In the spirit of honesty, I’ve never been a fan of Soulja Boy. But there was a period in time when I respected him, and not just for the undeniable catchiness of “Crank That.”
Regardless of the reception to his music, Soulja Boy, patient zero for rap virality, undoubtedly inspired and spawned artists that I do enjoy today, so his contributions to hip-hop and my personal enjoyment of it are admittedly less than tangible but still existent.
In his own right, Soulja Boy is actually a genius, but he’s the kind of genius that spends 30 years in a laboratory chasing an elusive life-changing invention that he knows deep down will never see the light of day—a fact that doesn’t keep him from nearly burning the lab down over and over again in pursuit.
No one can deny the commercial success of “Crank That.” Even its artistic merit—when placed within the context of what the song accomplished on a more meta-level—has come to be accepted.
Since the forward-thinking bounciness of “Crank That,” though, Soulja’s musical leanings have steadily devolved into desperately clinging to whatever musical soundscape currently dominates the airwaves, unfortunately resulting in a quarter-life crisis of sorts that turned Soulja into a hardened gang banger much in a similar timeframe as his music gained popularity—overnight.
Soulja’s last charting song, 2010’s “Pretty Boy Swag” off his album The DeAndre Way, was still very much on the pop tip, but by his next release in 2013 his tone had grown much darker and was being presented over more generic trap beats.
Within the next few years, song titles like “Donk,” “Booty Got Swag” and “Booty Meat” were absent, replaced by tracks like “Molly With That Lean,” “Actavis,” “Zan With That Lean,” and “Trap Spot.”
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See what I mean?
Here’s the thing, though. Although he’s yet to match the wildfire success of a single that dropped nearly 10 years ago, he’s kept us listening and attentive the entire way. Well, at least attentive the entire way. In an industry with the attention span of a caffeinated goldfish, Soulja Boy has prolonged his relevance nearly a decade past his artistic peak.
Yes, that does make him a genius. But the ways in which he’s done so also make him kind of an asshole.
Soulja’s only noteworthy contribution to the culture that’s housed him for years and given him countless alley-oops (Drake’s “We Made It” remix, Nicki Minaj’s “Yasss Bitch”) has become a 50 Cent-level mastery of shit-talking, pointless beefing and publicity manipulation that hasn’t ultimately led to a single release of consequence in the last six years.
Instead of remotely engaging musical efforts, our relationship with Soulja Boy’s persona (I’m hoping it’s just his persona) has been reduced to the same sort of love-to-hate relationship we have with Jerry Springer and Worldstar Vine compilations.
We know it’s mental junk food, we know that artistically the ends will never justify the means in Soulja’s case, but most people can’t look away.
Soulja’s genius actually hinges on his awareness of this precarious relationship—he knows the gossip blogs will eat up his every ridiculous attempt at beef—and if he actually had one more legitimate hit in him like Lawrence Burney from Noisey suggests he manufactures in a fantastic dismantling of Soulja’s facade, then I will gladly eat my shoes (and no, they are not a pair of Yums).
Unless Soulja Boy can follow up his antics with good music—a prospect that’s looking dismal given his recent track record—he's really nothing more than another asshole on social media that we can't help but pay attention to.