Soulja Boy Spills the Beans on Tupac Role, Love With Diamond
Soulja Boy doesn’t live the life of your average 20-year-old. In just four short years, he’s taken what started out as a simple teenage rhyme and turned himself into a millionaire entrepreneur. Transitioning from potential one-hit wonder to a money-making machine before he can even drink legally has been a steady climb for the young rapper. He’s dabbled in acting, will appear in the film ‘Office Down’ produced by film giant Lionsgate and has even become a published author, breaking down the method behind his success in ‘Teenage Millionaire,’ released last year.
His net worth is estimated at around $23 million, yet even with success comes personal and professional issues. Last year, Soulja Boy dropped his third album, ‘The Deandre Way,’ which was a commercial disaster, selling only 13,000 copies in its first week. After blaming the album’s dismal sales on his record label, the youngster stayed out of the spotlight, and re-emerged to talk about the tragic death of his younger brother, who was involved in a fatal car accident in March.
In the throes of such a loss, Soulja Boy went back into the lab to focus on his ‘Juice’ mixtape, inspired by the 1993 film starring Tupac Shakur. He also announced that he would be releasing an accompanying movie, in which he would reprise Shakur’s iconic role, a move that was met with opposition in the hip-hop world. But like he’s always done, Soulja Boy, born Deandre Cortez Way, is marching to the beat of his own drum. Even with a few short-lived “beefs” with hip-hop pioneers like Nas and Ice-T, he remains undaunted by his critics and inspired by his fans.
The BoomBox caught up with the young rapper to talk about auditioning to play the role of Tupac, the loss of his brother and where his new love, former Crime Mob rapper Diamond, stands in his life.
Why did you opt to release the ‘Juice’ mixtape instead of doing an album?
I just felt like I wanted to do a mixtape so I can be free. So I could give it straight to my fans, and the process would’ve been quicker than just doing another album. I felt like I just wanted to do a mixtape more than I wanted to do an album. I felt like ‘Juice’ would’ve been better as an album once I put it out, and I’m glad it got that response.
Would you categorize this mixtape as something totally different, or in line with what fans can expect from you?
This is how I was feeling at the time. I might switch my whole sound up on my mixtapes so that right there is what the whole ‘Juice’ thing was. Fans can expect some new styles on the mixtape and they can expect stuff that they haven’t heard.
How long did it take to put it together?
It took like three good months. I was in Los Angeles, and I seen the ‘Juice’ movie and I was like ‘I’mma do a ‘Juice’ mixtape.’ [I] went back to the A [Atlanta] and got the beats together.
Is it true that the ‘Juice’ film you made is inspired by the original film, rather than an actual remake?
Yeah, that’s accurate. I was inspired just with the mixtape and it turned into me wanting to do the short film for my fans, just so that they could have something to go along with the visual. I just want everybody to check it out, we got a whole lot of feedback and buzz from it.
What was it about Tupac’s character in the film that inspired you?
Really he was just my favorite character in the movie. I just felt like I wanted to get the same haircut that Pac had in the ‘Juice’ movie. After I got the haircut everybody was just going crazy. What stood out to me was that Bishop [Tupac's character] was his own man. He wasn’t following nobody. He was different and he just really snapped — he shot two of his homeboys. He was really a standout dude in the movie. So that’s how I looked at myself and I just went with it.
You also were asked to audition for the lead role in the Tupac biopic. Tell me about that.
How that whole thing came about, I was doing the ‘Juice’ mixtape and that got out. I’m with William Morris Agency and they sent me an email, the subject was “Tupac,” so I clicked on it. They were interested in having me for the role. I told them I was going to let them know. After that, I got this offer for this part for this movie called ‘Officer Down’ so I’ve been here in Connecticut [shooting]. I was on set with this actor Stephen Dorff and he was like, “Yeah man, you should do that [play Tupac].” This is like really my first big movie, Lionsgate Films in theaters where people are going to see me acting. I was kind of hesitant [to audition for the Tupac film] but they told me that Tupac’s mom is on board with the movie. That was one of the things that I was like, “Hey, as long as his moms is cool with it I can consider it.”
How do you prepare for acting roles?
I’ve just been out here doing everything that I can do on this acting side, because it’s different from music. I think that after I finish this project I’mma go an audition [for the Tupac film]. I’m just honored for them to reach out to me in the first place.
Is it hard to transition from being an artist to an actor and to be around seasoned actors for your first big role?
Yeah, I was in my trailer when I first got to the set. I’m nervous. I’m on the airplane going over my lines and I get here, and you have these actors that’s been in movies like ‘Blade’ and ‘Public Enemy,’ I won’t say it’s hard but it’s a challenge. It’s hard to give up the whole rapper mindset and trying to focus 100 percent on being this other character and spread my career, where people can take seriously so they can look at me like Soulja Boy the actor. I gave it my all, I feel like I’m doing a great job on both sides.
I hear that you’re also working on a documentary about your life story. Is that true?
I started filming on that project three years ago and that’s going to be in theaters at the end of this year. It’s done now. I just want all my fans to know it’s going to be the story that they know, and for the people that don’t know my life, and where I came from. A lot of people think it was just overnight success. I really want to let them know about the digital revolution. I want them to know about my Internet success. I want them to know about the tour I was doing before ‘Crank That’ was on a public scale, how the dance came about, how my name came about… Me being in school and doing concerts at the same time; my first album going platinum to my third album not selling that good. Everything is in this movie. It has my family in it, my home, my roots, a lot of things that people don’t know about Soulja Boy.
Your family is a big part of your life. How have you been dealing with the loss of your brother?
Family loss for any person is hard. It just was hard for me because, you know how that goes, you just want to be with them one last time. It was unexpected, I was messed up. I’m still messed up about that to this day. My family, everybody was financially straight when the funeral came. My father he was really messed up about it, and that created more drama and problems in the family. My other brother threatened to take his life, and that just really had my family just real messed up. It’s real hard for me but I just been trying to do the best that I can. I wanted to be with my family and not do this music but we got an understanding. I have to keep going for my fans and keep doing music and movie to provide for them [my family]. But it’s just like man, once that happens it makes you question a lot of things. Everybody gotta go one day; I just look at it like I just want to make him [my brother] proud.
With both personal and professional obligations how do you balance it all?
Being the person that I am it is a lot. I stay positive and just do me. I pray, I talk to God. I talk to my grandma, talk to my mom, talk to my girl [Diamond], I talk to everybody. I try to just stay grounded, humbled and focused. I look at everybody like they’re equal and just show love and be loved, that’s really all I can do.
How has your new relationship changed you? Would you say that Diamond has been a pillar of strength for you?
I feel like she’s definitely that. She’s an added plus just for me, period. She supports me. She loves me. Everybody needs love, everybody needs that support in their corner. She’s definitely a pillar of strength in my corner. I don’t need negativity around me. With all the stuff that’s going on with me as being Soulja Boy and my personal life, and in the world in general, the whole world needs love.