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Soulja Boy never became a troll, he was one from the very moment he began to imprint himself on the national music scene, pulling the bait-and-switch on folks hoping to grab 50 Cent tracks off Limewire. So while his recent Breakfast Club interview may have been a reminder of his rabble-rousing ways to most of the mainstream public, it’s really just the latest and loudest moment in a career that has been characterized by trolling and a preternatural sense of knowing who to target and when to pounce.

Initially, Soulja Boy emerged as an icon at the dawn of the ringtone rap era. His eponymous hit “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” was certified three-times platinum and topped the ringtone sales chart. Short, recognizable, and hook-centric, his music was made perfectly to be diced into 10 second clips for the digital age. He helped to bring back the trend of tying hit rap songs in with easy to learn dances, something that persists even now.

The rapper’s proto-viral rise was a harbinger for the future of hip-hop, but it instantly put him at odds with the genre’s elders. That can lead some artists to try and prove themselves by showcasing their traditional MC skills (think Lil Yachty), but Soulja Boy resisted those temptations. This is someone who had a legitimate hit song where he and his friend literally shout gibberish at anyone who tries to speak to them – he’s not going to do anything to appease the “lyrical, miracle, spiritual” set.

His 2008 sophomore album, iSouljaboytellem, was “based off of iTunes and Apple,” and featured both more polished production and more guest appearances from the likes of Gucci Mane, Shawty Lo, and Yo Gotti. While the record spawned a few successful singles, that era was when he fully leaned into his trollish tendencies, and figured out the best way to do so was by antagonizing specific artists. For instance, he accused Bow Wow of renting his Lamborghini and challenged him to a race for ownership of the car, though the two later made up and released the joint mixtape Ignorant Shit in 2016.

Part of the key for Soulja Boy was to find the right tone for his trolling – something bombastic and over-the-top, but largely harmless. He found the acceptable line and superman’d past it in November 2008 when he said, “Shout out to the slave masters! Without them we’d still be in Africa,” almost a decade before Kanye’s condemnable slavery comments on TMZ. He also received significant flack for rapping “Fuck all the Army troops” on “Let’s Be Real.” His willingness to delve into geopolitical issues on the latter is vaguely commendable, but a conscientious objector Soulja most certainly is not.

He really turned the corner as a hall of fame heel when he reframed his narrative as that of a veteran who wasn’t getting his proper due, chiding newer MCs, particularly those from the south. He feuded with Kodak Black and Lil Yachty, the latter of which spiraled into bad blood with Migos. In 2016, Soulja released “Beef,” a scathing diss where he took credit for giving the Atlanta group an early career boost. He explained on The Breakfast Club that the feud was quashed, even showing DMs with Takeoff for proof, though he continued to assert that he helped put them on with a kind of paternal condescension.

There’s also his outlandish beef with Chris Brown, which nearly culminated in a boxing match between them before Brown cancelled. The singer, who was recently released without charges following a rape accusation in Paris, is a far more loathsome figure than Soulja despite his enduring commercial popularity, so even though the conflict seems to have been initiated by Soulja Boy, plenty of fans simply wouldn’t support Brown on principle.

Never content to confine his instigation to the music world, Soulja Boy’s diverse portfolio has kept him in the headlines and given him ample trolling opportunities. In 2011, he loudly proclaimed his intent to star in a remake of the 2Pac film Juice, and even tried to audition to play the legendary rapper in a biopic.

In 2016, he claimed to have inked a $400 million deal with the World Poker Fund, which Charlamagne debunked on The Breakfast Club as being worth just a small fraction of that. Soulja’s brilliant response was “Millions is millions, my baby.” There’s also the matter of his electronics ventures, the SouljaWatch and SouljaGame emulator, which he maintains are legitimate and legal, though his SouljaWatch retail site is no longer operational and some paid orders seem to have not been fulfilled.

All of which brings us to January 2019, when Soulja achieved a viral moment with his visceral Tyga rant that he parlayed into the Breakfast Club interview, and an opportunity to lob shots at Drake and Kanye West, while providing the rap media world with roughly a dozen memes.

There’s also a certain amount of luck involved in trolling, and the fact that Ariana Grande’s new track “7 Rings” came out at the tail end of Soulja’s most omnipresent week since the mid-2000s certainly counts as that. Grande uses a cadence that is similar to Soulja’s on “Pretty Boy Swag,” and as you could expect, the Atlanta rapper ran with it, making similar claims about her as he did with Drake.

Part of what makes Soulja Boy such an effective troll is the kernel of truth in his inflammatory statements. Quavo corroborated that both he and Migos had the same Zaytoven beat, and Drake clearly does interpolate “What’s Hannenin’” on his 2010 song “Miss Me.” But Soulja takes that to the furthest possible extreme, claiming that he taught “[Drake] everything he knows.”

Soulja needs to keep stirring the pot as his music grows less and less germane to his fame. In 2018, he dropped two independent studio albums, three mixtapes, and two EPs, but none of those generated a fraction of the conversation that him screaming “DRAAAKE?!” did for a reason.

The quality of Soulja Boy’s music is still highly questionable. It’s not hard to tell why the Zaytoven instrumental he and Migos famously shared is known as the “Versace” beat and not the “OMG Part 2” beat, and “What’s Hannenin’” is half-baked and unlistenable compared to “Miss Me.” But there is no denying his savvy. In a sense, criticizing figures like Drake, West, and Grande is Soulja fighting above his weight class, but in reality, none of them can respond without lowering themselves to his level. Because of the names involved, the click-hungry media covers Soulja Boy’s every comment, and his profile continues to rise.

In the Breakfast Club interview, Soulja Boy is indignant when Charlamagne and DJ Envy say that Tyga and Meek Mill had bigger 2018 comebacks than he did, but when the two hosts talk about musical accomplishments Soulja doesn’t rush to mention any of the dozens of songs he dropped last year. At this point, music is a secondary or tertiary interest for him, in the same vein as acting or hocking shoddy video game systems. He’s a full-time shit stirrer, and when all is said and done he’ll probably find himself as the Drake or Kanye West of online trolling.

Words by Grant Rindner
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