Credit: MTV Arabia/

Ever since he started minting his ceaseless string of hits, Akon has told every interviewer in sight — including EW — about the three years he spent in prison after being caught leading a grand theft auto ring, and what a pivotal experience that was in terms of his growth as an artist. But the professional bluff-callers at The Smoking Gun posted a lengthy piece yesterday claiming to prove that the R&B singer never did any serious time behind bars at all, nor did he commit the major crimes he’s talked about in depth so many times. They say he fabricated his car-jacking exploits out of thin air, adding fictional details as he went along, and concealing his relatively humdrum past.

Is Akon really “James Frey with catchy hooks and an American Music Award,” as TSG calls him? We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s a bigger question: Why? What would be the point of making up such a comprehensive fake backstory, knowing it could crumble at the slightest investigation? (Compare this with someone like Jay-Z, who talks a lot about how he supposedly used to deal crack in Brooklyn, but purposely keeps it all very vague, instead of saying, “I was locked up in this specific prison for this specific number of years after committing this specific crime.”) TSG seems to think it’s all about commercial expectations: “Because without the embellishments and fabrications, without the havoc and heartache, what separates him from every other wannabe clawing for commercial success? Why chance having your work judged solely on its merits when a little artistic license can make you so much more distinctive and marketable?” That might be part of the story, but I’m not sure it’s the whole thing. After all, who’s articulating those demands? Was Akon egged on by more explicit pressures from label execs with a narrow conception of how “urban” artists are supposed to have lived? Or is there another explanation entirely? You tell me…