The 16-Year-Old Who Changed the Music Industry Forever

Soulja Boy Tell’em

Baqsam Behbehani
3 min readJul 24, 2021
A concert
A concert by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

NNowadays, it is quite common for mainstream artists to have humble beginnings on the internet. However, at one point, it was unheard of until rapper Soulja Boy became a mainstream artist despite coming from nothing. His main leverage came from the internet, which inspired future artists to follow in his footsteps and replicate similar success.

The background story of Soulja Boy

DeAndre Cortez Way, more commonly known as Soulja Boy Tell’em, is a rapper who was born on July 28, 1990, in Chicago, Illinois. Due to his parents’ separation, he moved to different cities as a child, such as Atlanta, Georgia, and Batesville, Mississippi, which were instrumental to forming his eclectic music and sense of fashion. It was in Mississippi at age 14 when his father provided him a recording studio.

Way was bored with his new life, saying that he had nothing to do besides going to school. When music came into his life, his grades suffered, demoting him from being a straight A student. He met Young Kwon, who taught him how to make hip hop instrumentals.

Soulja Boy’s musical beginnings

Way first started uploading songs to a website called SoundClick. After receiving positive reactions, he started his website,, to further promote himself.

Way collaborated with Palm Tree Promotions. The team put him in local showcases, but he preferred social media as an outlet for exposure. He would proceed to upload to MySpace and YouTube, with the latter becoming his primary outlet. He would upload miscellaneous videos of his daily life, such as gaming, which was unheard of for celebrities at the time, but such videos made him more relatable, especially to teenagers like himself.

Following Way’s footsteps, fans would upload themselves attempting his dances. He even made a DVD to teach fans how to do his Crank That dance. To this day, he is always looking to make the next entrepreneurial step. In fact, he recently announced a sequel to his controversial video game console.

Turning from amateur to professional

Moving back to Atlanta in 2004, Way met manager Derrick Crooms who organized his first concert at a teen nightclub in Indianapolis, Indiana. That is how Collipark Music noticed him and help him get signed by Interscope.

Way released three albums under Interscope, including hits like “Kiss Me Thru the Phone,” “Turn My Swag On,” and “Pretty Boy Swag.” “Crank That,” his most successful single to date, received multiple platinum certifications, topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The May 2007 single later became a number-one hit in the United States for seven non-consecutive weeks.

His debut studio album,, was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It was allegedly recorded with just the demo version of FL Studio, giving hope to aspiring artists with a minimal budget.

The repercussions of Soulja Boy’s career

While the repercussions of Way’s career mainly came in the form of criticism, him constantly showing his house on YouTube probably exposed his address to the public or at least made it easier to find. On December 30, 2008, his home was raided by armed men, but no gunfire or casualties were reported.

When it comes to criticism, rappers Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent thought that Way’s music lacked substance. His take was that his music was intentionally party-themed and upbeat to debunk the image of hip hop as violent, although his work somewhat started celebrating violence and suggestive themes as it progressed. In June 2008, Ice-T said that he was killing hip hop, with his top hit being “garbage”. However, Kanye West defended him by saying that he created new and original work.

Way’s revolutionary entry into the world of music was not without its flaws. With his unorthodox choice of social media as his primary outlet came an unorthodox style of music that has pleased many while disturbing many as well. However, he is undeniably a pioneer of music branding and marketing that is not only popular today but still being explored to maximize its potential.