In his March, 2006 review of Juvenile’s Reality Check, Pitchfork writer Tom Breihan notes that “in Southern rap, it’s not so much about you say as how you say it.” Be this axiom true – and for the most part, it is – rapper/entrepreneur Soulja Boy has aesthetically fraternized with the lowest of the low for the duration of his career. Due to over-simplistic lyrical stylization and a blasé flow, Soulja Boy relied on his infectious production style and penchant for poppy hooks on his first two albums in order to move units. Much to the chagrin of hip-hop purists, professional critics, and Ice-T, souljaboytellem.com and iSouljaBoyTellEm were endeavors in extravagant escapism; saturated in a surplus of straight-to-radio singles and ringtone rap choruses. One thing people tend to neglect though. Soulja Boy – regardless of his 100-plus tattoos, commercial success, and exponentially growing entrepreneurial empire – at nineteen is still more or less a kid, and with “Crank That”, was thrown into the spotlight left to fend himself and to learn as he went along. To make it as a teenager in one of the most boomin’ industries in the world, and to do it just by pulling *** out of your ass as you go along is impressive, and Soulja Boy deserves his props for that if nothing else. Moreover, as Kanye noted, Soulja Boy was inventing a brand new style, which is something inherent in the spirit of the genre. However, The DeAndre Way is just the first step towards what most would dub as maturation, and pardon the triteness of his older material and lend an ear to his third full-length, and effectively, what might as well be his first.
Sadly, the first step into his first step isn’t what you would want, and the album is largely cluttered. “First Day of School” kicks off with a minimalist beat and Soulja Boy wallows in pedantry as he mutates and accents his phonetics not too dissimilar from the manner he did in the hook of his 2007 song “Wuz Hannanan”. (If you don’t know the song or the vocal segment I’m referring to, don’t fret, just know that it’s possibly the worst vocal performance ever by a rapper.) The following tracks aren’t much better, “Touchdown” is an unmitigated sports-rapper lifestyle analogy cliché and “Hey Cutie” is just as sickening as its title would suggest. But then…something happens. Something beautiful.
That something is the highlight of Soulja Boy’s young career; a four-song win streak that transcends its creator’s previous works, and it starts with “Speakers Going Hammer”. It’s a subtly impressive lyrical effort with extended rhyme schemes that seep into one another and undergo syllabic permutation as they progress, syllabic consistency, clever internals, an abundance of traditional similes, and a catchy hook and plenty of swagger to boot. “Pretty Boy Swag” is an ode-to-self delivered through a Kenarbanian vocalization; a fun song with a ticking drumline, light, booping synths, and dark, violent piano notes. “30 Thousand 100 Million” is a great track where Soulja Boy out-swags the BasedGod over an oddball beat with glassy, rattling synths. “Mean Mug” sees a revitalized 50 Cent who returns to his heyday, delivering resounding gangsterisms left and right and spouts gun talk numeracy while Soulja Boy supplies a surprisingly hard-sounding chorus over a signature. Then as the signature Drumma Boy beat rides out…
Just like that, the stroke of excellence is gone, and the album proceeds to suck again and subsequently end on a whimper. “Blowing Me Kisses” is so lyrically corny and musically sugary, “Fly” is awkward as it just isn’t down Soulja Boy’s artistic alleyway at all, and “Grammy” is a half-baked attempt at recreating the sonic vein of the trio of singles on Eminem’s Recovery. However, Soulja Boy is more plagued by what’s not here than what is. With the abundance of filler on this album, it’s ***ing astounding that several tracks – “Digital”, “Pow”, “I’m Boomin’”, “Kickin’”, “Y.G.R.N” and “Swag OD” featuring Lil B, and “Money Gang Rock” featuring Arab and JBar – didn’t make the cut, because if they had, this would be a legitimately great album, or at least a fun one.
I understand that track-by-track reviews are traditionally taboo and are serious no-no’s and are typically reserved for newer writers. However, due to the stylistic variation and short run time of The DeAndre Way, it was practically unavoidable. But if one concept should be derived from this review, it’s that Soulja Boy is getting better. Seriously, “Speakers Going Hammer” is one of the more impressive lyrical performances this year. Check it – and this – out before you demand that I be thrown in the loonie bin. At the very least, you’ll be surprised; I promise.