SOULJA BOY: The Full Oct/Nov Cover Story
SOULJA BOY is boiling inside. Despite his building anger, he clings to his resolve as his father asks that same damn question. He’s infuriated, yet sits quietly, praying for a conclusion to his father’s preaching. That is until young’n’s invocation is answered, allowing him to answer.
“No, Dad” Soulja says. “I don’t do no drugs.”
Six years later, remembering that exchange is still uncomfortable for DeAndre Cortez Way, pka Soulja Boy. Even under the soft lounge area lighting of Doppler Studios, his favorite Atlanta recording studio, surrounded by a full comfort-zone cast of bodyguard, publicist, man- ager, engineers, artists and homeboys in the next room, the canary-diamond-bejeweled rapper gets caught up on memory lane, channeling his former 14-year-old self.
“My Dad was on me heavy about drugs,” remembers Soulja, slumped on a red two-seater couch, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular. “He found a little sack in my bedroom, but it wasn’t from drugs. They came from some earrings that I bought. He and my stepmother kept asking if I do drugs. So I finally just said, ‘Look, I rap. I’ma be a famous rapper. My name’s Soulja Boy.’ And started showing them everything I was doing on the Internet— my MySpace page and everything.”
Unbeknownst to Soulja’s parents, they were raising a hip-hop Doogie Howser—a young Black teenager who would revolutionize music marketing, promotion and profiteering through his infectious single-’n’-dance combo “Crank That,” which spread online and eventually landed him a major-label recording contract and a chart-topping single by the time he was 16 years old. In 2004, S.B. was already delivering catchy self-produced tunes for pay. He had the Internet going nuts and teenage girls going gaga, but his star power mostly resonated in pockets of America that were as small as they were adolescent. This was way before Soulja Boy accrued millions of worldwide fans and download residuals. Years before he became a social-networking guru earning $10,000 per sponsored tweet. And long before groupies started falsely accusing him.
This is when a teenage Soulja Boy was moving like Master P circa ’97. He wrote his own raps, produced his own tracks, pressed up and sold his own CDs (songs and beats, $5 each), and even helmed his own viral campaign. To get more ears on his original music quicker, the boy wonder used to title his song postings with A-list names (“New 50 Cent” or “Britney Spears”). He began splitting dollar-per- download profits with SoundClick.com (“I was trap- pin’ like 30 downloads a day”). Then came MySpace (“I had like 100,000 friends, but my hits were in the millions.”) and YouTube (“That’s when I really blew up”), which ultimately led to an Interscope deal through Ying Yang Twins producer Mr. Collipark’s Interscope-distributed Collipark Records (“I sat down with Jimmy Iovine and showed him all my computer statistics, and within weeks ‘Crank That’ was No. 1”). After a seven-week campout at Billboard’s No. 1 spot and over 70 million YouTube views, S.B.’s ingeniously titled debut album, souljaboytellem.com, mined platinum. Not bad for a country kid adorned in oversized baseball caps and hand-lettered shades. “I was really ahead of the game,” says Soulja. “I was dead-on since like 14.”
Soulja Boy turned 20 years young on July 28 of this year. He’s been a self-made multimillionaire since age 17. Even more impressive is the veteran- like stature he’s achieved in just three years on the strength of his Internet ingenuity. In this second decade of the new millennium, the World Wide Web is a necessary evil for all recording artists. Over the past five years, it’s helped conceive careers (Drake), raise a few to mountainous heights (Lil’ Wayne) and resuscitate some that had been left for dead (Joe Budden). Much of this can be credited to the ascendance of Soulja Boy Tell ’Em. “I feel like I’m a mastermind,” he says, eyes wide. “I got the labels running around trying to jock me.”
Flashing a smile as arrogant as his thigh-hugging Gucci belt, he adds, “I just feel like I’ve got it all figured out… because I know what it takes to take over the music game. I ain’t did it yet, [but] I got the blueprint.”
GUNNING DOWN ATLANTA’S Interstate 85 in his two- door Bentley GT the following day, Soulja couldn’t be happier. Not because it’s his day off; nor because he’s whipping around town with a $9,746 check on his lap. Can’t attribute it to the “new badass bitch” he plans to disrobe later today, either. He’s ecstatic because he’s on a call with Gucci Mane.
“Yo, I’m shootin’ my video in L.A. next week, man. Come fuck witcha boy,” he yells into his Black- Berry Torch. Once the phone call ends, Soulja’s cheese-grin is on 10. “Man I grew up listening to [Gucci] so much,” he tells of the rapper whom he collaborates with on “Gucci Bandana.” “That’s why when he dropped ‘So Icey’ I was so happy, because I was like, ‘My favorite rapper made it.’ Now I’m rappin’ with him— crazy.”
Soulja’s lack of lyrical influences might possibly be the diesel that fuels his greatest haters. Since the summer of 2008, critics and elder rappers like Ice-T have tagged the Superman choreographer king of rap’s “ringtone era”— infamous for his microwaved beats and verses written to birth new dances rather than innovative flows or poetics. Though he’s far from guilty, Soulja Boy pleads no contest. “Being so young I didn’t know there was such a thing as being lyrical,” he admits unapologetically. “I thought everybody just rapped. That’s when I had to get my knowledge of the game, like there’s lyrical rappers, party rappers and even R&B rappers. So I really got my knowledge from critics and haters.”
The truth of the matter is that Soulja is indeed the King of the Ringtone. On top of the global phenom that was “Crank That,” he stacked up two more hit singles in 2008: “Turn My Swag On” and “Kiss Me Thru the Phone.” The kid who used to rap into a $12 Walmart microphone for Bathing Apes sneakers has garnered career totals of nearly 13 million mobile sales and over 10 million digital downloads. In the new global village—a vast digital marketplace coursing with 4G networks and USTREAM feeds— Mr. Way is one of Interscope’s golden geese.