Soulja Boy just isn’t able to capitalize on his recent goodwill with some worthwhile new music.
Long before the maligned “mumble rap” claimed the title as the most contentious style of the day, there was ringtone rap, and no artist embodied its market-savvy spirit quite like Soulja Boy. As a 17-year-old, the Batesville, Mississippi rapper parlayed a viral dance into radio ubiquity with the most despised hit of 2007, “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” a catchy pairing of Atlanta snap and chintzy synthesized steel drums. Fleeting as its pleasures were, the song lingered on the radio for an eternity, well after the novelty of its youthful accompanying dance wore off. It was as if some bitter Clear Channel executive had decided to shame the public for taking to the track in the first place by keeping it in rotation as long as possible.
“Loathe” isn’t a strong enough word for how the masses felt about Soulja Boy when “Crank That” was at its most inescapable. But the public’s hatred didn’t deter Soulja much; if anything, he fed on it. “I don’t give a fuck, middle finger to the sky,” he responded on his 2008 track “I Know You Hate Me.” He went on to land several much-improved hits, “Kiss Me Through the Phone” and “Pretty Boy Swag” among them, before the laws of gravity took hold and the industry lost interest in him.
Even his detractors had to marvel at his resilience. Soulja Boy used his independence as an opportunity to reinvent himself. He befriended Lil B and adopted his process, firing off as much music as possible with no regard for quality control, in the process releasing a few undeniable mixtapes. For a few years in the early-’10s “Soulja Boy is actually good” became a fashionable contrarian take. When Beyoncé paid tribute to Soulja Boy’s most fondly remembered single “Turn My Swag On” on Lemonade, it felt like the culmination of a long redemption story. He was finally appreciated.
If only he were able to capitalize on that recent goodwill with some worthwhile new music. His new workmanlike mixtape, Best to Ever Do It, says everything you need to know about why, unless you run in some very esoteric corners of online rap fandom, you probably haven’t heard anybody beat the drum for new Soulja Boy project in quite a while. It’s also a reminder that Soulja Boy never had an original bone in his body. He’s still going about his swagger jacking ways, except now instead of cribbing from OJ Da Juiceman or Doughboyz Cashout he’s looking to fresh blood like Lil Pump, whose boyish cadence he lifts on “Rollie Wrist” and “I Got the Yop on Me,” or Playboi Carti, whose spacey adlibs inform “Pull Up in a Coupe.” He also mimics 21 Savage’s dead-eyed croon on “Mega Star” and does a patronizingly awful impression of Swae Lee’s falsetto on “Cotton Candy.” Even the tape’s one feature, from Lil Uzi Vert soundalike 24Hours, is on-brand by being off-brand.
Soulja’s Hamburglar routine would be easier to excuse if he backed up his borrowed styles with some vivid writing, or at least flashes of his old, mischievous spark. There isn’t one verse on the entire tape where he says something revealing or unexpected, or even so much as a single colorful word choice. He prattles on about pots, pans, Phantoms, and Porsches without a lick of conviction, regurgitating tropes instead of spinning them. There was a time when that might have been good enough. Earlier in his career, it was possible to claim a real market share with passable facsimiles of popular sounds, especially if you hustled as enthusiastically as he did. But in the era of abundant free streaming, there’s less demand for knockoffs than ever, and Soulja Boy’s business model has grown outdated.
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