Under the name Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, Atlanta native DeAndre Way went from making beats on his laptop to selling millions of albums — well, downloads, actually — in just two years, shooting down the myth that the recording industry couldn’t survive in the digital era.
“Crank That,” the first single off his Grammy-nominated debut album “Souljaboytellem.com,” sold 3 million downloads and 8 million ringtones, spawning a musical dance fusion that raised the bar for creativity in hip hop.
After 200 million YouTube hits, Interscope could rest easy: It had won the battle against file-sharing and at the same time signed the next superstar.
Soulja’s marketing attack on the Web showed that reality music parallels the success of reality television: “I was making beats and songs from the bedroom of my house, uploading them to MySpace,” he says. “I had the email for my Sidekick on my MySpace to stay in touch with fans. I started to get booked in Chicago, Minnesota, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee.”
That’s when multiplatinum producer Mr. Collipark took notice. “He sent an email to my phone and said he wanted to sign me, so I told him, ‘Fly down.’ We did the deal in my living room,” says Way, who was 15 at the time.
Before the ink was dry, he was touring with young rap sensations Bow Wow and Chris Brown, designing his own line of Yums sneakers and apparel, buying Atlanta club Excalibur, setting up record label S.O.D Money Gang Entertainment through Universal and being featured in a custom Soulja Boy cartoon to be released through iTunes and YouTube.
Recent breakthrough: As record labels scrambled to keep up with digital technology, his platinum debut album “Souljaboytellem.com” proved there’s life after CDs.
Role model: “50 Cent was a big inspiration to me because of all the different things he did, like the videogames, the movie, how many albums he sold.”
What’s next: His second album, “iSouljaBoy,” drops in November.