Gig review: Akon at O2 Academy Leeds

Akon with Konvict Kartel.
Akon with Konvict Kartel.
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R&B rappers were a dime-a-dozen across the noughties; but it would be an arguably modest understatement to say few of them perfected the art of the guest spot like Senegalese superstar Akon.

With over 300 cameos across the pop spectrum to his name, the Missouri-born musician’s barrage of bangers has been firmly etched into the memories of millennials over the years. At Leeds’s O2 Academy, he is ostensibly here not for a celebration of sweaty floorfillers but to tout his latest troupe of protégés, Konvict Kartel; but his mere presence ends up transporting a sell-out crowd back in time to 2009, complete with bronzed-orange brows and white trousers en masse.

It takes a while to get there though. The opening third is very much an introductory chapter for his three disciples – Tre Carter, OG Boo Dirty and Tone Tone – that keels towards tracks from his label’s most recent mixtape. Self-proclaimed as “twerk music”, the collective invite around a dozen female audience members onto the stage to replicate the appropriate dance moves, where they remain for the rest of the evening.

It’s an extended teaser for the main attraction – and when Akon finally comes forth, the reception is ferociously boisterous as he powers through hip-hop radio staple I Wanna Love You and the sun-kissed Don’t Matter, complete with a lengthy bongo solo. The Kartel make for effective hype men, teeing up the thumping reggaetón of Danza Kuduro with aplomb – and when their mentor ventures into the crowd for David Guetta collaborations Sexy B**ch and Play Hard, they hold the fort with enough individualistic gusto to suggest a career out of the shade.

But just as the climax approaches, it takes an abrupt side turn into what is dubbed “the afterparty” as the group ditches their original material for a megamix of other clubland hits, from Martin Solveig’s Intoxicated through – rather hilariously – Roadman Shaq’s Man’s Not Hot, throughout which their leader crowd-surfs and sprays champagne onto eager fans. It’s a baffling faux-live finale – such is the depth of his catalogue, the absence of fan favourites like Lonely and I Just Had Sex in lieu of an extended DJ set feels frustratingly misjudged.

When behind the microphone in earnest, Akon retains the spicy soulfulness that brought him to the top in the first place; but a little less hype and a little more hits would go a long way to keeping him there.