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There are no less than 30 people on stage and it's been this way for the majority of the evening. Men mean-mug and bop in an attempt to look both cool and menacing. Women are in the back just barely dancing. A Virgin Mary suctioned to the dashboard of a car inching its way through a school zone moves with more panache. The women are accesories, no more or less than gold chains that shine brightly. The men are as well. They're props, mood-lighting, confetti. You are being indoctrinated into an environment where nothing else matters other than pleasure and an image. There is no better representation of all that is ridiculous, wonderful, boring exciting, troublesome and honorable about hip hop in its current form than a Soulja Boy show.
One thing about Soulja Boy that's for damn sure is that he's a great performer. He actively participates in a cardinal sin--rapping along to his mp3 tracks. This is largely the lowest form of a performance. It's what you or I can do better after two shots of Jager, tequila, four bong hits, beer and a cheeseburger in the comfort of our own home. Yet, Soulja Boy is a magnetic force that makes a taboo seem absurdly fun, as opposed to Ambien personified. It's so easy for him because he's a veteran.
We were introduced to Soulja Boy back in 2007 when he jettisoned into the eye of mainstream American culture with "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" by way of the Old Myspace. It was the goofy dance that spread more rapidly than gossip in a small town. It's safe to say that most of us didn't expect Soulja Boy to last long. He was all novelty and no substance. Nearly every musician of any sort that bursts onto the scene thanks to a dance--The Macarena, Cha Cha Slide, Stanky Leg...Shmoney Dance?--has a hilariously short shelf life. Soulja Boy prevailed though. And he's an unsung pioneer in the transformation of rap music's dependency on the Internet.
The boy who once wrote seemingly innocent songs that read closer to Radio Disney than Def Jam on a rap litmus test is all growned up now. The content of is all money, cash, hoes now --but he is a rapper, so what type of facts are those? The dissonance between his previous veneer of wholesomeness and contemporary ratchet tracks doesn't stop him from sprinkling both onto the track list. He performed teen romance number "Kiss Me Through The Phone," as well as the lovably narcissistic "Pretty Boy Swag." When Soulja Boy performs "Gucci Bandana" the crowd is just as into it as "Tear It Up." Any song that Soulja Boy performs gets the job of making the crowd--a pretty slim one--nod their heads at worst and make complete asses of themselves at best.
There are people out there who are terrified of hip-hop being ruined or killed (oh, the tragedy). Among the many threats to the sacred tradition of hip-hop is Soulja Boy, or so the tin foil hatted conspiracy theorists say. However, Soulja Boy is the truest embodiment of hip-hop's pure spirit. We're speaking of a genre that was founded upon facilitating a good time, and the emcee, that is, some flamboyant dude who said slick shit over records. Soulja Boy squeezes in snippets of the day's hottest records in between performing his own songs: "Yasss Bish!!," "O-100," "Hot Nigga," "Handsome and Wealthy." It doesn't matter that a few of those aforementioned songs involved him creatively, what matters is that Drake is still flourishing on last years gas and putting five bucks in the tank here and there with random track releases. What Matters is that Nikki Minaj is debatably the hottest rapper in the game right now and the only way you could make a case for why she isn't is if you consider hype, like that of Bobby Shmurda. The fact that Soulja Boy gives a little more attention to a song by Migos than the most quality song he's ever created, "Zan With That Lean," is infuriating. But, a Soulja Boy performance is less about the rapper, and more about the facilitator of fun. I imagine seeing Soulja Boy live is about as close as we'll ever get to Broadway adaptation of a modern day House Party.
At the end of the show, a shirtless and covered in tattoes Soulja Boy sends things back to his roots and "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" blares through the speakers. He does that goofy dance for a short time. He's barely even attempting to rap the words to the song. He's just conducting those who feel compelled to scream them. He then starts to takes pictures with fans. He's running his hand down the top of his head, smoothly, which is basically the black version of the Fonz or Danny Zuko sliding a comb through a thick pomp. An act of rebellious cooler than thou. Soulja Boy's career wash supposed to be a flash in the pan, but here he is, still. So many others have come and gone and he'll probably be here forever cranking that longevity. And putting fear in the hearts of hip-hop purists everywhere.