Soulja Boy's Absurd, Self-Produced Documentary Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Life
Making your first big breakthrough through the relentlessly churning viral industry is a good way to marginalize one’s art, as fans of Psy, Carly Rae Jepsen and Baauer will grimly note. In the years since Soulja Boy leapt to attention with the radio-dominating, dance-instructing "Crank That (Soulja Boy)," his music hasn’t received much serious consideration outside of rap-specific publications. Sharp listeners, though, will note his acumen for curation, prodigious output, ear for beats, and ability to anticipate the Next Big Thing in Internet-driven rap (Odd Future, Lil B and Chief Keef being among some of the acts he co-signed early in their careers) as only a child of the Myspace generation could. I should also note that the moment shortly after 1:40 in the "Pretty Boy Swag" video where he turns from the girl he’s courting and flips up his sunglasses while rapping "Damn" to reveal a wide-eyed, revelatory expression—as though being reminded of some distant, pleasant memory he hadn’t thought about in a very long time, the shape of her body a Proustian trigger—is probably my favorite shot of any music video, ever.
But this isn’t about Soulja Boy’s music, which the Noisey editors could spend a few weed-inspired listicles telling you about. Rather, it’s about Soulja Boy: The Movie—the documentary released in 2011 that chronicles the rise of his career through the somewhat disappointing reception for his third studio album, The DeAndre Way. It’s available to watch on Netflix, and—to put it plainly—is probably one of the most befuddling and entertaining things I’ve watched in recent memory, both explaining DeAndre Cortez Way and probably serving as the text for a #slatepitch about #millennialculture. There's an earnest and successful attempt to humanize Soulja and his rise from poverty to ubiquitous rap stardom in a way that's obviously fawning but not ridiculously so, providing a grounded perspective on his career, his beef with Ice-T and how his album tanked amongst other events in his life. It's also immensely ridiculous because as a web-savvy young person with no restrictions who earned millions of dollars before he left his teenaged years—something that's articulated by his cameraman as the combination that propels him to success—Soulja Boy often and admittedly acts ridiculously. At one point, he moonwalks on a small safe's worth of cash for no apparent reason; he also conducts the movie's main interview while absentmindedly surfing his laptop and eating candy. But within the disjointed narrative, there's a rough guide to life as only Soulja Boy could instruct. I broke it down for you in aphorisms.
KNOW YOUR BEGINNINGS, BUT KNOW WHEN TO LEAVE YOUR BEGINNINGS BEHIND
There’s certainly no bad way to make money when you’re first starting out—not in the least because greatness can come from anywhere, and because anything that keeps you on your grind is a good start. But you’ve also got to know when it’s time to move on, as Soulja Boy did when he realized he could make as much money playing a show as he could from Burger King in five months.
IT'S NOT HOW YOU GET PAID; IT'S HOW YOU GET PAID.
Don’t tether yourself to one medium, profession or discipline; rather, invest in the business of you, and always stay aware of how you can best chase the next payday. Computers may be the future, but they’re not an automatic ticket to success.
BE GOOD TO THE PLACES YOU GO, AND THEY'LL BE GOOD TO YOU
Soulja Boy isn't just an ambassador of music, he's an ambassador of life.
IT'S IMPORTANT TO BE YOURSELF AT ALL TIMES
Establishing brand recognition is a 24/7 pursuit.
ALWAYS BE HONEST...
Even when that honesty seems to contradict whatever it is you’re doing.
DON'T TAKE LIFE TOO SERIOUSLY
It’s important to blow off steam every now and then, whether by yourself or with your friends.
BUT THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS THAN FUN
Know your limits. Look before you leap. If you're going to make sex, use protection.
NO MATTER HOW MANY QUESTIONS YOU ASK, SOME THINGS WILL NEVER MAKE SENSE
If you have never seen Soulja Boy live, you should correct that immediately.
DON'T TRUST ANYONE OLDER THAN THE AGE OF 25
Sometimes, your boss really is in the wrong, even if he or she is older and makes more money than you. Also, wearing a blanket like a turtle shell is a great way to beat the cold.
MONEY WON'T ALWAYS BUY HAPPINESS, BUT YOU'LL IMMEDIATELY RECOGNIZE WHEN IT CAN
A vanity purchase isn’t the worst idea in the world if it makes you happier. (Explanation, because the screenshots can’t do it all: This is a diamond-studded toy car that Soulja Boy wears on a chain, which he can also direct via remote control; at one point he takes it off his neck, zips it around while yelling gleefully, and then jumps into a hot tub that still has water in it while fully clothed before remarking, "I thought this was empty." Bonus lesson: Look before you leap!)
THERE'S NO LESSON HERE
I just had to point out where Soulja Boy begins moonwalking over a large pile of cash while a former associate narrates off-camera, “Right now, people are struggling to get one dollar, two dollar. And you’re blowing thousands of dollars on nothing, and someone will get famous off of you by killing you.” Again, while he is moonwalking over a large pile of cash.
PRODUCTIVITY COMES IN MANY FORMS
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box if it’s how you work best, even if not the way you were taught in school.
SELF-REFLECTION IS IMPORTANT
But what if a life lesson isn’t immediately making itself apparent?
Then fuck it.
Jeremy Gordon has watched the Soulja Boy documentary one thousand and seventeen times. You can find him on Twitter - @jeremypgordon
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