The Smoking Gun Web site exposed Akon earlier this year, unearthing police documents showing he's greatly exaggerated his arrest record and incarceration time. And so on his third album, Freedom, he downgrades himself from "Konvicted" (his last CD's title) to "Troublemaker." Even this description refers more to his tendencies to steal women's hearts than their cars, however, and the album's title track is not so much about release from prison as existential cleansing. (Sonically, it's quite similar to George Michael's "Freedom '90," although one assumes Akon had different thoughts in his head while he recorded it.) Elsewhere, Freedom is mostly a snoozefest, with Akon riffing on love and sex on downbeat saccharine club ballads like "Beautiful," "Keep You Much Longer" and "Be With You." The only signs of life are the Wyclef Jean-assisted "Sunny Day" and the album's best track, "I'm So Paid." The latter sees Akon briefly returning to thug mode — or driving over the speed limit while carrying an unlicensed firearm, anyway. (Close enough.) It's enough to make one nostalgic for his previous, bogus persona. Sure, Akon's not a gangster. Neither is Robert De Niro, but everyone likes it when he plays one.
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