So while I finish writing my incredibly long entry on Grant and Eisenhower, which I've actually written some of, I figured I'd throw over something else I wrote for the paper a few weeks ago. It's... sort of serious. I'm not sure whether or not I'm kidding. I'm almost certain I use the word "deconstructivism" incorrectly, but my intent was to make it sound like what I want it to say, rather than to have it be technically correct. I also throw Gestalt in there, with the right meaning but a hilariously wrong context, and top it off by missing Alan Sokal's point altogether. But I'm semi-serious about my intent.
Anyhow, the article is entitled "The new face of deconstructivism in music." I'll be back some time.
Though he is only seventeen years old, I would like to submit Soulja Boy as the greatest musical deconstructivist of our generation.
Perhaps you’ve only heard “Crank That,” the song famous for introducing “Youuuuu!” into the popular lexicon, as well as a few crass terms for sex acts. You would be forgiven for dismissing this as the latest in a series of increasingly deteriorating appeals to the lowest common denominator. There is a dance to learn, there is an infectious beat, there are non-sequitur lyrics that want nothing more than to get you on the dance floor. Taken alone, Crank That is a tepid dance hit, wanting only to be discarded.
If you are a student of Gestalt, however, you will realize that this is not the entire picture.
No, to get the entire picture, one would have to view the video for his latest single, “Yahhh!” The video is a narrative – there is no dance. At the video’s introduction, Soulja Boy and his friend Arab are playing video games on a sunny morning. An unknown adult calls him up, asking him why he’s not at school. Soulja Boy replies: “YAHHH!”
Following this, Soulja Boy and Arab decide to go to school. They are accosted by a number of obnoxious people who want an autograph, including Dog the Bounty Hunter. Every time someone accosts him, he shouts at them, “YAHHH!” or on occasion, if he’s really angry, “Biggeteh-bah! Biggeteh-Bah!” He arrives at school and is accosted by a nerd who purports to be his biggest fan. Soulja boy screams at him pretty loudly and incoherently.
Following this, Soulja Boy does a rap about his report card.
Is this inanity, or the apex of musical deconstructivism? I would argue the latter. Soulja presents the most overused rap cliché – the angry song. You have heard it more times than 50 Cent got shot, from “Eff the Police” to “Party Up” to “What U Know.” What are these songs if not macho posturing? Is this nothing more than a more literate attempt to climb to the top of a cave and shout, to prove that you are the alpha dog, that you are not to be effed with? At the heart of it, isn’t all we’re trying to say “Yahhh!”
In two songs, Soulja Boy has taken the two strongest standbys of modern rap and broken them down to their essence. With the revelation of “Yahhh!” as nothing more than a commentary on the modern rap game, “Crank That” takes on new significance. Could the discord within “Crank That” be intentional?
It’s not hard to imagine he could just be commenting on the inanity of our topics of choice. Where once, sex was only discussed discreetly among friends, in modern times the most inane sex acts are in the common lexicon – even the ones that have no sexual attraction under the most obscure of fetishes. There’s something underwhelming about the standard practices, that to become a number one hit, all anyone has to do is talk about dancing and sex, put his song on myspace, and let it roll downhill. Perhaps Soulja realized this, realized that there’s a formula for success, and with an accurate enough satire, he too could make millions. And so, Soulja Boy has pockets full of cash because his song ringing from every cell phone – because he has broken down the other urban standard that has carried the career of everyone from R. Kelly to T-Pain to R. Kelly featuring T-Pain. Where these elder statesmen of the game have injected a little tenderness into their lyrics in an attempt to capture both sexes, engendering a larger market share (pun not intended), Soulja has torn back the curtains and exposed the primal desires: let’s have sex and dance.
There’s a sort of bizarre brilliance to his lyrics – it’s hard to imagine this man as some sort of mental slowpoke when you take into account his earnest working-man’s demeanor and his keen business sense that took him from myspace to MTV in a period of 6 months, Grammy nominated before he can buy a lotto ticket. Soulja wasn’t “discovered,” he made himself into a phenomenon. True, he might only be seventeen years old. But it’s hard to take all these factors into account and write him off as a fluke. My guess? We’ll be hearing a lot more from Soulja Boy in the future. He’ll be there, putting out material that reminds the rest of the rap game how stupid they sound. I’m reminded of Alan Sokal’s sabotage of postmodernist thought when I say the slyest satire can become indistinguishable from the real thing when imposed on a public that has gotten, frankly, a little lazy.