Soulja Boy’s transition from “Crank That (Superman)” to “Turn My Swag On” didn’t showcase great creative leaps. But by having the self-awareness to stay in his lane and growing only enough to remain relevant, he has outlasted many peers and outsold many veterans. His new mixtape, King Soulja, is no different, combining the proven sonic and stylistic trends of the past year into a thorough, but scattered collection of potential viral hits.
Musically, King Soulja is comparable to Chief Keef or French Montana without the rawness or cleverness that make them great. Thematically, Soulja shows no shame in jumping on the royal bandwagon that’s led countless rappers to refer to themselves as kings of their craft. “K-I-N-G,” he spells out on the tape’s intro as he chants “King Soulja” breathlessly in the background.
The music isn’t bad in the endearing way that Lil B can be bad; it’s just bad.
“Now I’m On” shows how little Soulja has progressed as an emcee and songwriter since hitting the scene in 2007. While the lyrics “Yeah I’m on, yeah I’m on / All them bad bitches know that I’m on,” are supposed to celebrate the feeling of making it despite his haters, he sounds bored with the fact that he’s still trolling the game with such ease.
It's that ease, however, that has kept him a mainstay because, ironically, the less he tries, the better the music is. “Headed to a Check” sounds like it took 10 minutes to write, but has a catchy enough vibe to suggest he’s still capable of creating shameless club magic like “Pretty Boy Swag.”
Optimism quickly retreats, though, with “Jordan & Gold Chains,” the creative low on the tape and the most blatant sign of his desperation for a new hit.
Overall, Soulja may be able to sustain his career by continuing to appeal to the lowest common denominator of rap’s youth culture, but if he were to take off his shades and look around at the solid fan bases that artists like Joey Bada$$ and Keef are building around genuine originality, he may be able to rethink his strategy and become the memorable hip hop king he claims to be.
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(Photo: Stacks on Deck Records)