Akon one of last artists to collaborate with Jackson

Michael Jackson's recordings will probably follow a similar pattern, and will probably include collaborations with Atlanta singer-songwriter Akon, one of the last artists to work with Jackson before his death.

Akon, whose birth name is Aliaune Thiam, helped produce the 25th anniversary remix of the "Thriller" album, and his version of "Wanna Be Startin' Something" was one of the record's distinctive moments.

But Akon also teamed up with Jackson for a handful of other songs, including "Hold My Hand," a duet that demonstrates the similar strength and timbre of their voices. In fact, listeners are sometimes confused which voice is Jackson and which voice is Akon. "When we did 'Hold My Hand' no one can tell who came in where," said Akon Tuesday.

He spoke as his limousine inched through Los Angeles traffic toward the Michael Jackson memorial service at the Staples Center. Akon, who was born in Senegal and was still a boy when "Thriller" came out, said that working with Jackson was the fulfillment of a life's dream, though when a mutual friend Peter Lopez called to put him on the phone with the King of Pop, he thought it was a joke.

"He called me with Michael in a three-way call, and at first I thought it was a crank call. Peter said 'No, I'm really serious, it's Michael Jackson.''"

Meeting Jackson, at a recording studio in Las Vegas, was equally disconcerting.

"The thought of it was nerve-wracking, but when I finally got a chance to actually meet him and I found out how normal and cool and humble he was, all that went out the window," Akon said. "It was an incredible experience. He was a great guy, well-seasoned in the business, with a great understanding of the recording aspect of it. I learned a lot just being around him."

Jackson knew a great deal about Akon's work, the Senegalese singer discovered. "I was shocked. He did a complete background on me. He knew as much about me as I knew about him."

They worked together off and on, for about a year, using a studio in The Palms hotel in Las Vegas. "His process, how he recorded, was the same process I had. I always start with the melody first. I make sure it feels good, then double back and put the lyrics to it. That's how he works as well. We're both melody guys."

Akon said the recordings they worked on together contain mostly unfinished songs, or ideas for songs.

Jackson also worked with Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. "We're the only two that I know of," said Akon.

He said he doesn't know what will happen to the unreleased material, and said it would be up to the Jackson family to decide what to do with the songs.

"That's for the family really to decide," said Akon. "I wouldn't violate that and try to put the record out myself."

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