Today I want to examine one of the worst rappers of our generation, the incomparable young man, Soulja Boy Tell 'Em. To begin, we need to take a magical journey all the way back to Late Summer 2007...
...slowly recovering from the awesome power of Rihanna's "Umbrella" and Sean Kingston's "Beautiful Girls," we were ready for about anything in the fall. Something to make the school kids dance, something stupid, incogneous and extremely fun. One man rose to the occasion. 17-yr old Soulja Boy Tell 'Em. Besides having the dumbest name ever in Hip Hop, his opus was lyrically meaningless but also very entertaining. He would form the basis for a movement away from some of the grittier real gangsta shit of the preceding years towards a much poppier-sounding rap that holds sway today. Take a listen:
Gorgeous. The song not only fueled lots of spectacular parody, but provided a cultural icon enough to change the game. Maybe. Hear me out for a sec -
Rap has gone through a few major movements. It started as a West African, then Jamaican, urban-specific (Bronx-specific) form of rhythmic spoken delivery over beats without accompaniment (Here's where I stole that from). From these basic roots that hinged on lyrical and rhyming complexity, rap turned more violent with the "Gangsta" image pervaded by Dre, Snoop, N.W.A., Public Enemy among others. Prior to Soulja Boy there were the occasional goof-off, Pop-centered Raps, but more often by the mid-2000s the basic schools were the heirs of Gangsta (50, Eminem, G-Unit, T.I., etc) and essentially the educated, socially conscious cast of Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2006) (Kanye, Mos Def, Dead Prez, etc). I'm being overly general here and there's certainly exceptions. Jay-Z and Diddy probably fall somewhere in the middle as does Luda. Authenticity is always doubtful, but there were not a lot of mainstream Hip Hop artists whose sole export was crappy, Pop-Hop, which I call, Crud-Hop.
"Crank That Soulja Boy" was a near-instantaneous hit with lyrics that widely avoided both social black issues and the promulgation of violent stereotypes. It sought to earn its cred solely on beat and flow without lyrical complexity of any kind. Many rappers since have modeled this template, including Gucci Mane, Rich Boy and M.I.M.S.
This is why I'm hot / I don't gotta rap / I can sell a mill sayin' nothin' on the trackTruer words could not have been rapped in this tricky time period. The thing is, M.I.M.S. was right. He sold a few mill sayin' absolutely nothing on any track. It's incredible. It's also led to some more great parody. Soulja Boy Tell 'Em, though, embodies the movement of rap into meaningless pop better than any other artist here.
Soulja Boy Tell 'Em had a few other shitty songs, but he really hasn't matched the stupidity level of "Crank That." I want to give credit here to what really is the best mainstream Rap Album of 2009, Snoop Dogg's Malice n Wonderland. Take a listen to Track 7, "Pronto." There is some bullshit music video shit before hand, feel free to skip to about 1:35 in:
This is one of the tightest rap tracks in a long time. Soulja Boy Tell 'Em's maturity is very apparent, improving stylistically both in appearance, lyrics and swagger. Snoop's tutelage, if it exists, is apparent. Snoop's own career has strayed far from his hardcore gunslinging (think Favre) appearance in the early 1990s to a more pop-oriented style, beginning early with R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece (2004). With the Doggfather shifting his styles towards a more dance-based style also demonstrates the watering down of Gangsta Rap.
So enjoy this goofy asshole while we can as Soulja Boy Tell 'Em has the potential for some greatness if he can stave off his One-Hit Wonder status and prove he has some legitimate talent, which I believe he is on the right track with considering "Pronto." Until next time, stay gangsta