Slept On: A Series, Part Two: Soulja Boy, by Jason Meggyesy
Soulja Boy Tell Em’s name is often spoken in conjunction with countless internet videos and archives of memes. The now thirty-year-old rapper has found a way to keep himself relevant as a new crop of fresh faces breaks into the rap game.
Before the memes, Soulja Boy laid claim to the hottest name in the game. Anyone who grew up in the 2000s couldn’t avoid Soulja Boy and his myriad of chart-topping songs. The vibe of white weddings shifts into a new gear once the first “YOU” sounds off, followed by that debilitating bass drop.
For the second installment of Slept On: A Series, we’ll examine how Soulja Boy’s blazing hot run at the turn of the decade led to him becoming such an influential figure in modern hip hop.
As a child, Deandre Cortez Way found himself on the move quite often. Born in Chicago, Deandre would move to Atlanta before settling down in Mississippi with his father. After showing serious interest in music at age fourteen, Soulja Boy, with the help of his father’s connections, began to record music more on a consistent basis.
After recording a few songs with friend and collaborator Arab, the young artist began to develop his signature style and sound. In 2007, Soulja Boy saw a major uptick in popularity once his smash hit Crank That (Soulja Boy) took the Internet by storm in an era when the relatively new technology just started to see mainstream success.
After the release of “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” Soulja Boy posted his music on platforms like MySpace and Soundclick to push his catchy, upbeat sound and to keep his voice in the ears of potential listeners. The infamous Limewire is where this self-made star did the most damage, ultimately. In several interviews, Soulja Boy admitted to uploading songs to Limewire under the titles of different hit songs to boost his number of downloads and draw in more fans.
A music video for the smash hit, which featured an infectious dance in tandem with Soulja’s charismatic style, helped garner a serious fanbase on the internet, a feat no artist had really accomplished before.
Soulja Boy’s self-sufficient attitude and new take on the snap-and-clap sound of the South drew in a massive following for the young artist, sky-rocketing his hit single to the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in September of 2007. The song would set a record for most internet downloads at the time and even carried Soulja Boy to a nod for “Best Rap Song” at the 2007 Grammy Awards.
Soulja Boy went on to release the albums SouljaBoyTellem.com in October of 2007 and iSouljaBoyTellem in December of 2008, both of which are littered with hit songs like Donk, Turn My Swag On, and everyone’s go-to middle school love song Kiss Me Thru The Phone.
After these projects, Soulja’s consistent hits would slow down. Still, the single Pretty Boy Swag and a feature on the song We Ready by the up-and-coming Atlanta rap group The Migos would keep the rapper’s name in the mainstream lexicon for a while longer.
After the meteoric—and unique—rise of Soulja Boy, the rapper would fade away from the mainstream spotlight as new rappers began to flood the market, but he would eventually make a return to claim his title as one of the most influential rappers of the modern era. In 2019, Soulja Boy appeared on podcasts and radio shows to accuse star artists, like Drake and Ariana Grande, of stealing his flows, and to remind everyone of just how important he was to the current rap game.
Whether you view Soulja as a troll or a meme, the impact this billboard-topping artist left on the rap industry is undeniable. How Soulja Boy maneuvered the internet to create his persona and elevate his career is a tactic many artists imitate nowadays. Soulja Boy was the blueprint for internet rappers to navigate the game without a major label. So now, whenever you stick your arms out and crank your wrists, or whenever you hum the famous 678-999-8212 melody, pay homage to Soulja Boy.