Thursday, June 26, 2008

Soulja Boy, Kanye v. Ice T: Black Scholar Boyce Watkins Talks Hip Hop

Soulja Boy’s music?….not that great to me. But then again, it expresses a type of greatness that I probably can’t comprehend. It’s as if I am an expert in German and Soulja Boy did an Edgar Allen Poe in Chinese. If you go to Youtube and check out the hottest artists in America, you might see that a video has 3 million views, maybe 7 or 8 million if they are really hot. Soulja Boy? Try 30 million.

So Ice-T, you might think Soulja Boy’s music is garbage, but there’s a whole generation of brothers, sisters, white kids, Asians, Africans, Latinos and even Martians who disagree with you.
I speak on a lot of hip hop beefs when I appear on BET, CNN and The Wendy Williams Experience. That is also when I got a chance to witness Ice-T behind the scenes. I respect Ice-T. The man’s game is nuclear war-like and I even looked up to him when his musical career was colder than icecream in an Eskimo’s ass. But never once, even at the peak of his career, has he ever done anything hotter than what Soulja Boy did with his Superman joint. Soulja Boy did more with his “15 minutes” than a lot of artists do with 15 albums.

With that said, Soulja Boy has a lot to prove. First, he has to prove that he can actually write some lyrics that make a lick of damn sense. I don’t exactly sense lyrical brilliance in Soulja Boy’s music. He also has to prove that he has staying power. If I’m still listening to Soulja Boy when he’s a crusty old man dissing some 18 year old artist, then I’ll know he was onto something.

Ice-T, in his “apology” for telling Soulja Boy to “eat a d*ck”, issued the heaviest pimp-timidation I’ve ever seen dropped from one black man to another. Now I know why he was a successful pimp, and I seriously thought he was gonna back hand Soulja Boy through the camera. Ice T (who I actually believe to be a genius) played politics with Soulja Boy, reminding him that by coming at Ice-T, he was also coming at all of hip hop and all of the west coast. I can’t disagree with that, since Ice T’s roots run deep. This brother was dropping records before Soulja Boy was Semen Boy, Embryo Boy or Aluminum lunch box Boy.

But Soulja Boy can come back at Ice T with this: “Grand Daddy OG, you got the whole west coast sewn up, but I got every 18 year old in the world dancing to my song. When you’re rollin on 24s in your wheelchair, they’ll still be reflecting on how they were bumpin to my song on prom night.” Soulja Boy is a lock for the “Greatest Hits of the New Millenium” soundtracks being sold on paid TV programs at 3 o’clock in the morning in the year 2032. My man had a classic with that song, there is no denying that.

It was not my impression that Soulja Boy started the beef, and that is the dividing line. It can be hurtful when you are young in the game, trying to get your respect and an old cat just broadsides you like that. Kobe went through it when he joined the Lakers, which was Shaquille O’neal’s team. Tiger Woods went through it when white men didn’t believe a black man could dominate professional golf. I applaud Kanye West for coming to Soulja Boy’s defense. Kanye made it plain: This is not 1996 anymore. Tupac and Biggie are gone, gangsta rap has turned into something else, and many college sophomores were born during the same year as the tv show, “Yo MTV Raps”. I grew up on Ice T’s music, and I remember 1996. I listened to Tupac every morning before class, and NWA got me through college. So, I respect the west coast, I respect Ice T and I respect hip hop. But there comes a time when the old school has to add another wing of the building and make room for the new school. Soulja Boy is a respected member of the new school, whether we like it or not. Don’t player hate, collaborate and respect this man’s achievements.

Traditions in hip hop are like pillars of a building. On one hand, they give you stability and a strong foundation. On the other hand, they can be rigid constraints that demote progress within the institution. The more I listen to old school rappers complaining about young entrants, I stop hearing rappers, and start hearing “grumpy old mufukaz”. Instead of offering Soulja Boy a meal he would probably refuse (“eat a ….”), maybe Ice T could have invited the man into the studio. Ice T, your game is strong, Soulja Boy can learn from that. He can also learn a lot from the genius that kept you from getting pimped by this rap game, we know how those contracts work. Soulja Boy doesn’t want your game to die, he wants it to multiply. But if you come off as an old hater, your legacy will blow away like dust in the minds of the next generation. In other words, don’t become a lyrical Bill Cosby…..haterology won’t go as far as constructive critiques when you’re dealing with a fellow soldier.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of "What if George Bush were a Black Man?" He does regular commentary in national media, including CNN, BET, ESPN and CBS. For more information, please visit

Video: Dr. Boyce Watkins talks about Ice T, Soulja Boy and Kanye West

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