Akon may be best known for his catalog of hits like “Lonely” and “I Wanna Love You,” but he’s run a parallel career as a record executive, signing Lady Gaga to his KonLive label via Interscope (the two have since parted ways) and his Konvict Muzik imprint, which was founded in 2004 and over the years has included T-Pain, rapper Kardinal Offishall, singer Kat Deluna and many others — and nearly included Drake, but Akon actually passed on signing him.
“Kardinal Offishall brought him [Drake] to me in 2005, I think it was, or 2004,” Akon recalled. “It was right before [Drake’s song] ‘Best I Ever Had’ blew up, because at the time, it was more mixtape-ish. At the time, believe it or not, Drake sounded more like Eminem. With that demo I heard, it was sounding more like Em.”
He continues, “You can see the difference between that demo, and ‘Best I Ever Had’. It was completely different.”
A bidding war soon got underway that was ultimately won by Lil Wayne’s Young Money imprint, which has released Drake’s music via Republic Records ever since. However, it nearly went another way: as Drake’s price rose, Kardinal Offishall, who is also a music executive dubbed Canada’s “hip hop ambassador,” made a second play to get Akon in the game.
“That’s when Kardi was like, ‘I told you this n—a was going to be the sh–!’,” Akon recalled. “I said, ‘Well, sh–, reach out [to his team].’ He said, ‘You can, but the lowest bid right now is a million.’”
Akon reveals he didn’t have a million dollars, before revealing that Epic Records chair/CEO Sylvia Rhone, who at the time was running Universal Motown Records, had the opportunity to sign Drake as well.
“Sylvia Rhone had the biggest chance to sign him,” Akon recalls. “At the time, she had Trey Songz. She thought Trey was going to be the biggest thing ever… Out of all the artists today, to me, [Drake] is worth every single f—ing penny. That mother—er’s genius, he’s revolutionary what he’s done.”