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    The Rise Of Soulja Boy Tellem

    Wed, 03 Oct 2007 17:19:09

    Teenage superstar skyrockets to fame using the internet and ushers in the era of Hustling 2.0

    You don't need a media machine to propel yourself to fame anymore; you only need the desire to be known. Connectivity has flattened the world and, for better or worse, that favors drive over pedigree. You can be a 16-year-old kid with a PC in Atlanta, making your own beats and beating your own drum, and you can end up with the #1 single in the nation. It's the kind of modern-day fairytale you have to believe in, because it already came true. But this time when Cinder-fella got to the ball, he was wearing his name on his shades and Bathing Ape kicks. Soulja Boy Tellem is the teenage sensation behind the summer's most ubiquitous single, "Crank That (Soulja Boy)," and he's a prime example of Hustling 2.0.

    "Crank That" has dominated the airwaves this summer, with it's earworm beat and custom dance, like a Macarena for the bling generation. It thrust a now 17-year-old Soulja Boy into worldwide stardom and ignited dreams of success for a whole new set of internet artists. Developing his muggy style in the Southern heat, Soulja Boy started making music and used the internet to get his first real exposure. Any artist will tell you it's a crowded field out there though, and he wasn't getting the recognition he thought he deserved early on. And that's when he got the idea for a new way to game the system.

    As he explains, "People don't really buy CDs anymore, they download music for free. So I took whatever the number one song was, say it was 50 Cent 'In Da Club'. I'd rename 'Crank That' to that and send it out, and everybody would download it for free. But when they'd get it, it'd be my song. Then the Google searches and Myspace searches came through wondering who I was." The subterfuge paid off in spades, earning him 10 million Myspace views and a deal with Atlanta hip-hop impresario Mr. Collipark, who brokered a contract with Interscope records for the release of his debut album, Souljaboytellem.com.

    It was that initial passion to be heard that separated him from the crowd, and it's also what's fueled his continued success so far. Now on the road for his first U.S. tour, he hasn't been affected by the rigors of his new schedule. "It's all been what I thought it was going to be. It's all hard work, 100% grinding," he says. Adding, "I'm hungry. I'm even more hungry than I was before I got my deal. I want the number one spot on everything." He also wants to diversify beyond music, saying, "I've been doing power meetings. Working on my cartoon, trying to get in the movies. I've got Soulja Boy shades coming out, Soulja Boy shoes, plus my clothing line." This drive to diversify comes in part from his admiration for 50 Cent. He proudly admits, "The movies he's got, the video games, the clothing line. I want all that and more, too. So to see a person like 50 can do that, then it's not impossible for me to do that."

    Now with his massive success, Soulja Boy has flipped the script and become a role model for other young people. He's aware of the responsibility, stating, "It feels real good being an example for the younger crowd. I have an important role to play." When asked for words of wisdom to pass on he offered up, "Stay humble. Don't forget where you came from, and don't change for nobody." Solid advice from a young artist who just dropped his first album and is getting set to release his second single, "Soulja Girl," very soon. Hopefully he'll apply the same principles to his own career. For now, he's just getting started and there's a long road ahead. He exploited a change in the musical landscape to get noticed; now he needs to start shaping the landscape himself to stay on top.

    —Chas Reynolds

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