Hopped up out the bed, turn my swag on
Took a look in the mirror said what's up?
Yeah, I'm getting money, oh
-Soulja Boy, "Turn My Swag On"
It's very easy to hate DeAndre Way, the twenty one year old musician who rose to massive prominence with the song "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" and the signature dance that accompanied it. His beats are frequently uninspired and his lyrics rhyme infrequently at best - never mind the fact that the subject matter is so utterly juvenile that when Way is asked whether he anticipates a sophomore slump with his second album, you might think "Really? Is there a way to make a lesser product?" But let's brush those resentful thoughts away for the moment, in light of Peter Spirer's most recent documentary Soulja Boy: The Movie, a look at the phenomenon and the self-promoting phenom that is Soulja Boy Tell 'Em.
Spirer is probably best known for the Beef series, tracking long-standing rivalries and confrontations (typically diss songs) between rap figures both old and new. Our own Adam Tyner also had a chance to review a fictional offering from Spirer, Just Another Day. With that in mind, and having seen Beef I and II, I was familiar with his fairly effective barebones style before I put on this unwieldy chronicle of Way's rise to the top, following him through touring, beefs and the production of his first three albums.
What makes this documentary especially disappointing is how much padding seems to be necessary in order to tell the fascinating story of a young producer/rapper who gained ground by mass marketing himself and then took over the charts with a song that came with its own dance routine. By electing early on to focus on a Chris Brown-led tour that Way and frequent co-rhymer Arab are a part of, Spirer loses an opportunity to dig deeper into how the astronomical rise to top (at least financially) has changed Way. Instead, what we frequently get is a straightforward testament to Soulja Boy's business sense contrasted with his young age.
Frankly, outside of his keen sense of self-promotion, seeing the rapper talk about upcoming albums or the content of his songs scurries up little interest and less excitement. Adam Bhala Lough's The Carter got away with showing Lil Wayne living it up because it also provided an unique glimpse at the creative process of an artist who has an undeniable aura, an oddity and a love for freakish wordplay that sets him apart. Soulja Boy offers little in comparison, a squeaky-clean version of Southern hip-hop that zooms in on party-bumping tracks and tosses lyricism out the window.
It's not fair to cast aside Spirer's film completely, since Way does tend to speak well on his own behalf, explaining a definite overarching plan, with a clothing line, a record label, a cartoon and all the gaudy jewelry money can be. It's difficult to take the young Way seriously when one scene shows him losing his marbles over a remote controlled car covered with diamonds. He wears it proudly on his chest and then attempts to race it via a remote controller that the designer promises will be diamond encrusted as well. One word you're bound to take away from the film is "money" - money is mentioned frequently as the catalyst for Way and his crew and there is minimal focus on why he makes the music he does or what he expects from his material in the long haul.
When Way claims his second album, iSouljaBoyTellem, will be a masterpiece, its difficult to tell whether these are grandiose illusions fed to him by willing yes men or whether the artist actually thinks what he's making is built to last. Honestly, who knows? As Snoop Dogg says late in the film, "game recognize game," and as long as Way keeps fronting his swagger and keeps the Soulja Boy persona alive, he will remain profitable. Whether it will reap artistic benefits is another question entirely.
This is a toss-up. The concert footage is servicable, but the early Soulja Boy Youtube videos included range from grainy to pixilated. Seeing as how this is very much an on-the fly doc, this is understandable but it doesn't change the fact that it feels unpolished and thrown together. Colors vary depending on whether the footage is being caught in the moment or if it's an interview whether a source of lighting has been provided beforehand.
The same issues plague the sound - concerts sound proper, everything else jumps up and down and colorful subtitles occasionally pop up when someone whispers something or Way turns away from the camera. The overall feel is amateurish but helps further the fly-on-the-wall appeal.
A series of interviews with Way's father, co-workers and affiliates are provided. Most of them, again, play like a promotional reel - you could easily cut together a collection of compliments.
Some people will never bother with the DVD based on the title alone. Despite a lackluster presentation, it is worth watching, if only once and in small doses. Rent It.
The best of the five boroughs is now represented. Brooklyn in the house! I'm a hardworking film writer, blogger, boyfriend and hopeful Corgi owner. Find me on Twitter @markzhur and on Tumblr at Our Elaborate Plans...