Our pals at VIBE sat down with the 19-year-old Soulja Boy and talked studying Nas, disappearing tattoos, and disparaging Twitter hashtags. For more on Soulja Boy - go to Vibe.com.
VIBE: The world thought you kissed you 2.2 million Twitter followers goodbye last week. What happened?
Soulja Boy Tell'Em: Some busters hacked my page. Little nerds, they sit all day and try to get into your page. I woke up and couldnt log in and was just getting crazy texts, like, "Man, you deleted your Twitter?" Twitter brought my page back; everything is 100 now.
Would've been a tragedy amidst the success of "Pretty Boy Swag." Did you expect the video to hit No. 5 on iTunes the first day it came out?
When I went in the studio to do that song was earlier this year, I was playing. I got a beat from my lil homies and went in and said, Pretty Boy Swag. I was really feeling myself. The song did like a million [views] on YouTube. So I ran with it, the streets ran with it, and after that, the label caught hold.
Does it feel similar to your previous singles that took off, like "Crank Dat" and "Turn My Swag On"?
Yeah, it feels just like "Superman," like "My Dougie." That authentic, real growth from the streets spread through the high schools and the college parties. I love that feeling.
"[Kanye] said, 'Those were some dope f-ckin verses.' I said, 'OK, thats all I needed. [Laughs] I got the stamp.'"
I remember you saying a few months back that you want this to be your most lyrical album yet. Whats your writing process?
It depends on what type of song it is. For "Pretty Boy Swag," there was no writing process. I went into the booth, listened to the beat, and the rhythm had just kept catching my head. So I put the headphones on and just replaced the rhythm with whatever words. That was my basic process for that song. But like for a song I have on my album called I Deserve A Grammy, featuring Esther Dean, the writing process for that was crucial. That was like, a six-hour plane ride from New York to Los Angeles, just clearing my head, sitting down with a sheet of paper and a pen and just going in. Thinking of the words, how Im going to pronounce each syllable and playing the beat over and over in my head. That was a much more crucial process. When people hear the album, and hear songs like I Deserve A Grammy, youre going to be able to tell I really had to sit down and go back in over and over until I had it perfect.
Interesting song title. Do you feel like you don't get enough respect for the success you've achieved?
Everybody knows what it is. Whether they respect it publicly or low-key, deep down they know what Soulja Boy did. Eventually I will earn the respect. I just gotta keep putting in that work and eventually I will win a Grammy and all the awards I deserve. I just gotta prove myself.
What about the Twitter hashtags #ifsouljaboycouldrap or #rappersbetterthansouljaboywhen you see stuff like that, do you just laugh it off, or does it get to you?
When I see stuff like that it makes my ego get bigger. Because its like, damn, all these people are focusing on mewhether its good or its bad. I know that my musics the shit. Its only a certain group of people pushing that negative energy, so for all the other people thats seeing it that fuck with me, that makes them want to go harder for me. When I see stuff like that, I know its going to lead all these people to my name, period. Its funny, but at the same time, its promotion.
Whatd you do differently this album to make your raps more lyrical?
This time around I did a lot of research. I received a lot of constructive criticism, listened to different peoples opinions, and then I sat down and bought a whole bunch of different albums, and listened to them all the way throughreally listened to the lyrics. I just wanted to hear what they were saying. I took from all of that and mixed it into one and I went ham.
Who were some of the people who gave you constructive criticism?
When I was in the studio with Kanye, when I was in the studio with Jamie FoxxId just spit a verse and say, Yo, what you really think about that? Give me you honest opinion. After I got that, I really found out that my shit hot, and people are not saying it just to say it. They really think its dope.
What exactly was Kanyes reaction?
Kanye said my shit was dope, man. I played him my second single, its called Speakers Going Hammer. Jimmy Iovine loves this record. He plays this record every day. So I played it for [Kanye] and he said, "Those were some dope fuckin verses." I said, OK, thats all I needed. [Laughs] I got the stamp.
"I dont want to kiss ass, but pay homage the right way. The older rappers, would respect that and be proud. Like, 'Soulja Boy doing it right'"
What were some of the albums that you picked up to study and model yourself after?
I studied a whole lot of 2Pac: Dear Mama, Ghetto Gospel is one of my favorite ones, Changes. That was one of my favorite rappers of all time. And then a lot of people tell me I should listen to Nas, so I bought Hip-Hop Is Dead and listened to each song all the way through. I really dug Pacs message. If more of the new-school rappers knew the historybecause we was like, 9 and 10 when these dudes were in their primewe could really make our older peers proud of us. Know our roots and what were rapping about.
Wow, thats a total 180 from your spat with Ice T. When did you gain this newfound respect for your rap forefathers?
Let me think hard about this. It was like, the end of 09. After I did the Wayne tour, I chopped it up with Busta Rhymes. He was like, I fuck with you, man. I looked up Busta Rhymes and [realized] its so many people I meet on a daily basis that I dont know at all, that used to be the shit in 1995. If I could learn about this whole game, about the past, Id be more advanced as a new-school artist. I dont want to kiss ass, but pay homage the right way. The older rappers, would respect that and be proud. Like, that nigga Soulja Boy doing it right, you know what Im saying?
Who put you up on 2Pac?
To be honest, my moms put me up on Pac. But that was earlier on. My moms used to play Pac all the time. So I was like, I came from my momma, and Pac is her favorite rapper, so let me just go do my research. Im in this game now and I aint goin nowhere, and I gotta be consistent with the hits, so let me do my knowledge.Looking back at your first two albums, do you think the rhymes were wack?
I aint gonna front. I heard some of my previous songs and I would just laugh, like, damn. I done came a long way. Its crazy how people really fuck with them songs, how they were successful. Its crazy just to see my growth. Its amazing.
Do you think the dance genre of hip-hop is starting to die out? Is that why youre trying to go the more lyrical lane?
I can always pull a dance song off and swag that bitch real quick in any club. Because at the end of the day, niggas gon always dance. I dont give a fuck how gangster you is, how fine the girl is, how ugly she is, she gon be in the club shakin her ass. And the young niggas gon be in the club two stepping, trying to get on her. Theyve been dancing since the slave days. You couldnt be lyrical in the slave daysniggas aint know words! But niggas was dancing, though.
So the albums called The DeAndre Way. Whyd you dump the Soulja Boy title you rode with for the first two?
Well, the albumthis is my whole life. This is the DeAndre way. For all the people outside looking in, you want to know the real story, you want to know how its going down, come take a listen. Ima get real with them. Go government on em.
"People try to downplay me and hate, but as far as causing physical harm, I dont think its that serious. People might not like my music, but thats as far as they take it.
Word is you have a record with Trey Songz.
Yeah, we just added Chris Brown on there, thats going to be a hit. Thats going to be an R&B smash. Its called "Hey Cutie." My whole vision is Im looking at the game and there aint no groups. I was like, Yo, put Chris on the record and lets do a group for this single and make all the ladies go crazy.
Whats the name of the group?
Ah, man, I dont even know yet. We gotta make one up.
What subject matter do you tackle on the album?
I got a song called Born that I go real ham on. I talk about since the day I was born, I been labeled as a nigga. I was born into this lifestyle, born to be judged. I just really go into detail about that. Every person I played that for felt it. I came straight from the heart and I kept it real.Do you see yourself still rapping at age 40?
Age 40, still rapping? Nah, man. Ima be like a Scarface boss. Super caked the fuck up on a yacht. My sons going to be a legend, though. Hes going to continue the legacy, but Ima be somewhere caked up on a resort.
Is that something that you think about right now? Kids and having a family in the future?
Yeah. By 40 I imagine Ill have a son and his mother will be beautiful and have some goals I can relate to. But I cant be 40 saying Pretty Boy Swag.
Ha! Youve already let go of the Soulja Boy shades, too.
Aw, man, because I got on my Pretty Boy Swag, man. The girls want to see whos behind the shades. When I was younger, I used to think of myself like a superhero. Like, when I put the shades and hat on, I turned into Soulja Boya whole nother person. Once I grew up, I just took em off and all the girls started jockin on me. I just never put them back on. [Laughs]
What is the youngest and the oldest youd date?
The youngest being, what, 18. The oldest, uh, 35. Yeah, thats good.
"I got a fanbase of kids that goes down as low as 10 years old, all the way up to grown people in their 30s. When the camera was on me, I wasnt thinking about none of that."
If you had to have one tattoo removed, which would it be?
Out of all my tattoos, Id get the one on my right arm removed. Its a tattoo of this goon ass nigga with two pistols. Every other tattoo on my body I cherish and got a deep meaning. I dont know why I got that. [Laughs] Its fresh, it just dont got no meaning. I woke up the other day, like, man, theres a nigga on my arm with two guns.
True. Has there ever an online moment that you regretted afterward?
Smoking on camera. I do regret that. I aint really want my fans to see that, because I got a fanbase of kids that goes down as low as 10 years old, all the way up to grown people in their 30s. When the camera was on me, I wasnt thinking about none of that. And we all make mistakes, as long as you know what your mistake was and you be a man about it, people will forgive you and you can move on.
Has it been difficult accepting the fact that you're a role model now and you kind of have to watch your actions?
Yeah, I didnt realize that off top. I do believe that the parents should play a big role in these kids lives but I understand that in some of these kids lives I got more power than their parents. So thats why I dont take it to the super extreme. I dont do no crazy shit. My basic message is to tell these kids be positive, get money, dance a little and have a little fun.
One of your biggest cosigns yet is Lil B. What do you think is his appeal?
Man, because he fuck with your boy. Im heavy on the Internet, any artist come connect with me on that level, you gon break into my fanbase online. If I introduce any artist online and he got something different about him, people are going to automatically mess with him.
He has an unusual approachhe takes shots at himself?
He dont care, man. Hes sacrificing himself for the game. Hes showing people that niggas can call you all these different types of names, but at the end of the day, niggas is still successful, being positive and getting money. You can call me all kinds of names, sticks and stones and all of that shit, but at the end of the day, where am I?
He had an incident where he got snuffed on camera and the video leaked to the web. Is that kind of action ever a concern for you?
Nah. People try to downplay me and hate and get fame off me, but as far as causing physical harm, I dont think its that serious. People might not like my music, but thats as far as they take it.