Why I Love Soulja’s Swag

Illustration for article titled Why I Love Soulja’s Swag

Soulja Boy Tellem!

Hopped up out tha bed,

Turn ma swag on,

Took a look in tha mirror said wassup,

Yeeeeea, I'm gettin' money (oohhh)

-"Turn My Swag On" by Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em

I have to admit, I sort of begrudgingly love Soulja Boy's "Turn My Swag On." Though the Blackademic within should probably be preparing some harangue-with the obligatory reference to Barack Obama's accomplishments-I can't bring myself to do it. Why? Because it's the perfect recession song; a tune for the times, not in the "What's Going On?" sense but in the "Wow, I'll take a pick-me-up where I can get it" sense.


The song works for multiple reasons. It has the three Southern rap food groups: a beat that knocks so hard you can't ignore it, a bad karaoke-type charm and a brainwashingly effective chorus. Put all of that together, and you can't help but do that awkward, office-chair dance.

I'm aware that in many ways, neither Soulja Boy nor "Turn My Swag On" are anything spectacular-indeed, both are right in line with the run-of-the-mill coonery that makes many of us cringe. But I'm not looking to Soulja Boy for cogent insights on TARP or how to reform the Department of Education. I know that I should take offense to his savagely off-key attempt at singing. But I give it a mulligan for the same reason Kanye West gets one-the spirit of a song is sometimes more important than whether or not it was performed in key. Frankly, I appreciate Soulja Boy for having the gall to use his own voice rather than go barreling down the primrose path toward Auto-Tune. (Sidebar: Can we pass a bill that says T-Pain is the only contemporary artist allowed to use Auto-Tune? Be real. He's the only one that does it well. Ask Zapp and Roger.)

For me, "Turn My Swag On" has a certain "Eye of the Tiger" quality, not nearly as iconic, but definitely an abundantly cathartic release with a lyrical intent I can identify with. Am I an 18-year-old, bubble-gum-rap clown with more money than I know what to do with? No more than I'm an Italian from Philly looking to get his swagger back in the boxing ring. And yet, I feel the essence from both songs they inspired. I know the place from whence both songs speak.

I got a question why they hatin' on me?

I got a question why they hatin' on me?

I ain't did nothin' to 'em, but count this money

And put my team on, got my whole clique stunnin'

Boy wassup, yeeeea

Boy wassup, yeeeea

Forget your high-mindedness for a moment. What's wrong with staying focused on providing for you and yours while not deliberately hurting other people? Isn't that what all of us, especially now, are trying to do? I would say it is.

I'm back againnnnn,

I know a lot of y'all thought I wasn't coming back

Yeeeeea, yeeeeea

I had to prove them wronggggg,

Got back in the studio and came up with another hit

Yeeeeea, yeeeeea

Call me crazy, but motivation is motivation is motivation, and I don't care whose mouth it's coming from. In these trying times, you don't get to quit. You have to hop out of the bed every morning and turn your swag on-even when you're running on empty-because without that swag, you gets no money. When your reality-and that of your bank statement-is tough, sometimes all you can do is start buckin' and say, "I'm not losing today." Sometimes your dance and swag is all you have. 


I'm not saying Soulja Boy discovered swag. He's merely continuing a long tradition of black people finding a way to get by despite the odds. So soldier on, Soulja Boy. I, might not be listening for long, and I might be cringing a bit as I bounce. But for the time being, I'm just not that mad at cha.

Jonathan Pitts-Wiley is a writer based in New York, and the author of The Root's Buzz Column.