[27 January 2009]
So it’s come to this—a followup from Soulja Boy that would have felt too soon if it came out in 2018, called iSouljaBoyTellem, overflowing with reminders that Soulja Boy is young (a scant 18 years) and wealthy, as are his friends. He’s got a lot of money, a house you (the average listener) probably couldn’t afford, and Mr. Collipark behind him. He’s sold records and he has millions of MySpace and YouTube friends.
And what about music? From the sound of iSouljaBoyTellem, he could care less. After listening to hours of snooze-inducing braggadocio from Soulja Boy, I’m hard-pressed to have an inkling that he really needs to be making music. In an era where pop stars become bad actors and authors (and vice versa) by default, it’s hard to believe that Soulja Boy wouldn’t be just as happy being a horrible actor or a clumsy writer, instead of the embarrassing monotone entertainer that he is.
Let’s back up a minute, because this is starting to sound like the curmudgeonly tirade readers might expect from music critics. I’m not breaking any new ground by pointing out that Soulja Boy isn’t a great MC—he’s received far more damning criticisms from rap luminaries like Ice-T and Snoop Dogg, and I’m not going to add anything more credible to the well-deserved bile. Further, “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” is an infectious single, possessing the kind of dumb fun appeal that’s hard to deny. A fun single, but it didn’t necessitate an album the first time around (2007’s filler-ridden Souljaboytellem.com), and iSouljaBoyTellem does one worse by lacking anything equal to “Crank That”.
By now, Soulja Boy is used to hearing that he’s the bane of rap music, a symbol of its over-commercialization and creative drought. On “Soulja Boy Tell’em”, he throws money and MySpace stats at critics: “Three times platinum yeah I broke the record / If you can’t respect that tell me what is you respectin’?” The obvious answers here—creativity, art, passion, and music with a soul—seem to evade Soulja Boy. He’s a depressing end game for any genre: he only sees industry, refusing to place value on anything that doesn’t relate to album sales or online social network popularity. If Soulja Boy could turn a profit from defecating into a microphone and selling it, I’m pretty sure “Shit That” would be his next single.
Touching on the music, iSouljaBoyTellem features the mediocre snap production we’ve come to expect from Mr. Collipark’s protégés. Booming basses, tinny snares and snaps, and some keyboard lines that maybe took five minutes to loop are the M.O. here. In some demented way it’s an original style, but a boring and endlessly derivative one. Still, given that “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” was crafted from stock samples in Fruity Loops, anything further removed from pressing a “demo” button is a comparative step up.
iSouljaBoyTellem is that rare record which makes the listener tired just from listening to it. Soulja Boy’s verses are delivered in a grating, off-key sing-song drawl, with the resulting effect that he sounds like he’d rather be doing anything at the moment but laying down a track. Given his youth, Soulja Boy has precious few meaningful experiences to draw on for his lyrics—“I Pray (Outro)” is the only cut to take baby steps toward depth. Recounting growing up in a broken home, Soulja Boy for the first time sounds relatable. The track is still full of yawn-inducing repetitions of “Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em”—isn’t there a verbal disorder that causes people to repeat the same phrase inappropriately?—but for the first time, it’s feasible that Soulja Boy has something substantive to rap about. Comparatively, the intro track, “I’m Bout Tha Stax”, has him declaring allegiance to swag, ice, and cars. If only he could also be about the music.
iSouljaBoyTellem ultimately fails because it’s barely memorable, lacking any kind of successor to “Crank That” to keep Soulja Boy relevant. The press material for the album tellingly refers to a yet-to-be-released video as “viral”, symptomatic of the grating lolrapper that Soulja Boy has become. After being told to “eat a dick” by Ice-T, Soulja Boy responded by dissing Ice for having been born before the Internet was around, as though the rap industry couldn’t have existed without it. Soulja Boy needs the most inane social data of the Internet to justify his continued existence as a rapper, but even the online reception to iSouljaBoyTellem has thus far been tepid. Perhaps a lack of more platinum singles will convince the industry-minded Soulja Boy to hang it up, or at least go back to the drawing board.