Soulja Boy's mazy career ought to be a picture show.
Soulja Boy is currently the butt end of bullish-jokes in the gaming community. If he isn’t careful, Nintendo might come forward with a massive stiff arm to his chest if he doesn’t comply with 3rd party infringement policies concerning his SouljaGame consoles. But what Nintendo doesn’t know, or care to understand, is that Soulja Boy is a hustler by nature, with a limitless desire to play by his own rules, his copycat Nintendo system notwithstanding. So while he has our attention for all the wrong reasons, why not build an objective case study for him, on his behalf, for the sake of historicity!
Before you jump to any conclusions, consider this: Soulja Boy is a needlepoint for contemporary “hip-hop” culture. Whether you’d like to believe it or not, Soulja Boy started the #dance challenge craze from the onset of his career. He was also responsible for bringing DIY culture to the rap establishment in a way that was uniquely “hip-hop.” I’m talking about the impetus to self-produce, self-publish, and market himself - a mantle he shares with former collaborator Lil B “The Based God.”
Soulja Boy enjoyed the instantaneous effect of virality before there was ever a word to describe the social phenotype. For example, when Gucci Mane fell out with Young Jeezy over song accreditation, it was in the company of Soulja Boy and Shawty Lo that he staged his comeuppance - not on the coattails of a traditional platform like So So Def. Soulja Boy is relevant today because he made a concerted effort to connect with youth culture when he was a teenager himself - in line with his target demographic for the SouljaGame Handheld console, but to a lesser extent. With that said, no video game developer will enter a business arrangement with Soulja until he proves his staying power in the industry - but in 2007-2008, every record executive wanted him under their banner, and with good reason. Soulja’s deconstruction of “lyrical” rap, voted acrimonious by the conservative right, was a precursor to the Mumble rap era of the mid-2010s and beyond.
With Soulja Boy on the scene, Snap became Swag with the blink of an eye. Make no mistake about it, no one person can elicit a cultural shift, but to downgrade Soulja Boy to plebe status would be to reverse or upend the order of time. Consider the argument that Soulja Boy popularized an efficient use of the “adlib” in contemporary culture. I’m not saying he invented the adlib; good luck fielding that argument. But on some level, Soulja Boy was actually the first rapper to fill “white space” with completely incomprehensible language like “YAHHHHH,” in lieu of furthering a lyrical narrative.
Soulja Boy Tell’em breaking from tradition inevitably pissed off all the purists, while simultaneously making himself rich beyond his wildest dreams. The proof is in the pudding, Soulja still leads the decadent lifestyle he was purporting when he cashed his first big label advance - even after years of relative “inactivity” on the musical front. So, even if Soulja Boy fails as a gaming entrepreneur, it won’t come down to a lack of wherewithal. Every “fiscal” decision in Soulja Boy’s playbook is explained by two rules of conduct: a willingness to risk it all, and secondly, a willingness to embrace hooliganism and youth culture well into his adult years. The latter also works against him in a lot of ways, to the point where he isn’t being acknowledged for his musicianship, even though his production discography runs deeper than Micronesia’s GDP. Think it over.
Another trend that Soulja Boy played a giant role in popularizing was the emergence of Auto-Tune as a veritable “can’t do without” post-production tool. Fast forward to 2018, and there are dozens if not hundreds of artists who would not be where they are today without the masking effect of a vocoder. What differentiates Soulja Boy from T-Pain is that unlike his R&B counterpart, the “Crank Dat” originator was seemingly among the first to adopt “Autotune” settings, plugins, and effects to create a comprehensive glossy finish that lingers on in the minds and works of artists today. So before we reduce Soulja Boy to a walking meme, let’s consider the scope of his influence, and how it pertains to our current habits, laws, and conventions.
Soulja Boy’s perceived superficiality allowed him to move forward in the timeline without a specific point of interest. When he and Arab toyed with Xbox controllers in the “Yahhh! / Report Card” music video, they were staying true to the things they loved and probably still love, as infantile as it may seem. We can now look back on that video as foreshadowing to his video game exploits. But on a deeper level, what it demonstrates is a sure sign that with sublime confidence, and a little bit of luck, you can compete at the World Level (just like Soulja). Somewhere in the depths of his colorful career, the notions of “confidence” and “ability” became interchangeable, and that's all there really is to it.