(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
But after his burgeoning international star appeal was tarnished by missteps, including a brush with the law, the singer is looking to distance himself from street life and make amends for his mistakes.
"At this stage of my life, I'm trying to step away from the whole convict aura," said Akon, who released his third CD, "Freedom," this week. "It's what made me become the man who I am today. I'm now trying to take everything that was so dark and shed light into it."
Akon, born in America to Senegalese parents and reared in both countries, became a successful R&B star with his platinum 2004 CD "Trouble." But he emerged as one of pop's bigger names the multiplatinum success of his 2006 CD "Konvicted," which produced smashes like "I Wanna Love You" featuring Snoop Dogg, "Smack That" with Eminem and "Don't Matter."
His distinctive sound, which includes his soft tenor, made him a sought-after producer and songwriter for top stars, including Gwen Stefani.
"He has his own sound, his own voice, his own way of talking about his own life that hardly anyone can copy," said Akon's platinum protege, T-Pain. "That's what makes him great."
But Akon's path to superstardom hit some roadblocks last year. He drew widespread criticism for his sexually charged dance onstage with a 14-year-old girl during a spring concert in Trinidad. He claims he didn't know the girl was underage and contends that sexual dancing is a part of West Indian culture.
The firestorm led Verizon to drop sponsorship from his tour with Gwen Stefani, for whom he wrote the hit "The Sweet Escape."
A few months later, Akon had an altercation with a 15-year-old boy at a concert in upstate New York, throwing the teen off the stage and into the audience after a bottle was thrown in the singer's direction. Another concertgoer said she suffered a concussion when the boy landed on her. Akon faces misdemeanor charges in that case.
Akon blamed the situation on an aggressive fan, calling it a case of a celebrity being treated "like some animal."
"It comes with the territory," he added.
Akon later apologized to his own family and fans for all his mistakes through his song, "Sorry, Blame It On Me."
Akon has also dealt with accusations he tried to shave years off his age and exaggerated his criminal rep (he did time in jail for car theft).
All the controversies have made Akon step away from gangsta tales in his songs and share more of a positive outlook of life. That's why he changed the title of album from "Acquitted" to "Freedom."
He also plans to stay out of trouble.
"They're looking to push my buttons and watch to see if I'll explode like every other convict would," says Akon. "But I'm not. I'm like Barack Obama -- real calm and relaxed. They're not going to trigger me into exploding no more."