Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review: 'iSouljaBoyTellem,' by Soulja Boy Tell 'Em

“I’m doin’ interviews/Addressin’ all these critics/Tryin’ to underrate me/Sayin’ I ain’t got no lyrics/Three times platinum/Yeah I brought the record/If you can’t respect that/Then what are you respectin’?”

I think that quote outlines, very clearly, why I hate this kid. I see his point, it’s just that he doesn’t seem to realize being a shitty-ass songwriter and selling mad records need not be mutually exclusive. Motherfuckin’ Chumbawamba went platinum, but that doesn’t mean I have a single ounce of respect for them. And they had the good sense to not go on record talkin' 'bout, "We deserve more respect as songwriters for our intelligent lyrics about 'pissing the night away' and fooling people into buying a full-length record that was just flat-out horrible."

Like a nasty dose of Ecstasy, I can feel my brain cells rotting away bit by bit as I listen to each successive track on iSouljaBoyTellem.

It isn’t just because there’s not a single melody on this record that I haven’t heard a bazillion times before – although that certainly doesn’t help things. It’s mainly his reliance on only half of the formula that worked so well for James Brown.

Brown famously developed many of his hits on the fly: as the JBs were working the groove for one song, he would alter it slightly, and suddenly have a brand-new, albeit similar, groove to use as the bedrock for something different. You take the vamp from “Sex Machine” and make it a shuffle, all of a sudden you got “Doin’ It To Death.”

Unlike the Godfather of Soul, however, the Godfather of Swag seems content to cast 95 percent of his songs as thinly-disguised versions of “Crank Dat.”

I won’t deny that, like Fiddy and the G-Unit, he’s got a way with the hook, but over the course of 62 minutes, things get far too annoying as he relies on what Tricky Stewart (the producer for Rihanna’s “Umbrella”) calls “the stupid part” that he always includes in his songs (for example, the “Ella, ella, ay, ay” part of “Umbrella”)

Basically, in Soulja Boy's case, take the most simplistic TR-909 beat you can come up with, add one, maaaaybe two software instrument playing a retarded-easy melody, and do verses about how this rap shit is just too easy (“Eazy”).

I can’t front on the man’s business sense, though. In addition to using the Internet to catapult himself to superstardom, he's even capitalized on the recent movie-industry trend of keeping things PG-13 to make sure you draw in the younger crowd: neither of his releases have explicit lyrics (if you don’t count his saying “Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em make this ‘ish’ look easy”), and his viral promotion is probably, unfortunately, the future business model for musicians.

But instead of opening up a musical market where you can bypass label difficulties, in Soulja Boy’s case it encourages shitty music and very little artistic growth. True, the kid is only 18 going on 19, and his concerns are still very much a teenager’s (“Kiss Me Thru the Phone,” “Shoppin’ Spree”), but by the time you get about halfway through, things are just excruciatingly boring.

Witness "Booty Got Swag (Donk, Pt. 2)," which takes its subtitle literally, using pretty much the exact same beat as "Donk." Or "Gucci Bandana," where we spend nearly four minutes discovering how excellent Soulja Boy looks in (what else?) his Gucci bandana. The one thing I'll say is this: he might sound like a completely off-key tool on the chorus to "Turn My Swag On," but NOT using Auto-Tune at least makes him a moderately different kind of tool. Unfortunately, he's got his own brand of samey-ness, patterned after "Crank Dat."

Then again, the album is probably not meant to be listened to all at once. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if all Soulja Boy cares about is the single/ringtone sales for “Bird Walk” and “Turn My Swag On.”

After all, this shit is about business. Definitely not music.

iSouljaBoyTellem will be released on Dec. 16.

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