“Growing up I wanted to get my music out to the people,” says 28-year-old hip-hop star, Godfather of internet rap, and headline-making beef-igniter DeAndre Cortez Way. “But I wasn’t on TV and I wasn’t on radio, and those were the two biggest platforms back then that an artist could put music out on. So I just thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to go straight to the Internet.’”
This is the gospel according to Soulja Boy, the not-so-inconspicuous viral and streaming rap pioneer who now finds himself atop the social media trending heap after publicly dragging the likes of Drake, Tyga, and Kanye West on The Breakfast Club for not bowing down to the influential majesty of Big Draco. Soulja has a few things to get off his iced-out chest. Not only is Soulja still bristling over what he views as the audacity of the Toronto rap-pop god not publicly acknowledging that his flow from “What’s Hannenin” was used for Drake's 2010 cut "Miss Me,” but he has time for pop siren Ariana Grande as well.
“Give me my credit. Period,” he wrote in a Twitter response to themega singer, after many observers pointed out that Grande's new Trap-heavy single "7 Rings" copies the chorus from Soulja's 2010 joint "Pretty Boy Swag."
But beyond the absurd hilarity of Soulja Boy pulling up on everyone in the music business, there is one underlying truth. The Artist Formerly Known As Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em is arguably the most important rap visionary of the Internet age.
“I have heard about my impact on the Internet rap era from so many people,” he matter of factly tells me. With Soulja’s latest release “H.M.L.” gaining buzz, the man who first transformed his 2007 “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” debut single into a international dance sensation at the age of 16 has already claimed 2019 as his comeback year. “I started the whole Internet wave in hip-hop,” he adds. “As I keep hearing that more and more I’m starting to believe it.” Want more? Here’s the proof.
Imagine being a 16-year-old rap neophyte who not only bypasses traditional record industry gatekeepers, but also breaks through as a fully realized, self-contained unit. Indeed, lost in all of Soulja Boy’s over-the-top chest beating is the fact that he was actually a year younger than LL Cool J when the influential foundation of Def Jam Records made his 1985 debut with his landmark Radio release. Remember, whatever you think of his base level lyrical skills showcased on his 2007 platinum album Souljaboytellem.com, the young man wrote, arranged, produced and promoted the majority of his earlier work when most kids his age were worrying about what to wear on prom.
While other music acts were still clinging to the last remnants of the old brick-and-mortar ways of selling music in 2005, Soulja had already jumped head first into the Wild Wild West world of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing as a means to reach his growing followers. As Meaghan Garvey meticulously laid out in a 2015 Pitchfork piece, the ambitious visionary was already doing the groundwork for his mammoth 2007 star turn.
When Soulja wasn’t furiously uploading his own music on the notorious P2P outlet Limewire (he ingeniously connected his songs to the tracks of established superstar acts in order to garner maximum ears), he was stretching the possibilities of networks like SoundClick, where at one point he averaged 19,000 downloads a day. An early self-released version of “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” was so in-demand that a negotiated a deal with SoundClick to sell his songs for $1 brought in over $100,000 for the enterprising 16-year-old.
How’s this for prophetic genius? A 15-year-old Soulja uploaded his first visual clip on a little upstart site called YouTube just three months after its official December 15, 2005 launch. He then became the first act to later fully harness the power of the future behemoth video hosting service. Think about that. Soulja Boy’s YouTube channel now resembles an evolutionary historical reference of sorts for viral music stardom where you can witness his early days of busting out the “Shoulder Lean” dance in 2006. Quaint times.
Before the relentless hip-hop provocateur unleashed his 2007 atomic bomb “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” viral sensations were limited to fluffy oddities like 2003’s Gary Brolsma’s “Numa Numa Dance” video and 2006’s Ryan vs. Dorkman light saber battle. But as his debut single raced up the charts in the fall of 2007, spending an incredible seven weeks at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, a national dance craze was sparked.
The multi-platinum “Crank That” phenomenon was the first of its kind. Countless versions of the kid-friendly tutorial popped up on YouTube seemingly overnight: CrankThatBatMan, CrankThatBillieJean, CrankThatBatman, CrankThatRobocop, CrankThatJumpRope. Today Soulja Boy’s official video for “Crank That” stands at an astounding 376 million views.
If there were a Soulja Boy family tree the names attached to its roots would be plentiful and dizzyingly diverse. He gave Chief Keef a much-needed spotlight before the Chicago rapper’s huge 2012 commercial flex “I Don’t Like.” Soulja blessed white cosplay thug Riff Raff with a star-making cosign and even welcomed the future viral star into his Stacks On Deck Money Gang. He worked with a little known Atlanta trio by the name of Migos before they became the Migos. And SoundCloud era stars such as Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, the late Lil Peep, and even Kardashian-backed superstar 21 Savage all owe a debt to Mr. “Pretty Boy Swag” himself.
(Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)