In early 2007 a 16-year-old from Atlanta named Soulja Boy Tell Em made a simplistic steel-drum snap beat on his computer, rapped over it, made up a dance to go with it, and put a video on YouTube. Months later he had a Billboard Chart-topping, multi-platinum single in “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” and a record deal with Interscope. It was one of the earliest, most widespread independent viral music videos.
It’s only been seven years, but that’s multiple music careers’ worth of time in Internet years. And with Soulja Boy’s ever-constant mixtape output, still-ubiquitous online presence, multiple business ventures, eye and ear for the current trends (at least borrowing from them), and major label connections, the 24-year-old appears to have the kind of tools and experience to become the Internet generation’s Diddy or Jay-Z. For an artist who was initially dismissed as a disposable passing fad, he appears to be here to stay.
SoundPosts caught up with the rapper on the phone after a tour stop in Oakland, on his way up the West Coast before his Friday, August 8, performance at the Crocodile for what will be his first ever show in Seattle (even though he has a song in which he boasts “I’m gettin’ money like I’m Macklemore”).
SoundPosts: I was at a pretty big artist’s show a couple months ago that had a really young audience and the DJ before the set played “Crank That,” and everybody lost it when that came on. When you were making your initial push into music when you you were 16, did you have any idea you were making something that was be this long-lasting?
Soulja Boy: I ain’t know it was gonna be this big and I ain’t know it was gonna last like this. I just always just liked to put music out. I just try to not think about it. When I play my classic songs, everybody goes crazy. They still go crazy. It’s dope. I could never pictured it’d last this long. I just wanna continue to keep putting out good music for the people. And I hope they gravitate to the new movement and music and everything that I’m doing last as long as my old songs and music. Because it’s all about longevity, man.
SP: Longevity has been way harder for rappers to achieve with the Internet and the way things are now. Your career was basically launched on the Internet. How do you try to reinvent yourself, stay inspired and maintain your longevity?
SB: It’s a list of things. One, it’s the fans, most importantly, ’cause the fans make me who I am. They the ones that go buy the music and support me and come to the concerts and watch my videos. Another thing is yeah, I always gotta reinvent myself and come with something new because the culture’s attention span is very short these days. With social media, Twitter, Facebook…you got all types of different new artists coming in, so I just always like to drop new music for ’em, give ’em the new swag. It’s all about the fans, the fans motivate me to keep going. I just do me and the people just keep me relevant, you know, being so interactive on that Twitter and Facebook, Vine, being interactive with the people and how I’m doing now – doing interviews, talking to you, just explaining my story, letting people know what I got coming for the future. With me it’s more than the one song. Some people got songs that’s bigger than their names, see what I’m sayin’? But with me, my name is big, and I got records, I got beats, I got a clothing line, I got an app, I got artists that are signed to my record label SODMG [Stacks On Deck Money Gang]. I got a lotta stuff going so I just try and keep myself in the forefront and do different things….Just letting my brand and my name grow keeps me motivated.
SP: Going back to “Crank That,” that was one of the first truly viral rap videos ever. And when you see some new rapper’s video with some new dance in it, you’re still seeing your influence all over.
SB: I definitely think I opened doors and when I look on YouTube and the Internet. I see new artists coming up and using that blueprint — using social media, video blogs and the dances, all that. People were against that at first. Now it’s the regular, it’s a common thing. Now all the artists all gravitate to that. I think it’s dope, and it’s cool to be able to say I did that. The new-school entertainment industry is coming in, so I’m looking at myself as one of the leaders of hip-hop and new school and one of the youngest artists bringing in the new wave in the industry and changing the game.
SP: And do you feel like you get the respect you deserve for your influence or are people quick to forget sometimes?
SB: I mean I feel like I get my respect and people know what it is….I’m not here to just be cocky and be like “yeah, yeah, I started all this, I did all this,” ’cause I still got a long way to go. I’m still young in my career, I still got a lot to learn, a lot more albums to drop, a lot more accomplishments, a lot to do as an artist. I’m comfortable in the position I’m in. I’m always gonna be motivated and grindin’ for more….As long as the people are listening to my music in the clubs, spinning the records, watching the videos, that’s what I’m worried about.
SP: Word. I was listening to your latest, “King Soulja 3,” and you have songs with Migos –- you were on their “YRN” tape too — and Rich the Kid. You have that Nicki Minaj song out, the one with Drake…some pretty heavy names. Any other goals for people you want to work with soon?
SB: Right now I’m working with Diddy, doing production for his new album. It’s been dope working for him. I’m working with new artists –- making beats for [New York rapper] Troy Ave, beats for Mac Miller. I’m working with Lil Wayne, doing production for “Tha Carter V.” It’s just all about doing me as a rapper and still being in the studio on a production tip, doing my producer side and giving the beats out to the artists that need ’em and want ’em. Whoever wants to work with me can work with me. I just do my thing, I don’t really worry about nobody. Whoever reach out to me, that’s how I do it.
SP: Right on. One last thing — you were born in Chicago and lived in Mississippi for a while, but most of your success came when you were in Atlanta. You look at rap, especially in recent years, and Atlanta has tons of prominent artists. What is it about Atlanta that makes such good music come out of it?
SB: Atlanta you know, that’s the home, that’s where all the culture comes from, that’s where all the swag comes from. Just stuff I experienced growing up in the streets –- growing up on the Westside, Zone 1, Simpson Road. You got a lotta successful cats that came out of there. My hood’s right down the street from T.I., he’s from Bankhead. That’s all Zone 1 on the Westside of Atlanta. Lotta people come out the Westside of Atlanta. You got a lotta people coming out the Eastside — Zone 6 — Decatur, Flat Shoals and all that, that’s Gucci Mane and all them. There’s great artists that came from Zone 3, like Lil Jon & The Eastside Boys, the Ying Yang Twins. Future, Rich Homie Quan and Migos are from the Northside. There’s been a lot of music that we put out over the years. It goes back to the ‘70s, ‘80s, early ‘90s…Kilo Ali to Outkast, theres a lot of influence in Atlanta. When I was growing up in Atlanta I used to listen to the radio all the time, every day, and it just made me wanna rap –- just growing up and seeing people make it, like Dem Franchise Boyz and D4L, all these cats from Atlanta starting to get success motivated me to go harder. And I think Atlanta, man, that’s the home base, that’s the mecca of good, down south hip-hop and rap right now. We set a lot of trends and just for me growing up there, in the city, that’s where Young Jeezy, “the trap,” comes from. That comes from Atlanta. It’s a real culture, though, we rap about it and it really turned out to be a success. But it’s real life. If you come to Atlanta, come to the clubs, come to the streets, you see what it is…
SB: I can’t wait to come to Seattle though, man, I’m gonna turn up. Like turn up fo’ real, fo’ sho’. Appreciate you, man. Tell everybody to go get the King Soulja 3 album on iTunes and go get tickets for the show.
8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8, at the Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., Seattle; $25 (206-441-4618 or