An R&B singer originally from Senegal, Akon first came to America when he was seven years old. The son of well-known African percussionist Mor Thiam, he was exposed to lots of music at a young age, learning multiple instruments as a child before getting into hip-hop. His appreciation for rap music is evident on his self-titled debut album, especially in the overall production. And, unlike most of today's R&B vocalists, Akon eschews the shirtless bravado and bedroom scenarios and instead deals with inner-city strife. This focus, as well as his plaintive voice, led him to collaborate with hip-hop royalty such as Young Jeezy ("Soul Survivor"), Styles P ("Locked Up") and Eminem ("Smack That"). And while his gritty subject matter appeals to the streets, his hooks are so sweet that they may leave listeners toothless. Akon's sophomore album, 2006's Konvicted, cemented his spot as one of urban music's most important singers. Two years later, after a mix tape presciently titled Black President, he released his third official studio album, Freedom, which found him breaking out in search of broader pop accessibility.