It’s been 15 years, and Soulja Boy — the teen rap star-turn-mogul who was once accused of “killing hip hop” — is still creating hits, captivating the Internet, and proving naysayers wrong.
Born Andre Cortez, the 31-year-old rapper is best known for “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” the wildly successful single that launched his career as a pioneer of digital hip hop. The Chicago-born artist initially self-published the catchy song to the internet in 2007 and uploaded the corresponding “Soulja Boy dance” on YouTube, generating a tidal wave of downloads, views, and buzz at a time when aspiring rappers were still handing out mixtapes and demos in hopes of getting discovered. Nonetheless, at just 16 years old, he wrote, produced, and distributed a smash hit independently that peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks. During an interview on REVOLT’s Assets Over Liabilities, Soulja Boy says he generated $10,000 a month by hacking SoundClick, an early streaming service, while also growing an organic online fan base.
“I was making 10 bands a day in high school,” he said.
He also admitted to redirecting web traffic from his SoundClick page to his MySpace account when the platform first launched. That tactic helped him to become the No. 1 artist on the social network before he jumped on the YouTube wave.
“I was the first rapper to get paid on YouTube,” Soulja Boy told BLACK ENTERPRISE in an interview.
“Crank That” went on to receive a Grammy nomination and become the first song ever to sell 3 million digital copies in the U.S. It also went platinum three times, sold millions of ring tones, and led to his million-dollar contract with Interscope records.
In addition to being an early adopter of social media platforms, Soulja Boy is one of the first artists to cultivate a direct relationship with his fans through text message subscriptions after he included a phone number in his smash hit “Kiss Me Thru the Phone” back in 2008. Although critics deemed him as a one-hit-wonder, he went on to produce and work with major artists like Nick Minaj, release multiple hits, and establish his own record label.
Today, the innovative rapper continues to apply his savvy business and tech acumen to his music. In early 2020, he released an NFT version of his songs.
“I started doing NFT’s in like January 2020,” he told BE. “I was the first rapper to do it. I cashed out and made a lot of money,” he claims. “I like to set trends.”
He also designed and trademarked the SouljaGame, a branded handheld game console developed under the TRDR Pocket brand. According to him, his video game console generated millions of dollars last year and received an offer for over $100 million.
“I’m the first rapper to release a video game console in history,” he said. “You got Xbox, you got PlayStation, [and] you got Nintendo. Other than that, there’s no video game console that ever existed in the history of history.”
As a video game enthusiast, Soulja Boy developed the console while touring China.
“My company’s evaluated for multi-millions. My net worth is $30 million. I made a lot of millions in music, but how it’s going right now, I’m making more money off the video game console than the rap game.”
Despite his impressive accolades and achievements, the hip hop star is has been known for controversy just as much as his career highlights. Soulja Boy is infamous for trolling the internet, making outlandish claims, and provoking beef with a laundry list of artists, from Chris Brown to the late Young Dolph. Most recently, he and Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) got into a public tiff after he lashed out at the legendary artist for removing his verse from his new album, Donda, without warning. However, Soulja says he and Ye are now on good terms since Ye admitted that he should have consulted him before he cut his verse.
“Brothers argue sometimes, partners fight sometimes and they gotta get over it,” Soulja told BE, addressing the controversy. “Y’all ain’t real homes, real partners [if] y’all can’t have a disagreement and talk it out and work it out again,” he said. “We’re straight. I’m in my own little world.”
Nonetheless, shenanigans may all be part of Soulja’s master plan to hold the attention of his fans. After all, controversy sells, especially in hip hop.
“If you watch certain interviews, you can see how intellectual I am, how far it goes for the business. But, if you’re watching me going off on Instagram and you never heard of me before or you’re a new fan, you’re gonna have different perceptions,” he admits. Nonetheless, he says his online persona is “all fun” and not a hindrance to his career. “It’s just a different look at me in that moment.”
Soulja says fans will get a holistic view of his business side, journey on The Millennium Tour 2021, and his sometimes explosive mannerism on his new docuseries The Life of Draco on REVOLT. In a statement, Ivy Rivera, who serves as the show’s executive producer and the Culture and Lifestyle Specialist at Combs Enterprises, says the six-episode series takes a deep dive into Soulja Boy’s daily activities, musical accomplishments, and talent.
“Draco and I have been working together since 2018. Watching his evolution as an entrepreneur and artist inspired me to create a series that shares and celebrates his impact on the culture,” says Rivera. “We’re showing the Draco we all know and love in the midst of a high point during the Millennium tour. We couldn’t have captured his life at a better moment.”
Soulja says he wanted to keep the cameras rolling to showcase both his highs and his lows.
“You’re going to get to see the real Soulja behind the scenes, behind everything. You’re going to get to see why I act the way I act, how I move the way I move.”
The Life of Draco premieres on Friday, January 21on REVOLT TV and the REVOLT TV app. Watch Soulja Boy’s full interview on The New Norm With Selena Hill below.