Teen rapper Soulja Boy ready for duty

By Hillary Crosley

The out-of-nowhere success of Soulja Boy's debut single, "Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)," has become the latest Internet phenomenon to catch radio and record labels off guard.

The 16-year-old MC, whose real name is DeAndre Way, has racked up 10 million MySpace hits and inspired thousands of YouTube videos featuring fan interpretations of his "Superman" dance. Initially a viral sensation, "Crank Dat" is No. 4 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Beyonce has incorporated the Superman dance into her stage show.

So as the October 2 release of Soulja Boy's debut, "Soulja Boy Tell 'Em," approaches, ColliPark Music and Interscope must determine how best to capitalize on the online enthusiasm.

"Soulja Boy is the blueprint for the new record business," Interscope co-head of marketing Chris Clancy says. "He's built his phenomenon all on his own."

A year ago, "I was just making songs in my house and putting them online," says Soulja Boy, who was raised by his mother in Atlanta but moved in with his father in Batesville, Miss., during eighth grade.

He began playing around with the audio production program Fruity Loops and uploading original tracks to soundclick.com, where artists rate one another's songs.

"Really I was just playing around, but after I uploaded the first song, I was rated well," he says. "The Soundclick site linked to my MySpace page and my hits started increasing, so I started taking it seriously."

Enter industry vet Mr. ColliPark (Michael Crooms), who was looking for new talent. He heard "Crank Dat" from several music scouts, and though the song in its rawest form hurt his ears, ColliPark eventually gave in, called Soulja Boy and told him to send over some music.

"Then I started asking kids about Soulja Boy, and they all knew of him," ColliPark says.

After signing him, Collipark quickly rerecorded and polished Soulja Boy's songs, all of which he produced himself.

"I gave the record to (Atlanta DJ) Greg Street, and the following week it was No. 1 on his countdown," ColliPark says. "Nobody can dictate how far this kid will go because he wasn't even getting club play. It was just kids putting the music on the iPod and saying, 'Oh, my God, Soulja Boy's on the radio."'

Interscope, which distributes ColliPark Music, wasted no time shipping "Crank Dat" to digital retailers like iTunes, prompting a strong response from consumers (the cut is No. 1 this week on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs chart). The song's video premiered August 10 on Yahoo Music and has already been named Jam of the Week on MTV2.

To round out the upcoming album, Soulja Boy is working on a duet with Sean Kingston called "Soulja Girl." And despite the attention the Superman dance has garnered, Soulja Boy is being careful not to become pigeonholed right off the bat.

"The song is great, and with the dance it's perfect, but I don't want to be labeled as 'the dancing dude,"' he says. "My song is part of what's going on right now. It's just for teens and kids because we want to have fun."



Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.