Did you ever write your name in white-out on your shades? Did you ever wear your snapback to the side, barely on your head, hovering like a halo? Did you ever buy a fake Baby Milo jacket from your local market to impress your friends at school? I know I did, and it was all because of one man: Soulja Boy.
10 years ago the Atlanta rapper released his debut album Souljaboytellem.com, and it became a cultural phenomenon. Kids around the world were “cranking that Soulja Boy,” a dance that derived from his breakout single called, you guessed it, ‘Crank That (Soulja Boy’). I was one of them. In fourth grade, age 10, I had developed an obsession with this man, to the point where my MSN email was “[email protected]”. Now do I cringe at those times in my life? Yes. But if it wasn’t for Soulja Boy, I would’ve never discovered my love for hip-hop. While people at the time merely viewed him as the foreshadow of Nas’ 2006 album Hip-Hop Is Dead, Soulja Boy’s legacy lived on to paint him as the first ‘viral artist’, and the pioneer of internet rap.
Souljaboytellem.com was critically panned, an echo of the dying crunk movement of Lil Jon, blended with the booming trap sound of artists like Gucci Mane and Jeezy. It was the product of a 17 year old boy who would play video games and pull pranks rather than going to school, and that’s exactly why it worked. Soulja Boy was the first rapper to appeal to a developing internet culture that existed in chat rooms and forums, and would eventually lead on to rappers like Lil B, Riff Raff, and Lil Yachty thriving in the URL atmosphere. His DIY approach to his music, in which included him making all his beats in Fruity Loops, and recording songs from the comfort of his own bedroom, can also be considered inspiration for independent movements like Odd Future.
Soulja Boy was the first Soundcloud rapper—but before Soundcloud—thriving on websites like Soundclick, Datpiff, and Youtube. He proved that music didn’t need a corporate machine, or the backing of a major label to achieve success. Soulja even had his own gaming collective, expanding his reach right into the realms of World Of Warcraft, and Call Of Duty communities. While outside, Soulja Boy was viewed as a frontrunner in the death of hip-hop online he was an idol, role model, and overall marketing genius. While not as prominent and present as the Juggalos, Soulja Boy lead a cult following that existed behind LCD screens and on Xbox Live.
This is why despite the constant hatred towards Soulja Boy in the hip-hop community, Souljaboytellem.com debuted at number 4 on the Billboard hot 100, and has since gone platinum. The success of this album is a clear product of the internet, and its power as a marketing tool. Souljaboytellem.com didn’t achieve commercial success from TV placement, or billboards, it reached these milestones with the interpolation of his online presence into his album rollout. The combination of the album title, and website URL, was a seamless execution of the convergence between the physical album, and the online promotion. This, combined with the viral effect of ‘Crank That (Soulja Boy), inspiring an online dance craze way before The Harlem Shake or The Mannequin Challenge, made for worldwide success. This paved the way for artists to come, whether it’s Lil B cooking, or Chief Keef toting guns, Soulja Boy did it first, and created the blueprint for artists today.
So while Soulja Boy’s contributions to hip-hop today aren’t as prominent as they were 10 years ago, he forever remains one of the pioneers of both mainstream and underground climate of hip-hop today. The sound of Souljaboytellem.com trickled down from artists of the early trap movement, but was presented in way that was completely unique to his personality. Soulja changed the climate of hip-hop, and shaped the convergence between internet culture and mainstream success that is so prominent today.
I have no doubt that rappers like Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, and even Yung Lean are all products of Soulja Boy’s influence, as his digital grassroots approach to music truly proved you could do it by yourself. For decades to come, we will see the effect of his music rivulet down through generations of rappers. So despite Nass premonitions, and the spite of the hip-hop community, Souljaboytellem.com managed to thrive, and make the URL, IRL.