Akon is the performing name of Senegalese-American singer Aliaune Thiam, whose 2004 debut album, Trouble
, spawned the hit singles "Locked Up" and "Lonely." The son of jazz percussionist Mor Thiam, Akon spent his childhood in the U.S. and Senegal (Dakar), settling in New Jersey when he was a teenager. Out of high school, Akon turned to crime and was jailed for his part in a car theft ring. After his release he focused on making his own demo tapes and eventually landed a recording contract. His distinctive smooth and reedy voice was backed by production skills that made him a sought-after collaborator, and by the time of his second release, 2006's Konvicted
, he had hits lined up with top stars, including Eminem
("Smack That"), Gwen Stefani
("The Sweet Escape") and Snoop Dogg
("I Wanna Love You"). He released his third album, Freedom
, in 2009.