How Soulja Boy & Myspace Brought Hip-Hop Into the Internet Era

A look back at the (basically) dead social site that launched careers ranging from Soulja Boy to Miguel and brought hip-hop into the digital age.
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My mother was always an overprotective parent, a sweet soul who saw social media as the gateway to an episode of To Catch A Predator. You could be chatting with murderers or rapists, through her eyes Myspace was the Sodom and Gomorrah of cyberspace and not my generation’s online Garden Of Eden.

Regardless of if my mom was right or wrong, Myspace was the wave, at its height million of users flocked to the site. Kids in high school treated Myspace like it was more magical than Hogwarts, more revolutionary than the first Playstation, one of the first real doors that opened to a life online. It became so big it felt like there was two separate islands - a deserted one for the few who didn’t have Myspace and this sacred land that couldn't be reached without dial up. I may have been without an account but I vicariously caught a glimpse of the other side. Top 8’s told you everything about friends and cliques, selfies became more important than professional photo shoots, the more artistic and attractive your web page the better, and the Myspace's personal music player was a direct reflection of your taste. Keeping the playlist updated with the latest and greatest was critical. Friends would spend hours drooling over pictures of girls they messaged and even longer praying that they would reply. Hours updating their page, searching for friends, I didn’t quite see why they were pouring so much time into this website.

Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson told Vanity Fair in 2006 that we were living in a time with a generation who wanted to be famous, kids that are both self-involved and self-aware, which was perfect because Myspace was where the internet and reality T.V met.  

And in the way that Google, Craigslist, and eBay have changed how people share and absorb information and goods, MySpace has changed how people, particularly young people (25 percent of users are under 18), share and absorb one another. They blog, flirt, and diarize, post pictures, videos, personal artwork, songs, and poetry, and generously distribute compliments and insults.With its infinitely customizable profile pages, like interactive headshots in some central-casting department of life, MySpace has become essential to its users' notions of themselves and their tribes. It is where they concoct alternative personas and download new friends, most of whom they know only online, like so many new MP3s or JPEGs. - Vanity Fair 2006

They were right. The rise of Soulja Boy's "Crank Dat" was proof. A teenager, no older than me, created a dance that may look silly but it became a sensation. It seemed overnight the whole world was beginning to Superman and it was all because of a video on the internet. I remembering witnessing DJ Unk’s “Walk It Out,” Dem Franchize Boyz “Lean Wit It Rock Wit It,” even Lil Jon’s entire era of crunk, but their presence was felt through the radio. In comparison, this kid was receiving millions of views online from Myspace and YouTube. It was a different kind of hit, before radio was aware, he had won the internet. Not only were his views and plays skyrocketing, I started to see it offline: in the classrooms, in the streets, everywhere I turned there was a dance or phrase that Soulja originated. When it was announced that he signed to Mr. Collipark and then worked a joint venture with Interscope, it was the beginning of a major shift. This kid from the internet got a record deal? Not only a deal, the mighty machine took his song from laptops to the top of Billboard. He caused an industry that had largely dismissed the internet before to open their eyes and see the dollar signs that lay buried online. 

Soulja Boy went from being a 15-year-old bedroom rapper who saw promise in social media platforms like Myspace into a household name who sold millions of ringtones in under two years. He impacted the status quo, becoming the chaos that threatened to disrupt normality, and it all started with a song called “Doo Doo Head.” Very fitting of an adolescent Soulja, crude but comedic, the song that wasn’t meant to be taken serious was the beginning of his internet renaissance. There was no stopping him once he started, every stupid, silly, and ridiculous song and video was poured into his web pages as content. This is before words like “content,” “viral,” and “Internet presence” were thrown around casually - his entire business operation was unorthodox, a child with no adult supervision and that’s exactly why he succeeded. A vibrant personality that attracted others through tireless showcasing of himself.

His first YouTube video was uploaded three months after the site launch in 2005, his Soundclick and Myspace accounts date back to 2006, but his hit didn’t reach number 1 on Billboard until 2007. He was always looking ahead, trying to find ways to cross promote on any avaliable platform. He did it with SayNow for his "Kiss Me Thru The Phone" single and it worked brilliantly.  It didn’t happen overnight but using the internet and his ingenious self-marketing made it all possible once the ball got rolling.  

I found out about the Website SoundClick. You’d post MP3s and people would rate on your music and you’d get put on charts. I had this song called “Doo Doo Head.” It was this stupid comedic song — and after a few weeks, it went No. 1 on the charts and everyone started coming to my page looking for new music. Then I found Myspace, made my first page, and linked the Myspace page from SoundClick. Really all my Myspace views came from SoundClick and my YouTube clicks came from Myspace; they fed off each other.

Mr. Collipark said it was the internet activity and the hypnosis-like draw that Soulja Boy had on the youth that made him sign Soulja. “It wasn’t the music at first,” he says, acknowledging that he didn’t understand its appeal from the standpoint of someone older but couldn’t deny the reaction the music brought out of the young. Unlike many one-hit-wonders, not only did Soulja Boy sell millions of ringtones from multiple singles, his first album, Souljaboytellem.com, went platninum. There were plenty of hit makers ranging from DJ Unk to Young Joc who failed to turn a successful single into album sales. This wasn’t just some miracle, there was plenty of madness but also a method that allowed Soulja Boy to do what his contemporaries couldn’t.

But Soulja wasn’t just facilitated by the Internet—he was the Internet. His was the ultimate representation of a brain that had grown up and found solace online: restless, resourceful, chameleonic, quick-witted, with zero patience for anyone unable to keep up. His digital strategy a decade ago, back when he uploaded his first song in the summer of 2005, is our often frustrating current reality: flood the system, prioritize brand recognition and scalability, don’t sweat the details. - Pitchfork 2015

Drew Millard recently wrote an article for Complex that crowns Soulja Boy as the forefather of modern rap, a stretch but he was undeniably the first rapper to prove the internet could produce music industry stars. Meaghan Garvey wrote an excellent piece for Pitchfork last year on Soulja’s decade of influence, so did Zach Blumenfeld for AV club. In each article you’ll find proof that he is the Julius Caesar who reigned as the first rap online king. He's no longer the biggest artist in the mainstream but he has birthed plenty of sonic offsprings and even more who adapted to his approach. From marketing to fan interaction, you can feel his influence. Soulja Boy benefited from being right on time, the first to use the resources that were available to him, you can’t have Soulja Boy without Myspace, Soundclick and YouTube. No different than new artists using Vine, Instagram, Twitter, and Soundcloud, they all feed off each other. 

The music industry moves in phases, big moments that bring small changes but the combination of Soulja Boy and the internet caused an industry altering big bang. The aftermath of "Crank Dat" had the labels scrambling for the next big act or craze, likely the reason Asylum Records signed Lil Wil, who turned out a fairly big single with “My Dougie,” but a better example is Universal signing the Pop It Off Boyz who made “Crank Dat Batman,” the Barter to Soulja’s Carter.

Once the search for America’s next dance ceased, the A&R’s and executives never left the internet. Until its dying day they browsed Myspace hoping to uncover someone who would change the game like DeAndre Way. Every artist and band had a page, some even had multiple, you could be one click away from a gold mind. Big Fendi came across Nicki Maraj's Myspace page and it was the moment her life began to change. From there he brought in Debra Antney, mother and manager of Waka Flocka Flame and Gucci Mane, but before he made any moves to push her career to the next level the myth is that he convinced her to change one thing, her name. She became Nicki Minaj. Wayne heard her on Fendi’s Come Up DVD series and the rest is history. A history that isn’t possible without Myspace.

Nicki’s break came when Fendi, CEO of Brooklyn label Dirty Money Entertainment, came across her MySpace. He signed her almost immediately, convincing her to change her name from Maraj to Minaj

Nicki wasn’t the only Young Money star that got her first big break by being friends with Tom. By now we all know that Jas Prince of Rap-A-Lot Records discovered Drake and took him to Lil Wayne, but there’s a small part of the story that occasionally gets overlooked - Jas wasn’t in Toronto actively looking for a Canadian singing rapper that he could take into the States. He was on Myspace, no different than most web browsing citizens. He came across Drake’s profile, at the time Room For Improvement and Comeback Season were both uploaded to his account. There he heard something that couldn’t just be scrolled by, he had to snatch this kid up, but instead of signing him to Rap-A-Lot he took this potential star to Lil Wayne, who was completing the Carter III at the time. We look at Drake and see a man destined for stardom but without the internet Jimmy might be still at Degrassi High, in his wheelchair, wondering why he never made it as a rapper. Drake never forgot what Jas did for him, he recently performed at Jas Jr's Birthday Party.

Back in 2006, I was in school but I had told my dad that I wanted to get into the music business. He told me that I had to look for the hottest thing, to find someone who had a buzz. MySpace had a music explore page at the time, and you could see who was trending by zip code or whatever. I ran across all types of artists on there, like Soulja Boy, but Drake was the one that caught my eye. He was ranked number one or two on the unsigned trending artists list. His page just said that his name was Drake and he was from Toronto, and there was a picture of him and he had a video on there for the song "Replacement Girl" with Trey Songz. You know how MySpace had a little radio player on the right side? He had a couple of songs on there, and I was listening to him like, Damn, he's pretty dope. So I kind of slid in Drake’s messages and was like, "Hey, what's up? I'm Jas Prince." I let him know who I was and who my father is, and I told him that I wanted to make him famous. And he was like, "I get that a lot but, whatever you say." - The Untold Story Of How Drake Met Lil Wayne

The Myspace era didn’t guarantee that everyone who had a music page would blow up big, but success stories are aplenty. Kid Cudi was pretty active on Myspace, “Day N Night” racked up views on the site before it became his breakout single. Two people that are prevalent in the early stages of his career found him on his account. One being Emile - who produced most of A Kid Named Cudi and many of the records on Man On The Moon. He came across “Day N Night” on Myspace and was blown away, he noticed that his close friend Plain Pat was also in his top friends list, which eventually brought the two together in the studio. 88-Keys can also credit Myspace for introducing him to Cudi’s music, which lead to him putting the bug in Kanye’s ear and it wasn’t long after their conversation that Kanye was flying Cudi to Hawaii. You can read the incredible story at 88’s old blog where he details how Myspace played a part in their friendship.

You know what, I heard "Day 'N' Nite" on Cudi's MySpace and was blown away by the record. It didn't even have that many plays on MySpace yet. I don't know how I stumbled across it, but I stumbled across it and heard it. The second I heard it I was like, "Holy shit!" - Emile

Miguel took over airwaves in 2010 with “Sure Thing,” a love song that put him on the map. Depending on how hip you were to rising R&B artist on Myspace you probably heard the song long before its commercial release. Before Jive Records decided to give him a shot at the big leagues, “Sure Thing” amassed millions of plays created a growing fandom online. Raydio from Okayplayer wrote about some of the early performance footage he used to upload to Myspace.

He says that the video for his current single, “Sure Thing,” which has had over 4.5 million MySpace plays, will be coming soon.“MySpace is a huge reason why I am where I’m at,” he said. “It [was] a turning point.” Miguel said that he is honored and privileged to be buzzing on the internet and doesn’t take it for granted as an artist.  - Miguel, 2010

Chuck Inglish considers Myspace the place that got him and Sir Michael buzzing before The Cool Kids were riding bicycles with fish. King Mez meet J. Cole over Myspace, back when he was going by Therapist Music and the song “School Daze” from The Come Up caught his ear. He was only 17, he didn’t know the kind of rapper Cole would become, but despite his stardom their friendship is still intact. Wiz reached out to Curren$y on Myspace to collaborate on Kush & Orange Juice, supposedly Spitta read the message, forgot to respond, but the two would later connect. Most of Odd Future was formed through Myspace - Tyler discovered Earl, Syd met Matt. Waka Flocka and producer Lex Luger first got in contact through Myspace, a connection that would later put Waka on the map thanks to Lex producing his breakout singles and most of his debut album, Flockaveli. Back in 2007, 50 Cent premiered his album Curtis on Myspace exclusively, letting his friends hear it before anyone else. 

We met on Myspace. haha. Told him I never heard nothing like this we should link up. He sent me his Yahoo email and minutes later Bro called saying "Working on my next tape." - Lex Luger, Reddit AMA

Myspace, much like Soulja Boy had a run that was big, loud and was then replaced by something even bigger and louder. Both have attempted to reinvent themselves, Soulja has been much more successful in returning to the spotlight than Myspace, and that’s without any backing from Justin Timberlake. Even though Myspace will likely never return to its former glory, its impact on hip-hop is still very much alive. Those that haven’t forgotten their passwords will likely return back to their old pages, groan at their pre-glo photos and get lost in a playlist that’s ancient history. A link to the past, an easier time, when your only worry was a friend request and mastering the 101 different "Crank Dat" songs. Twitter just celebrated its 10th birthday, it’s unlikely anyone will care about it 10 years from now. A successor will come, it might not be better but the clock is ticking. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, one day we will be reading their eulogies, reminiscing on the better days, and trying to recall what rap sensations used it best, but none of them will ever break the kind of ground that a teenager from Atlanta and an early social media site did. Long live Soulja Boy, long live Myspace.

So Soulja Boy keeps rapping, keeps releasing music at a frantic pace, knowing that eventually he will hit paydirt and release something that reminds the world why they fell in love with him in the first place. “You can’t pick what goes viral,” he says, “And I ain’t going to sit around and wait. I just create.” - Complex 2016

By Yoh, aka Yohspace, aka @Yoh31

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