A Long Convo With... Soulja Boy Tell'Em

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 couldn’t 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, that’s 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. What’s 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 I’m 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,” you’re 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 #rappersbetterthansouljaboy—when 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 it’s like, damn, all these people are focusing on me—whether it’s good or it’s bad. I know that my music’s the shit. It’s only a certain group of people pushing that negative energy, so for all the other people that’s seeing it that fuck with me, that makes them want to go harder for me. When I see stuff like that, I know it’s going to lead all these people to my name, period. It’s funny, but at the same time, it’s promotion.

What’d 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 people’s opinions, and then I sat down and bought a whole bunch of different albums, and listened to them all the way through—really 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 Foxx—I’d 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 it’s dope. 

What exactly was Kanye’s reaction?

Kanye said my shit was dope, man. I played him my second single, it’s 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, that’s all I needed. [Laughs] I got the stamp.”

"I don’t 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 Pac’s message. If more of the new-school rappers knew the history—because we was like, 9 and 10 when these dudes were in their prime—we could really make our older peers proud of us. Know our roots and what we’re rapping about.

Wow, that’s 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] it’s so many people I meet on a daily basis that I don’t know at all, that used to be the shit in 1995. If I could learn about this whole game, about the past, I’d be more advanced as a new-school artist. I don’t 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 I’m 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.” I’m in this game now and I ain’t 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 ain’t gonna front. I heard some of my previous songs and I would just laugh, like, “damn.” I done came a long way. It’s crazy how people really fuck with them songs, how they were successful. It’s crazy just to see my growth. It’s amazing. 

Do you think the dance genre of hip-hop is starting to die out? Is that why you’re 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 don’t 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. They’ve been dancing since the slave days. You couldn’t be lyrical in the slave days—niggas ain’t know words! But niggas was dancing, though.

So the album’s called The DeAndre Way. Why’d you dump the Soulja Boy title you rode with for the first two?

Well, the album—this 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 it’s going down, come take a listen. I’ma get real with them. Go government on ‘em.

"People try to downplay me and hate, but as far as causing physical harm, I don’t think it’s that serious. People might not like my music, but that’s as far as they take it.

Word is you have a record with Trey Songz.

Yeah, we just added Chris Brown on there, that’s going to be a hit. That’s going to be an R&B smash. It’s called "Hey Cutie." My whole vision is I’m looking at the game and there ain’t no groups. I was like, “Yo, put Chris on the record and let’s do a group for this single and make all the ladies go crazy.”

What’s the name of the group?

Ah, man, I don’t 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. I’ma be like a Scarface boss. Super caked the fuck up on a yacht. My son’s going to be a legend, though. He’s going to continue the legacy, but I’ma 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 I’ll have a son and his mother will be beautiful and have some goals I can relate to. But I can’t be 40 saying Pretty… Boy… Swag.

Ha! You’ve 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 who’s 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 Boy—a 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 you’d date?

The youngest being, what, 18. The oldest, uh, 35. Yeah, that’s 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 wasn’t thinking about none of that."

If you had to have one tattoo removed, which would it be?

Out of all my tattoos, I’d get the one on my right arm removed. It’s a tattoo of this goon ass nigga with two pistols. Every other tattoo on my body I cherish and got a deep meaning. I don’t know why I got that. [Laughs] It’s fresh, it just don’t got no meaning. I woke up the other day, like, man, there’s 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 ain’t 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 that’s why I don’t take it to the super extreme. I don’t 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. I’m 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 approach—he takes shots at himself?

He don’t care, man. He’s sacrificing himself for the game. He’s 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 don’t think it’s that serious. People might not like my music, but that’s as far as they take it.