SOULJA BOY INVENTED THE INTERNET.
Deandre ‘Soulja Boy’ Way is particularly outspoken for an inventor of the internet. Call him crazy all you want. But you can’t escape his influence.
In one of the most – if not the single most – comically referenced moments from Soulja Boy’s rambunctious 2019 Breakfast Club interview, the aughts-dynamizing rapper-slash-entrepreneur made the seemingly blasphemous declaration that there was no Drake without him: that Drake had stolen his “whole fucking flow, word for word, bar for bar.” The outburst came in response to a rhetorical comparison having been brought up between Soulja Boy and Meek Mill. After the former questioned why Meek was believed to have had a bigger comeback than him career-wise, co-hosts DJ Envy and Charlamagne Tha God cited that Mill was locked up (to which Soulja replied “I was locked up too, nigga!”), that he had hyper-publicly beefed with Drake (“Yo, Meek Mill ain’t beef with Chris Brown and was finna box him with Floyd Mayweather!”), and that, to further stress the weight of such a point, Drake was the biggest rapper in the world.
It was at the third statement that Soulja Boy stood up. “Drake??? Drake???” he paced quizzically to a far end of the studio, repeating the name in a sing-songy sarcasm bathed in slapstick disgust. “The nigga that got bodied by Pusha T? The nigga that’s hiding his kid from the world, but the world wouldn’t hide from his kid? Aubrey Graham in the wheelchair– Drake???”
Sitting back down, Soulja Boy declared that he taught Drake everything he knew. And before Charlamagne could form his vehement protest into a fully-realized sentence, he was cut off by a citation of the opening words to Drake’s 2010 hit single ‘Miss Me’ (“Tell meeee what’s really going on / Drizzy back up in this thing, I’m ready, what’s hannenin?”). They lined up practically verbatim to the first verse of Soulja Boy’s 2008 loosie ‘What’s Hannenin’.
Calling Drake out on plagiarism was not the only uncharted territory braved by the rapper over the show’s duration. For much of the decade leading up to the viral broadcast, Soulja Boy existed quietly shrouded in the shadow cast by his own elusive prime, gradually eclipsed by acts who grew up watching him, whilst seemingly lost-at-sea amidst a sweeping newfound audiary movement forged from the very simplicity he sought to implement long-term — to appear on the Breakfast Club was to vindicate himself as a cultural cornerstone: if he played his cards right, who was to keep him from landing right back in the center of the zeitgeist? Holding back was not an option. In Okayplayer’s ranking of the saga’s most ridiculous scenes, selected points made by Soulja Boy included that he was the reason why your favorite artist was on social media, that he was the blueprint off of which 6ix9ine modeled his entire career, that his 2018 comeback (despite having zero songs of his make the charts) was bigger than Tyga’s own of the same year, that Kanye West was lame, that he discovered Lil Pump and Rich the Kid, and that he was the first rapper to ever invent his own video game console (SouljaGame). With each point, mid-interview, it did not appear in the slightest that he had stumbled upon his rhetoric in the heat of the moment. No matter how controversial, questionable, or arguably blasphemous the sentiment, each and every assertion was unleashed with the same cutthroat confidence and tenacity of someone who had been mulling them over in silence for several years.
And for the most part, as wacky as it all may have registered on the air, it wasn’t like anything he was saying was entirely untrue. ‘Crank Dat’ was the first Youtube-borne viral hip-hop viral video-slash-dance to take fire in the 21st Century. Tyga’s 2018 comeback was somewhat marred by less-than-friendly family matters at home. 6ix9ine’s hyperrealistic in-your-face posse swag ethos was traceable to Soulja Boy’s faux-larger than life Stacks on Deck Money Gang. Soulja Boy did invent his own video game console after all. And if general collective opinion was worth anything, Kanye West was in the middle of a widely publicized mental breakdown that would have rendered him far lower than just “lame” if it hadn’t been for his reputation. Still, yet, as of today, it is notably antithetical that Soulja Boy remains widely outspoken – sporadic spikes of relevance coming in waves fueled in major part by Twitter beefs and meme culture writ large – no matter how kosher his gospel cashes in at its heart. The element through which Soulja Boy was leashed to his irrelevance in spite of the facts he spoke, last year, was the same as it had been from the 2010s onward: the people didn’t crown Soulja boy… Soulja Boy crowned Soulja Boy. If there’s anything Soulja Boy has, it’s receipts. There is viable evidence that Drake stole his lyrics. There exists over a decade’s worth of music videos that can be credibly traced back to a collection of his own from 2007 alone. No one would be dabbing, nae-nae-ing, or hitting them folks if they weren’t cranking that Soulja Boy first. But, when a Walmart cashier making minimum wage is confronted by a fuming, sweating, spitting 50-year-old receipt-brandisher violently shouting something about a return she must be granted lest the manager be called – even if the receipts are valid – is she more likely to be taken at her word, or taken by security? Soulja Boy is the Walmart lady. Yes, what he preaches about himself is very often true – but let’s be honest: most of us would rather call security than listen to him scream about it.“The most extensive reason for which the founder of something as dynamic as the internet is ambiguous enough to be attributed to Soulja Boy, is that the internet itself is ambiguous. There is no one internet, nor will there ever be any one holistic ‘internet’ to be addressed entirely as its own entity.”
Born Deandre Cortez Way (the “Draco” moniker being an amalgam of his first and middle names – not a Drake co-sign), Soulja Boy’s affection for rap music mainly developed itself over a decisive period that culminated with him moving from Atlanta, Georgia, to Batesville, Mississippi, at fourteen years of age. It was at this point that Way’s father provided a recording studio for him – a faith move that put hefty sums of money on the idea that he had enough talent to garner a following. He soon began receiving positive feedback for uploads he posted to the website SoundClick. Encouraged by his early support system, he opened accounts on Youtube and MySpace in 2007, recording and uploading primitive, low-budget versions of ‘Crank That’ and its accompanying dance to the platforms.
‘Crank That’ marked, as it likely did for many, my own personal introduction to Soulja Boy’s music. I was twelve years old when I first heard it. There was a violent hailstorm raging outside of my local Boys & Girls Club – where I had been attending summer camp – and while we were all locked indoors until either the weather cleared up, or our parents came to take us home, several of the counselors agreed to pop a copy of Dance Central into the company Wii system to help us endure the wait. Hearing Crank That for the first time was like being brainwashed into an all-exclusive way of being solely accessible to believers in the swagger it exhibited: it was more of a chant than a complex array of bars, more of a visual experience than an auditory soundscape, more of an open-ended I’m-me-and-you’re-not brag than a direct flex that only went in the direction of the rapper – but it more than anything else, was simple. It was catchy. Just because it seemed as if anyone could, I wanted to be just as swagged out as Soulja Boy when I grew up. I sat wide-eyed, staring at the television screen, slightly older peers routinely reciting the dance moves in my peripheral vision – jump-crossing legs, touching toes behind backs, hopping off of single feet with arms outstretched backwards like collective Supermen. My Dad arrived to take my sister and I home several verses before the game could finish. By midnight that night, I had memorized the entire song.
Especially after the track was featured in the television series Entourage, a cult-ish youth movement rooted in the same sensation – the sense, especially as stressed in ‘Crank That’s official music video, that Soulja Swag™ was accessible to anyone who wanted in – accompanied it en route to the top of the Billboard ‘Hot 100’. In a turn of events additionally depicted in the music video, hip-hop producer Mr. Collipark (Michael Crooms – Collipark was short for ‘College Park’) would soon take notice of Way’s rapid ascent, going on to sign him to a trajectory-shifting deal with Interscope Records. ‘Crank That’ was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Song; it lost to T-Pain and Kanye West’s ‘Good Life.’ Souljaboytellem.com (2007) was recorded entirely on FL Studio, and released in the fall of that year. iSouljaboytellem, its 2008 studio follow-up, featured small hits like ‘Turn My Swag On,’ ‘Bird Walk,’ and ‘Kiss Me Thru the Phone.’ Then – after releasing The Deandre Way to less-than-favorable reviews two years later in 2010 – Soulja Boy did not put out any major offering until well into the 2010s.
But somewhere amidst this teeny tiny short-lived three-ish year stint at the pinnacle of youth culture, yes, Deandre “Soulja Boy” Way did indeed invent the internet. Granted, much like a majority of what has come out of the rapper’s mouth spanning the Breakfast Club interview and the Randy Orton Twitter beef, such a declaration up-front registers as faux-shock value at best, perhaps a PR scheme to promote music that will once again miserably fail to insert him legitimately into the new age rap infrastructure. But if Soulja Boy did not, in fact, invent the internet, who can take the full credit for having done so? Steve Wozniak? Larry Page? Bill Gates? Zip. Zada. Zilch. Deandre “Soulja Boy” Way invented the internet.
The most extensive reason for which the founder of something as dynamic as the internet is ambiguous enough to be attributed to Soulja Boy, is that the internet itself is ambiguous. There is no one internet, nor will there ever be any one holistic ‘internet’ to be addressed entirely as its own entity. By definition, the internet is construed as a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols (Oxford). Thus, the first ever internet existed among the very first human beings to set foot on planet Earth. The computer is not exclusively a technological concept – the computer is, generally speaking, a machine (whether living or nonliving) capable of being instructed to carry out logical operations at varying levels of complexity. Not only is the human mind merely a computer; it is the most historically significant, long-tenured, and universally accomplished one to ever exist. All it takes to have a network of computers, ergo, is to have two functioning brains in communication with one another. And, from that point onward, the remainder of the textbook definition very easily fills itself out: to “provide a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols” is, very frankly, to speak. Any two human beings in communication equals one internet.
“An oft-overlooked element of the internet writ large is that we, as human beings, are able to choose definitively which internet we would like to exist in.”
But – as much as this definition remains just as applicable today as it ever did – its truth does not necessarily equate to its relevance. It’s a lot like the ancient use of the term ‘computer’ itself. Prior to innovations that would proliferate in the 1980s, “computer” practically meant exactly what it sounded like: one who computes. For a lengthy period, this was a title applied to human beings; one could have had a job as a professional computer, solving complex arithmetic problems that could not be evaluated via mental math for pay. The second life of the term ‘computer’ saw it attributed to the machines we now call ‘calculators’. Then, decades later, after new technology changed the permanent scope of the tech industry as a whole, the ‘computer’ took on the desktop-slash-laptop persona we revere as of present day. (Who knows what the next computer may be?).
Similarly, the internet led several lives of its own before it came anywhere close to its modern-day stature as the World Wide Web. In the lone place its evolution differs from that of the computer, albeit, the Internet’s several redefinitions came not as a product of mankind, but as a product of itself: after the internet became synonymous with a new wave of tech that indefinitely merged it with the concept of the computer, new “internets” grew to be brainchildren of the 1980-something original; a brand new internet meant a brand new one-upping of whatever the last global communication medium may have entailed. When AOL (which stands for “America Online” — why did it take me so long to learn this??) was invented, so was a new internet. When Google was invented, so was a new internet. When Social Media took the world by storm, so did a new internet. And when cryptocurrency took the world by storm, so did a new internet.
An oft-overlooked element of the internet writ large is that we, as human beings, are able to choose definitively which internet we would like to exist in. It helps to picture it all as one big Venn Diagram: there are various niches, just like there are various distinct corners to be found on any social media platform, wherein divergent ideas – whether political, entertainment-based, sport-related, etc. – are able to exist freely in the exclusive company of those who lie in the same camp. Of course, those various far ends of the spectrum would make up the (in this case, far more than two) outermost circles of the structure. But then there is the middle: the thread. The glue. The things that tie all of the loose ends together. And, as it stands right now, that void is filled by a well-seasoned amalgamation of pop culture, urban vernacular, and social media as its own independent form.
It is a situation credited in great part to hip-hop. It was not long after the aughts that rambunctious acts like Odd Future took a stranglehold on the construct that one’s personality was allowed to be just as much – if not more – of a marketing scheme than the music itself. As a faction, for reference, Odd Future released a single solo studio album (The OF Tape Vol. 2) along with one compilation album complete with previously unreleased loosies either by, or featuring, nearly all affiliates over the course of one year. On social media, conversely, they quickly grew into not only a product of the youth culture they rose amidst, but the epitome of it. “Years before social media apps like Instagram or Snapchat allowed people to feel like they had access to the behind-the-scenes happenings of their favorite artists, Odd Future let fans peer into their lives,” Pitchfork contributor Brianna Younger put forth in a 2018 essay on the group. “They constantly updated their Tumblr and YouTube with photos and videos—of the collective working, skateboarding, eating, or simply just hanging out. The pseudo intimacy of these posts also helped them transcend from local friends to cult stars; they were a group where everyone was made to feel included, a family that brought in fans on the other side of the screen.”
Steeping from early movements like that of Odd Future, the current iteration of the internet is one that sees relationships between supplier and demander, creator and consumer, artist and fan, stressed, reimagined, and dynamized as the focal point of technology: the internet has long surpassed the simplicity of global interconnection – now, any time one browses the web, they are guaranteed to find themself on the side of either producer or consumer at for least one occasion within every five minute interval that passes. This is because the brand new internet is programmed to make that distinction. On forward-thinking websites like SSENSE (which also doubles as one of, if not the most, intriguing publication[s] out there), brick and mortar roots mesh with newfound e-commerce makeups to tailor user experiences to the overarching pull of the economic chain. Magazines like the New Yorker, despite the entire magazine industry being built upon the back of print journalism, are required to cap readers at a monthly free article limit so that they can financially survive a plight practically forced upon them by the shifting internet landscape. On OnlyFans, even – the sex content-for-pay function where sex work is afforded a virtual face – celebrities are biting in on the gambit more and more seriously as time goes on: this past December, A Boogie wit da Hoodie joined the platform to sell buyers exclusive previews of upcoming music.
It would seem counterintuitive to say so considering the overall premise of the (online) internet’s creation in general, but as it stands, the modern internet is the first to fully predicate itself upon inclusion: everyone is supposed to feel as if they are a part of the game, even if they aren’t anywhere near the cachet of a key player. It’s a great deal like an overarching theme brought up in Nancy Jo Sales’ legendary 1996 New York Magazine exposé “Prep School Gangsters”. The subjects, an extensive infrastructure of high school “crews” who rose to popularity in their respective communities for committing petty crimes, would often take on “slaves” who wanted so badly to be considered one of them that they willingly gave up anything. “We’re like gods to kids,” one crew member dubbed ‘Mr. Steam’ told Sales. “Socially, people look at what crews you’re down with. It’s what makes you popular.” One “slave” of theirs – a kid with rich parents by the name of Morton – begged to hang out with them until they obliged. In a short time, they ran out his parents’ credit card with uneaten Lobster from expensive restaurants, marijuana, hotel rooms, and other teenage pleasures that wasted away within hours of obtainment. Morton’s sister would grow addicted to drugs “big-time.”“When Google was invented, so was a new internet. When Social Media took the world by storm, so did a new internet. And when cryptocurrency took the world by storm, so did a new internet.”
In a way, we are all Morton. The internet prides itself on being all-inclusive; and, whenever we feel that we are missing out – whether that takes shape in being disagreed with on social media, feeling left out of a cultural movement, or even simply not enjoying a particular song that everyone else seems to – that same exact all-inclusive ethos becomes the greatest advertising force imploring us to jump onto the supply-and-demand conveyor belt in whatever capacity we see fit.
But there would likely be no dominant all-inclusivity if it wasn’t for the center of the Venn Diagram. And there would be no center of the Venn Diagram if it wasn’t for the newfound coexistence of pop culture and social media. And there would be no newfound coexistence of pop culture and social media if it wasn’t for Odd Future starting a Tumblr account.
And Odd Future would have never started a Tumblr account if it wasn’t for Soulja Boy starting a Youtube channel.
Deandre “Soulja Boy” Way invented the internet.