In an exclusive interview, rapper-turned-philanthropist Akon talks to Becky Anderson about his experiences growing up between Senegal and the U.S. and why he is now focusing on charity work.
As a child, Akon was born in the U.S. but spent his early years in Senegal before returning to the States at 12 years old. It was when he came back to the U.S. that he was bullied by his classmates because he was African. Akon later found himself involved with crime before becoming a rapper; Akon describes this time: “I was a criminal, I was rotten, stealing cars and all kinds of crazy stuff.”
However, after a successful career in the music industry, Akon has shifted his focus to charity work. He has been working with Beacon of Hope, a charity which helps refugees through light and literacy, and has founded his own organisation, Akon Lighting Africa, which seeks to provide Africans with increased access to electricity.
As for a new album? Akon tells Anderson is releasing a new album “this year. Hands down this is coming out.”
Akon on being bullied in school:
“When I was a kid growing up, I would get made fun of all the time in school because I was African. I had nappy hair and extra dark skin. Back then, dark skin wasn’t really in style. The light skin curly haired guys took all the girls… I was almost ashamed of being African.”
Akon on defining his identity:
“The beautiful part about being exposed to different cultures, and being part of the culture itself, is it becomes you. I never really looked at it as if I was African or American, I feel like a human, but I know the root stems more from Africa because Africa feels more genuine.”
Akon on immigration:
“Embrace the world as it is. Don’t try to create yesterday for tomorrow’s future.”
Akon on being asked whether he would ever consider becoming a politician:
“I don’t see myself actually going into politics, but then I never saw myself being this either… I don’t rule anything out in the world. Today, I just go and hopefully God will follow me or guide my path where it leads.”
Akon on why he wants to give back:
“I always felt like when God puts you in a position to have so many blessings, he’s not just passing you blessings for you to enjoy. He is passing you blessings for you to pass it onto others.”
Akon on why ‘Akon Lighting Africa’ is for profit:
“I don’t think non-profits work. One thing about people, when they’re in a position where they’re given something, they get comfortable… that just stagnates us, it does not empower us. There’s no motivation to go out and want to do anything bigger or expand beyond what we are, we will just be content with what is.”