The Undeniable Brilliance of Soulja Boy
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When debating musical geniuses, accomplished artists like Beethoven, Michael Jackson, and John Coltrane usually come to mind because of their skill and influence in music. We always tend to think of the most proficient or critically acclaimed musicians, between the Hendrixes and the Kanyes, but we leave one name out: Soulja Boy. Also known as “Big Draco,” “King Soulja,” and “Soulja Boy Tellem,” among several other aliases, Soulja Boy fundamentally revolutionized rap by using streaming services and social media to promote his music, a shift in the rap industry from CD and mixtape culture.
Hailing from Batesville, Mississippi, Soulja Boy came from humble beginnings but was lucky enough to have the opportunity to create his own music. His father helped him build a studio after his family moved to Georgia and in 2005, he began recording and self-releasing rap songs on Soundclick, an early streaming website with a small community. One song—the self-produced masterpiece “Doo Doo Head”—blew up within weeks of its release and rose to the top of the Soundclick charts. While it was certainly not Soulja Boy’s best work, it was catchy enough that he subsequently amassed a following on MySpace and YouTube.
While record labels were still preoccupied trying to sell CDs and physical copies of their artists’ songs, Soulja Boy opted instead to use the internet to create a fanbase. This was incredibly effective: his 2007 track “Crank Dat” went viral, earning him a Grammy nomination. With an iconic YouTube music video that now boasts over half a billion views and a dance challenge that swept the nation, Soulja Boy quickly became one of the most successful independent artists in hip-hop. By 2008, he earned over $100,000 a day by charging a dollar a download for “Crank Dat” on Soundclick, though half of the revenue went to the company. Additionally, he made advertisement deals with brands and signed with Interscope Records (home to rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Chief Keef, and Eminem) in 2007.
After cultivating an audience, releasing the back-to-back projects “souljaboytellem.com” and “iSouljaBoy” (to very critical reception), and being the subject of a glowing Wall Street Journal article, Soulja Boy started pumping out albums and mixtapes regularly, though his prominence started to fade. Between 2010 and late 2021, Soulja Boy released 30 albums and mixtapes. Through these years, he has made several business ventures into numerous industries, from his streetwear brands SOD, BLVD, and YUMS to his Nintendo ripoff console SouljaGame, and even a 2011 documentary titled “Soulja Boy: The Movie”. The once-big Draco is most certainly past his prime, but he still remains active in rap culture, appearing every other month or so on hip-hop talk show “The Breakfast Club” to make another bold claim about what he did before everyone else or perhaps accuse Drake of biting his flow “word for word, bar for bar.”
While his repetitive choruses and often mediocre bars are nothing special, Soulja Boy’s influence can be identified in his marketing ability. He saw the opportunity in streaming services and online communities far before most labels and started goofy dance trends and challenges in a genre predicated on acting tough to stand out. By building an online fan base, Soulja Boy was a trailblazer, creating the modern internet rapper. Record labels quickly flocked to sites like YouTube to release music videos and put their music on streaming services following the success of Crank Dat. The modern song challenge is now a staple of hip-hop culture with sites like TikTok (and formerly Musical.ly and Vine), allowing otherwise unknown rappers to go viral with a dance coordinated to their music. Soulja Boy still uses these platforms and has gone viral with tracks like “Rick and Morty,” “Pretty Boy Swag,” “She Make It Clap,” and countless others sparking dance trends. It’s easy to dismiss Soulja Boy as nothing more than a 2008 internet meme, but the impact he has had on the rap industry and music today is simply undeniable. Despite winning Best Rap Song instead of Soulja Boy in 2009, Kanye West himself admits that the man is in the “top five most influential” list, saying, “He came from the hood, made his own beats, made up a new saying, new sound and a new dance with one song…If that ain't Hip Hop then what is?”