'Smack' Attack

Waiting at New York's JFK Airport to hop a plane to the United Kingdom, Akon would much rather be flying to Atlanta to spend a weekend in his own bed.

Waiting at New York's JFK Airport to hop a plane to the United Kingdom, Akon would much rather be flying to Atlanta to spend a weekend in his own bed. "I have never worked so hard or lost so much sleep," the Senegalese-born singer says, as his engaging laugh gets lost in the static of a flight announcement. "It sometimes seems like I have less freedom than I did when I was actually locked up."

But chilling at home won't happen anytime soon. The release date for the artist's sophomore set, "Konvicted" (SRC/Upfront/Konvict/Universal Motown) was advanced from Dec. 12 to Nov. 14 -- that's because the buzz factor has ratcheted up significantly thanks to the tight chart race between his dual singles, "Smack That" featuring Eminem and "I Wanna Love You" featuring Snoop Dogg.

For Akon, "Konvicted" picks up where 2004's "Trouble" left off. The latter was the first chapter in his redemption following a jail sentence for car theft. The new album finds the artist on the rebirth trail, but this time, more of his knack for fusing R&B/soul, hip-hop, pop, jazz and reggae is exposed.

"I want people to say, 'Here's a true artist, not someone pigeonholed into one genre,'" says Akon, the son of jazz percussionist Mor Thiam. Hence, club banger "Smack That" gives way to the live piano and violins lacing the ballad "Never Took the Time." Then there's funky jazz via the love song "I Can't Wait" before Akon's past rears up on the anti-gangsta "Tired of Runnin'." "So many people are banking on this situation happening," he says. "And I am too. I just don't want the hype to separate me from my goal: making music."