Souljah Boy Tell ‘Em

Soulja Boy has the best Crunk song to hit the United States scene since, maybe, “A Bay Bay” by Hurricane Chris. Both songs reside in the club and lay out a protocol for club behavior, dance steps (clapping, stomping) and represent a celebratory mode of existence once dead/dying in post-millennial hip-hop. The Southern Boy jigs have happily transplanted East Coast scowling and West Coast banging by pointing to dance as a means of expression even purer than the music and lyrics themselves. So when Soulja Boy talks about “joc’in on yo bitch a**” and then “cockin’ on yo bitch a**” we understand these actions as integral parts of the song because of their motility. You can’t enjoy it if you don’t dance, in other words. That’s all old news, though. To say that Souljah Boy, Rich Boy, Dem Franchize Boyz, D4L, Crime Mob and Hurricane Chris bring a renewed perspective on dancing is to say that they are extending from what Project Pat, Bounce Music, Outkast, Goodie Mob and UGK did before them. That redundancy notwithstanding, it’s always pertinent to view how the message gets spread through different generations. Where Master P and Cash Money relied on music coming out of the trunk — through sales transaction and menacing speaker systems — Soulja Boy is spreading his gospel through YouTube and cell phones.

Although the so-called Ringtone Rappers receive all the expected animus from their wax-laden peers, they have developed a new means of production and distribution that goes perfectly with the tinny, digitized sound of nouveau rap. Timbaland founded the digital sound while the boy Pha-Real manipulated it and spaced it out. My preference still lays with the sampled drum and kick of a vinyl record but “Crank Dat” squeezes the most that it can out of a programmed Steel Pan sound, the basis of the song’s key rhythm. The incantations that arise from the simple beating of the steel pan are sparse but just enough to make the dance gracefully simple and infectious. Just like The Macarena was aided naturally by the video that explained the dance, Soulja Boy’s viral video instructional redoubled his efforts at making the song popular. So we get everyone from high-school kids in New York City to professional athletes in the Bay Area to M.I.T. doctoral students fashioning their interpretations of the dance. The trend vaults itself from juvenile intrigue to straight-up corniness all in a matter of a hundred thousand or so video plays.

Record labels can’t get enough of this information. They feel that it somehow typifies where music is going and, if allowed, they will bottle it up just like any other product worth hocking. <!–more–>Mr. Collipark, Soulja Boy’s benefactor, even structures the plot of the debut video around the unlikely but deliberate contagion of “Crank Dat,” detailing its meandering route from phone to phone and ear to ear. But even in this self-conscious effort, could the 17-year-old behind the Superman Dance have foreseen the multiplicity of offshoots his song is responsible for? Last Sunday, I sat with two friends watching the following clips in sequence in naive wonderment about the mental agility of the younger generation. Not only have teens adapted the song to dancehalls, in the way they would “A Bay Bay,” they have molded it to different media: cartoons. The same way I casually dig through troves of YouTube gems for basketball highlights, these kids create the stuff I’m watching with simple video editing programs. Through that kind of affinity for new media, the hip-pop generation has exceeded the imposed limits of the music once more. The same way that cats had to make turntables into instruments, for lack of better equipment, artists have to dispatch of super promotional budgets to move their work. But this time, the audience response comes in the form of re-interpreted versions of the original piece. And at rapid-fire pace. In fact, the fad and its results come almost simultaneously. While Soulja Boy is cultivating his hit, another young video phenom is cutting the song to various cartoons. Hence:

All stemming from this:

I think that participatory connection between artist and listener is undeniably ill. Even iller maybe than watching a crowd of 50,000 mouth the words religiously to a Jay-Z song. Sheer numbers don’t explain the difference however. A million views on YouTube does not a platinum artist make, but Jay can’t do what Soulja Boy’s doing by the same token.

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