It is truly fascinating to look back on any given period of time in a media sense that in some sort of fashion ends up foreshadowing - in such vivid detail - trends that would become the norm in this space some years later. In regards to music and its intersection with the grander societal landscape, these events are exponentially more exclusive considering how popular music usually finds itself saturated in the ideals of a given period and nothing else; it takes something of a resounding tidal wave of influence to detract from this norm -- a once-in-a-blue-moon moment.
But perhaps that notion is becoming less and less prevalent as time moves forward in both the modern music landscape and our progressing society alike, as plenty of trends, ideals, and even as far as entire genres have been predicted and/or developed some 5+ years ahead of their most prominent time in the limelight. Though the ethics behind this sentiment are somewhat irrelevant, it is truly a marvel to observe how modern music has began to take on this unprecedented form.
Accurately predicting what would soon become nothing short of the absolute norm in the music industry and beyond in 2007 may seem quite easy in hindsight, but even though the Internet age was still on its linear rise to pure and utter domination, that does not mean an album like Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em’s infamous debut Souljaboytellem.com had any right to be as vividly catalytic and future-sighted as it ended up being.
Everything that makes up an album like this - from the rollout, to its topical content, and even as far as its relevance in that very year - are without question reminiscent of how the modern age has granted musicians the right to blow up quite literally out of nowhere, and with such a viral impact. That word “viral” has taken on a new connotation in this very age -- seeing its meaning transform from a blanket term for a wide-spreading concept to one that is absolutely synonymous with a particular topic’s rapid surge in popularity on the Internet today. And though music had certainly had its “viral” moments as it had come to be defined in this modern sense before this very album, nothing quite set the bar for what would soon become the tried and true beacon of influence for contemporary mass appeal and “musical virality” than Soulja Boy’s work here.
But if Soulja had simply began the trend and kept it going on a consistent basis via other artists following the same path year after year, than there would be no reason to place it at this, again, unprecedented mantle. But until platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and even as far off as Vine would come to solidify this trend as the be-all end-all path to rapid prominence, Soulja’s status in this light stood alone as an untapped pocket of sudden virality -- which makes it all the more impressive what he was able to do here in the moment, and predict what would come in regards to the future.
That being said, a song like “Crank That” honestly had no reason not to achieve the lofty heights that it did even back then. The bling era of hip-hop had come to cement the ever-so-simplistic yet sheer appeal-centric approach to making music click on this mainstream level, and the song and its accompanying dance alike were essentially representations of that exact methodology placed in the realms of the growing world wide web and its various facets. It bridged the lines between being known as a simple novelty (what many still thought of the Internet as a whole at the time, believe it or not), and a bonafide smash hit in the same light as other bling tracks of the day. Knowing this fact, it is easy to see why numerous individuals enjoyed the song for its once-novel status, but why just as many desteded it for its perceived simplicity and “ignorant” demeanor.
Despite all of the hate coming towards his artistry and the ever-present criticism and dismay of Internet-centric stylistics of the time, Soulja took all of these aesthetics - the sounds, the visuals, and certainly the attitude - and put them on their most vivid display yet on literally every single one of these 14 other tracks that make up this album. In the process, he was able to craft an hour-long time capsule of everything the Internet age stood for in 2007 -- a feat held by seldom acts in the grander music landscape at the time, and absolutely none at the mainstream level.
Tracks like “Sidekick,” “Snap and Roll,” and “Let Me Get Em” are all infused with topics and ideas of that very time in history from their thematic elements straight down to their sheer sound alone. Every single song here is as simple as can be, and they all surround such menial concepts in a completely entertaining and appealing manner. Even in a period of music defined its rudimentary approach to both songwriting and production, the fact that this project was just as enjoyed by those who accepted this methodology and rejected by purest who thought the exact opposite adds quite a lot of insight into the immense weight that both the album and Soulja himself had in their beings alone.
It’s not as though the project ran through the same type of club-based mindset the entire way through however, as the r&b-tinged “Soulja Girl” and the stripped back “She Thirsty” offer ideal divergences to the entire album experience as well. These are both necessary additions to an album like this, and they make its admittedly lengthy runtime a bit more exciting in the process.
Even still, the combination of this album’s unmistakably raw appeal from an entertainment standpoint and its influence and still-unmatched nature for its time looking back on it now place it among the most important, era-defining, and momentous albums in the history of hip-hop. What began as nothing else other than a “in the moment” album soon turned into one that would dictate an entire idealistic approach to gaining mainstream prominence in music and beyond; sure, no one could have guessed it at the time, but the music world is a far more interesting and exciting place because of Soulja’s impactful and wholly necessary influence.