundation?
Oh, man, that plays a big role. I think what I went through was an advantage for me because I was exposed to American and African culture and I can mix the two of them together and even when I made it to a point of success, I knew what to do and I felt like I was in a position to pull the right people in place to make that happen so I started the Konfidence Foundation to start with the kids and the teachers because they have to teach the kids growing up and I think the kids have a huge responsibility ahead of them because they have to be the ones to lead this country. We have to rebuild the schools and the hospitals to create a better situation for them to carry out this huge responsibility.
Switching gears, you’ve been the go-to singer for rappers when they need a hook. How involved do you get in the writing process when you’re working with rappers?
It all depends on who it is. I think whoever it is, it always started with a basic conversation. I figure out where the song is going or the conversation itself may trigger the actual song. It was always about getting them what they needed while crossing over without them losing their street credibility.
How do you decide what you jump on and what you leave alone so you don’t get overexposed but you keep your name out there?
I have never really believed in overexposure. I always felt that the only ones that were overexposed were the people who were not making the quality music or hit records. I don’t think you can ever be overexposed when you’re making hit records. But I always try to find new acts that I believe in that I believe are going to be around for a long time and are going to be in the game for a minute because people want that.
Are too many people using Auto Tune today?
Oh, no, not at all. I look at it like it’s a compliment. It’s something that we started and now the whole world has gravitated to it. It’s like they’re saying we inspired what they’re doing now. I look at it like it’s a compliment. I’m glad that people were inspired by it enough to use it themselves.
If artists run Auto Tune into the ground does that mean you and T-Pain are coming with a new trend?
Well, actually I’ve already switched up already. I’m in Europe right now, musically. I done took them all to Europe and started doing European-club-type records. I just want to see how many people are going to follow us in that direction.
How’s your Konvict clothing line doing?
We just launched it. It will be in stores in January. I’m very excited for that. The demand for that was crazy.
Where should fans and critics put Freedom on their year-end lists of best albums of 2008?
I mean, that’ll be a question you would probably have to ask them. Me, personally, I always felt like all of my projects were good and better than the project before that. Me, I feel great about that. Wherever they put it, I’m satisfied. Every compliment is a great thing for me to embellish on and every critic has something that I can learn from. I’m always welcome to all of that.