Although he was born in St. Louis, MO, Aliaune Thiam -- aka Akon -- grew up in Senegal before he and his family (including his father, jazz percussionist Mor Thiam) returned to the United States and settled in New Jersey when he was seven. There he discovered hip-hop for the first time, as well as crime. He was eventually jailed but he used the time -- three years, he claimed -- to work on his musical ideas. Upon release, Akon began writing and recording tracks in a home studio. The tapes found their way to SRC/Universal, which eventually released Trouble, Akon's debut LP, in June 2004. The album was an interesting hybrid of Akon's silky, West African-styled vocals with East Coast- and Southern-styled beats. The success of the song "Locked Up," a Top Ten Billboard Hot 100 hit, made Akon a star and desired collaborator. After appearing on Young Jeezy's "Soul Survivor," his number of guest appearances seemed to multiply each month. Konvicted, his second album was released in November 2006. Soon enough, two of the album's singles, "I Wanna Love You" and "Smack That," made their way to the upper regions of the Billboard charts. The surprisingly Euro-pop-flavored Freedom, his third album, followed two years later, and it repeated Konvicted's chart success by peaking within the Top Ten of the Billboard 200.
Pitbull got involved in the game himself when he started appearing on Miami mixtapes. A meeting with Irv Gotti resulted in nothing, but soon Luther Campbell called on the rapper to appear on his "Lollipop" single. It brought Pitbull to the attention of the Diaz Brothers management team, who introduced the rapper to the king of crunk, Lil Jon. A Pitbull freestyle landed on Lil Jon's platinum-selling Kings of Crunk album in 2002, and the rapper's "Oye" track appeared on the 2 Fast 2 Furious soundtrack in 2003. Ready to take it all the way to the top, Pitbull unleashed his debut full-length, M.I.A.M.I., in 2004 on the TVT label, with the Lil Jon-produced single "Culo" leading the way.