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Soulja Boy marches ahead, undaunted

April 24, 2009 |  6:35 pm

Soulja400 His meteoric popularity was met with criticism, but the young Atlanta-bred star's second album is a success too, and rappers are lining up to work with him.

Soulja Boy Tell'em harbors no ill will toward his haters. Not even the ones who since his 2007 debut album, "Souljaboytellem.com," have been loudly -- and with almost numbing constancy -- calling for the death of the rapper-producer's career.

He incurred the wrath of an angry hip-hop nation after the meteoric success of his breakthrough single, “Crank That (Soulja Boy),” a by turns menacing and minimalist pop confection that seemed to capture the zeitgeist two year ago. It spent eight weeks atop the national singles chart, resulting in 5.5 million digital downloads and 3 million ring tone sales.

Then came the negativity. Ice-T, the Los Angeles gangsta rapper-turned-costar of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," accused the Atlanta rapper, via 2008 mix tape, of having "single-handedly killed hip-hop" and castigated "Crank That" as "garbage."

Similarly,Snoop Dogg derided Soulja Boy as a "bubble-gum rapper" and dismissed his music with a barnyard epithet in various radio interviews. Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man said of Soulja Boy: "Lyrically, he's not the truth. He's a shorty." As well, various critics and bloggers called him a one-hit wonder, criticizing the virally popular “Superman” dance Soulja Boy pioneered as "a modern day minstrel show" and, worse in the rapper's eyes, denouncing him as "the new MC Hammer."

"I got a lot of backlash. Me being from a real bad neighborhood and, at 16, becoming a millionaire off one song," Soulja Boy said from his downtown Los Angeles apartment, where he has been living since December. "Some people felt it came too easy. Like things I done in that amount of time they couldn't do in their entire careers."

The rapper, now 18, said he's content to let the facts speak for themselves. Chief talking point: His new single "Kiss Me Thru the Phone (featuring Sammie)" reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Hot Rap Tracks chart; it has gained steady momentum to claim a place among the top five singles in rotation on pop and urban radio since its release in November. Meanwhile, "Turn My Swag On," the second single from Soulja Boy's sophomore CD, "iSouljaBoyTellem," is among the top 10 songs on urban radio.

In other words, he's a one-hit wonder no more.

"When I went into the studio to record my second album, everybody wanted to see me fail," Soulja Boy said. "At this point, I'm thinking: 'I'm not going to do it to prove them wrong. I'm going to do it for myself, for my fans, for history -- period. People are saying I'm the new MC Hammer? That's not me.'"

These days, plenty of hip-hop grandees are clamoring to work with Soulja Boy, who began posting songs to his MySpace page as a lark and said he never expected rap superstardom.

Since "Kiss Me Thru the Phone" began to peak, he has recorded songs with multi-platinum-selling artists including Usher and crunk hit-maker Lil Jon. And A-list R&B and hip-hop artists such as Jamie Foxx, Lil Wayne, Keri Hilson, R. Kelly and Young Jeezy are lining up to record with Soulja Boy.

"After the first album, I'm not going to lie, there was no artists that reached out," he said. "Now I have more hits, more rank and pull. Everything is changing."

For all its controversy, "Crank That" boasts an unimpeachable 400 million YouTube views -- one of the most reliable bellwethers of popularity in pop culture -- with that number continuing to grow two years after the song's release.

"I always knew I was going to get the last laugh," he said.

--Chris Lee

Photo: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times

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