Akon: Playing with Konviction

Saturday was a big night in Vancouver for hip hop fans with a quadruple threat of Akon, Wyclef Jean, Sean Paul and Kardinal Offishall teaming up at GM Place.

The artist formerly known as Aliaune Damala Badara Thiam. (Carmine Marinelli photo)

First up at bat was Kardinal Offishall, the tour’s token Canadian, who was charged with the task of having to warm up the crowd for the warm-up act’s warm-up act. But Toronto’s “hip hop ambassador” stepped up easily, getting the concert’s early arrivals to make some noise for old favourites like “Breakdown” and “Heads Up” along with teasers from his upcoming album Not 4 Sale, his first release on Akon’s new Konvict Music label.

Sean Paul, Offishall’s Jamaican partner in rhyme on the 2000 dancehall hit “Money Jane,” was up next and hit the stage running with a string of sun-splashed crowd-pleasers. The Grammy-winning reggae man, accompanied by a bevy of big-bootied backup dancers, mixed things up with high energy tracks (“Break It Off,” “Like Glue”) and mellower fare like “I’m Still In Love With You” before closing with his big hits “Get Busy” and “Temperature.”

There was no question of the crowd being ready or not for former Fugees frontman Wyclef Jean, who made the curious decision to arrive on stage wearing a Mexican wrestling luchador mask. Clearly having done his homework, he soon slipped off his cape to reveal a Luongo jersey, which went over with the local crowd about as well as you’d expect. But the Bobby Lou look didn’t last long either as the Haitian-born hip hop trailblazer was soon stripping down and working up a sweat cranking out old solo hits (“Gone Till November,” “No Woman No Cry”) and Fugees fare (“Ready Or Not”) along with newer material like his monster hit “Hips Don’t Lie” with Shakira.

The headliner himself arrived after the screening of a short film about how he was denied entry to Canada due to his extensive criminal record. En route back to the U.S., he and his crew were able to hijack the plane, thus enabling him to parachute down for his landing on-stage. Akon likes to make a big deal about his lengthy rap sheet and years locked in the hoosegow. The Senegalese-born star first came to fame with the 2004 single “Locked Up” and hasn’t looked back since. The inconvenient truth is Akon is really more a con artist than ex-con; he actually only spent three months in a small county jail over a stolen BMW before charges were dropped.

But who really cares anyway? The ubiquitous crooner is the only artist to twice hold both the number one and two spots on the Billboard charts at the same time. He first pulled off this nifty feat in 2006 with “I Want To Love You” and “Smack That,” the Grammy-nominated duet with Eminem, and again last year with “Don’t Matter” and “The Sweet Escape” with Gwen Stefani.

The man also knows how to work an arena, spending much of his set in the middle of his adoring throngs. Not to mention over the set hanging suspended from a harness in an aerial performance that probably didn’t have the Cirque du Soleil crew next door taking notes but sure looked like fun. The show was the last leg of their Canadian tour and was also streamed live online. The big challenge of the night was to see if the Vancouver crowd could cheer louder than the one in Toronto, which was eventually (surprise, surprise) accomplished near the end of the show. But then again we only have a self-professed con’s word for it.

(This story was first published July 20, 2008. © Copyright (c) 24 Hours Vancouver)

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