Since emerging from his Batesville, Mississippi, bedroom armed with a smash single–slash–cultural meme, “Crank That,” Soulja Boy has racked up 400,000,000 views on You Tube and another 50,000,000 on MySpace. His 2007 debut, Souljaboytellum.com, went platinum, shifted 5,000,000 ringtones, and earned a Grammy nomination. Along with instant success arrived a legion of detractors, most notably Ice-T, GZA and even Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James. Most recently, the 18-year-old Soulja Boy (born DeAndre Way) caught flack for a sarcastic interview, where he shouted out these detractors as “the slave masters.” Soulja Boy spoke to Vulture while backstage at Jimmy Kimmel Live! about his new album and product line, his mogul aspirations, and his practical advice for any aspiring YouTube sensations.
Most rappers make videos, but you might be the first in history to make an instructional guide for your video. What inspired you to create the How-to-“Crank That” clip?
Back when the video only had 15,000,000 views, before it blew up in the mainstream, before there were haters telling me, “Soulja Boy sucks,” there were only the people who liked the music. And they were like, “Your dance is so tight. How I can I do it?” I decided to teach them, and when we were filming the actual “Crank That” video, I said, “Let’s make the how-to guide now.” Everyone was dressed up, and we had the nice video cameras. Then the label edited it, and it got just as many views.
What advice would you give to people with poor dance skills, who are unable to follow the video? A generation of 13-year-olds on the bar-mitzvah circuit breathlessly await your response.
If you just can’t dance? Man, I don’t know.
Liquor, prayer, weed?
It’s really simple. That’s why the instructional video got so many views. You just have to sit down and keep on rewinding it.
How does one go from being a 16-year-old making videos and songs in your bedroom to being a Grammy-nominated cultural phenomenon in one year?
I found out about the Website SoundClick. You’d post MP3s and people would rate on your music and you’d get put on charts. I had this song called “Doo Doo Head.” It was this stupid comedic song — and after a few weeks, it went No. 1 on the charts and everyone started coming to my page looking for new music. Then I found MySpace, made my first page, and linked the MySpace page from SoundClick. Really all my MySpace views came from SoundClick and my YouTube clicks came from MySpace; they fed off each other.
What about the phrase “supermanning a ho”? Have you ever supermanned a ho, and, if so, why would anyone want to?
I first recorded the song a long time ago, before I ever got signed. I was 16 and it was just something that I was saying. I was like “Watch me crank that Soulja Boy and superman that ho.” Then I got signed [by Atlanta-based Collipark Records], then I went to Interscope, the song blew up in the mainstream and people started making up all kinds of crazy definitions on the Internet. It’s really nothing that you can actually do.
Your second album, coming out next month, is called iSouljaboytellem. Does it have any new dances that we probably won’t be able to do?
My first single is a dance song called “Birdwalk.” The whole concept of the album is based off of iTunes and Apple. Everything is going digital: ringtones, movies, videos, games. And I’m Soulja Boy, the newest of the new, representing the kids. We’re also rolling out a live-action cartoon created by the dudes who did Robot Chicken on Adult Swim. I’ve got a clothing line called Yumms, with my own shoe. Also, in 2009, there’s going to be the Soulja Boy Tell Em video game coming to Xbox 360.
You have another new video out called “Turn My Swag On.” What is swag, and how can it be turned on?
I think swag is very important to rappers. It’s the overall appearance and style of an artist — these blue shorts and this blue hat and this $80,000 chain, this jewelry and all these tattoos, that’s swag. Swag defines an artist, period. Lil Wayne has his super-tattooed pierces and dreads swag. Jay-Z has his New York, grown man, Beyoncé and 40/40 Club swag. Soulja Boy is on his dance, down south, young, 18-year-old, comedic swag. It’s really just each person’s personality; if every rapper had the same swag, it would be kind of boring.