After six years of hits, Soulja Boy is releasing the best music of his career. He’s got a million bucks in the bank, a legion of fans and a steady supply of downers. Freshly 21, he’s hoping growing up won’t hold him back.
This spring, Soulja Boy, the 21-year-old rapper, appropriated Tupac’s image for Juice, a mixtape inspired by the late icon’s performance as the demented goon Bishop in the movie of the same name. Though he was only six years old when Tupac was gunned down on the Las Vegas strip following a Mike Tyson fight, Soulja Boy adores Tupac. He’s currently planning a remake of Juice, the film, casting himself as a 2011 Bishop, the announcement for which impelled near unanimous blind rage, voiced most prolifically in the comment sections of music blogs. Hip-hop holds Tupac in a religious regard, a martyr of his own California love whose outsized regional pride became one of his clearest identifiers. Soulja Boy is well aware of what people think of Tupac and also what they think of him trying on Pac’s clothes, but the faceless vitriol of the internet matters very little to someone who’s been a millionaire since he was a teenager.
Before speaking with Soulja Boy, I stared at him for some eight hours one balmy spring Saturday, waiting in the wings at a video shoot for “Juice,” the title track from his new mixtape. Beneath a secluded overpass, less than a block from Atlanta’s Georgia Dome sports complex, Soulja Boy pantomimed lyrics in front of a cherry red 2012 Bentley GT, his latest gift to himself. “Juice” is the third video in as many days he’s shot with director Rage. It is the second one for the song, the first taking place in a jewelry store, with Soulja Boy rapping between sips from a white Styrofoam cup while his friends try on jewelry. In both, his hair is styled in an imperial Gumby cut with a deep swirl part, which is barbershop speak for a bi-level fade separated by a curvy line shaved up the middle. The cut is a Generation Swag update on the one Tupac wore during Juice. When he wasn’t taking instruction from Rage, Soulja Boy was sequestered on a tour bus, emerging from his smoking sessions with eyelids at half mast, energy level somehow intact. In fact, the only time he sulked was when he found out that they’d run out of weed on set.