Akon’s pants may or may not be on fire

The Smoking Gun, the crime-reporting internet site that has done oh so much damage to so many people, has just run a story based on an investigation they conducted into Akon’s alleged criminal past.

It’s an interesting technique, to manufacture a criminal past. It’s not unheard of to have artists like this try to glam up their past to give themselves a little more credibility. We’ve seen tons of rap artists in the past do the same thing. Just going to jail somehow guaranteed you a gold record.

But little Akon over here may have been fibbing about his criminal past. He has, several times, openly discussed how intense jail was for him, and how he was arrested for being the ringleader of a “notorious car theft operation” and how hip hop saved his life.

Apparently, like many convicts, Akon couldn’t find a regular job after getting out of prison. He used his music as a way to make some money and so far it’s actually worked. He may be terrible, but somehow he sold a lot of records.

While the performer’s rap sheet does include a half-dozen arrests, Akon has only been convicted of one felony, for gun possession. That 1998 New Jersey case ended with a guilty plea, for which the singer was sentenced to three years probation. Another 1998 bust, this one in suburban Atlanta, has been seized upon by Akon and transformed into the big case that purportedly sent him to prison (thanks to his snitching cohorts) for three fight-filled years. In reality, Akon was arrested for possession of a single stolen BMW and held in the DeKalb County jail for several months before prosecutors dropped all charges against him.

So there was no conviction. There was no prison term between 1999 and 2002. And he was never “facing 75 years,” as the singer claimed in one videotaped interview.

While the performer’s rap sheet does include a half-dozen arrests, Akon has only been convicted of one felony, for gun possession. That 1998 New Jersey case ended with a guilty plea, for which the singer was sentenced to three years probation. Another 1998 bust, this one in suburban Atlanta, has been seized upon by Akon and transformed into the big case that purportedly sent him to prison (thanks to his snitching cohorts) for three fight-filled years. In reality, Akon was arrested for possession of a single stolen BMW and held in the DeKalb County jail for several months before prosecutors dropped all charges against him.

So there was no conviction. There was no prison term between 1999 and 2002. And he was never “facing 75 years,” as the singer claimed in one videotaped interview.

Akon’s invented tales appear to be part of a cynical marketing plan, but one that has met with remarkable success. Few press interviews conclude without Akon being asked about his criminal exploits and his prison days. He obliges with canned and well-rehearsed claims, false as they may be, and compares his supposed nationwide operation to those depicted in the movies “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “New Jersey Drive.” And in interview after interview over the years, he always makes sure to point out the “notorious” nature of his theft ring (as if the adjective’s inclusion makes him sound even more felonious). Akon repeats the phrase “notorious car theft operation” so frequently it seems like he is reading it from a sheet of talking points.

I think one of the most interesting parts of this report is the fact that the music reporters really failed to check up on Akon’s claims. They let him get away with letting him up his claims from being a ringleader of a car theft ring, to owning chop shops, to literally carjacking people. The Smoking Gun website has a video showing various Akon interviews where he makes these claims on tape.

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