One of the privileged few who got to work closely with Michael Jackson in the last years of his life was Akon, who had recorded preliminary material with the singer for his next album. Still shaken over Jackson’s unexpected death Thursday night, Akon spoke to Billboard.com about his immediate reaction to the news, Jackson’s health, and what he’d like to see happen to their work in the studio.
Michael Jackson: King Of The Pop Charts
Billboard: What was your first thought when you heard the news yesterday?
Akon: I couldn’t believe it. Even now, I’m completely confused, because Michael is just one of the healthiest people that I know. He was pressuring me to stay healthy, like, “Akon eat right. What are you doing out there on the road? Are you eating? Are you exercising? Are you drinking a lot of water?” He felt like nothing could be accomplished in life if you’re not healthy.
Many people have said that they were concerned about his health. It sounds like that that’s something that you were not concerned about.
Absolutely not. I thought he was completely healthy from what I’ve seen, just a lot of people never got close enough to Mike to even know. It’s always speculation. It was never them actually knowing.
What did Michael Jackson mean to you, personally and professionally?
Personally, he was a mentor; he was like a big brother. He always kept me focused. If I had issues, he would console me through them. Like a lot of the controversial shit that I was going through, Mike was really the one that really taught me how to deal with them, because no one deals with controversy better than Mike. He’s been through it; he knows how to deal with it. He would say, “You’ve got to make sure you stay focused on the music. Don’t let it de-focus you from your creation.”
How did you meet and start working together?
He was working on a new album, and at the same time doing his re-release [of “Thriller”]. The connection was just instant. It felt like we’d known each other for years. I knew everything about Mike, and it was really surprising that he knew everything about me. The first three months I met him, his first gift to me was a $250,000 watch; it was all diamonds. That’s how giving he was. He just wanted everyone around him happy, you know? He was an incredible guy.
What did you end up recording together?
We were working on a lot of ideas. A lot of the songs that were done were all ideas; they weren’t really complete songs. He was the kind of person that wanted to lay all the ideas down [first].
He had put everything aside just so he could focus on this tour over at the O2 in Europe. That was his main priority, and he was so excited about it. He was like, “Man. We sold this out in a minute. My fans are still there. They still love me. They’re alive.” That motivated him more than anything. The main reason he had even accepted these dates was because he wanted his kids to see his legacy — they never got to see Dad up close and personal, doing it. They’ve seen videotapes and concert footage. He was trying to create the most incredible show so his kids could witness it.
When were you last in the studio with him?
It’s been almost a year since we’ve been in the studio, ’cause shortly after the re-release of “Thriller,” he had to go out and promote it, and then I was on the road. Every time he was in L.A. or Vegas, I probably stopped off for two hour, three hour visits, hung out with him and the kids…then I would go back out on the road or to the studio, but he would always keep me updated on what was going on.
Would you want any of the material you laid down with him to see the light of day?
Right now they’re pretty much all ideas, but if there is anything to be done to them, of course I would let the family make all those decisions. I think it’s their right to figure out how they want his music distributed or finish these records before we move on with it. I wouldn’t ever take it upon myself to try to release any of his music without working with the family.
When was the last time you talked to him?
We probably talked about three months ago, before I went on this European run. The last we spoke he was in L.A. working on and rehearsing for the tour, and I was actually going to go check out a couple of those rehearsals, see where he was at. He was eating healthy, working out, getting ready for this show.
How would you like people to remember Michael Jackson?
I really want people to remember Mike as the entertainer, the creator. He was really the totem pole of what success was in the industry. When it comes to breaking records and selling records and creating concepts and ideas and high-performance concerts and shows, he set the standard for it. Not only that but he was an incredible father, a great dad. He treated his kids like kings and queens. He was a philanthropist, gave millions and millions of dollars to charity, always wanted to find new ways to change the world. He was really funny, like just an ordinary, all out great guy. I wish the world could have seen him outside of the entertainment, just seen Mike the person.