Young Dolph Is The Gucci Mane Heir We Deserve
Gucci Mane had a lot to say on “All My Children.” A highlight off his 2016 album Everybody Looking, the track finds him delivering a sentimental and oddly selfless take on his monumental impact on hip-hop. The trap pioneer acknowledges his legacy as Atlanta’s doyen, yet he reframes it from a fatherly perspective by placing the emphasis on those who’ve benefited from him–both directly from his intervention and indirectly from his influence. An easygoing contrast to the agitated defensiveness of Eminem’s recent screed “The Ringer,” in which Marshall Mathers uses his powerful platform to punch downward, “All My Children” excelled by lifting others upward.
As the artist born Radric Davis continues his successful post-prison run of albums and mixtapes, it’s almost impossible to overstate what he’s accomplished for rappers and producers other than himself. Many of the beatmakers he put on his countless projects have since become hitmakers and luminaries in their own right, widely recognized names like Mike Will Made It, Southside, and Zaytoven. An influencer before the term was widely co-opted by Instagram wannabes, Gucci handpicked or otherwise co-signed many of today’s best-regarded trap spitters, from stars Future and Young Thug to respected streetwise practitioners Peewee Longway and Young Scooter. Some acts saw their stock rise by signing with his 1017 Brick Squad imprint, while others simply gained by being in his universe.
Adolph Thornton Jr. falls into the latter category. Indeed, many rap listeners got their proper introduction to Young Dolph through Gucci, by way of their collaborative East Atlanta Memphis mixtape. Prior to the 2013 project, the Tennessee representative released a string of tapes hosted by heavy hitters on the circuit like Bigga Rankin, DJ Holiday, and DJ Scream. Listening to 2010’s Welcome 2 Dolph World and the following year’s High Class Street Music, it’s clear he had yet to find his voice, mostly mirroring the flavors of local luminaries Three 6 Mafia and 8Ball & MJG instead. But on High Class Street Music Episode 2, that signature Dolph flow began to congeal, evident on the hard verses of “Hustler’s Paradise” and right on time for the next stage in his come up.
Dolph and Gucci had teamed up before, notably on Blue Magic’s “A-Plus (Remix)” and High Class Street Music’s “Booked Up,” their interplay making for some standout trap singles. Coming in the midst of one of Gucci’s infamously prodigious musical runs, East Atlanta Memphis solidified their musical camaraderie, carrying on a tastemaking tradition of joint projects that included tapes with the likes of Future, Waka Flocka Flame, and, perhaps tellingly given their later respective beefs, Memphis’ own Yo Gotti. With beats by seminal producers including Lex Luger, Metro Boomin, and Shawty Redd, the interstate pairing of Gucci’s stuffy nose bars with Dolph’s comparatively more vociferous ones resonated credibly in both locales, not to mention with keen listeners throughout the country. To put it another way, it was that real trap sh*t.
In the subsequent five years, a great deal has changed for Dolph. Following a number of additional tapes primarily under his Paper Route Empire label, including standouts 16 Zips and Felix Brothers with Gucci and Peewee, he dropped his first album in 2016. Coming hot on the heels of his feature appearance on OT Genasis’ hit “Cut It,” King Of Memphis peaked at No. 49 on the Billboard 200, no small feat for an indie rapper. Since then, he’s self-released a number of other albums and tapes that reached the charts, namely the 2017 trio of Bulletproof, Gelato, and Thinking Out Loud in which two of the three boasted Gucci guest spots.
Not unlike his Atlanta cohort, independence has proven a hallmark of Dolph’s career, having famously turned down deals with Yo Gotti’s Epic Records distributed Collective Music Group and, most recently, one with an unnamed major allegedly worth $22 million. Apart from a distribution arrangement for PRE announced this summer with EMPIRE, his catalog and masters remain his own, a situation he argues leaves him better compensated than if he went the more traditional route of signing elsewhere. So when “100 Shots,” a bold single about a failed attempt on his life in North Carolina, went gold, he alone reaped the benefits. He’s even expanded the PRE roster to include Memphis natives Key Glock and Jay Fizzle.
Dolph’s good fortune has as much to do with his business acumen as his talent on the mic, something reinforced with his latest endeavor Role Model. Echoing the positivity of Gucci’s “All My Children,” the typically gruff emcee shifts gears to discuss overcoming odds and one’s lot in life. Recalling his oft-cited status as a rich crack baby, opener “Black Queen” juxtaposes his upbringing as the child of addicts with his current success that includes their love and support. He’s still working with trap beatsmiths like Honorable C Note and Izze The Producer, refining and representing that sound’s dark side even as artists like Migos go the poppier route with it. Then again, he loops Offset to flex into the disquieting “Break The Bank.”
With Gucci now married and sober, living his best life so to speak, Dolph fills in his gap better than anyone else he blessed in those preceding crucial years. He’s relentless with his output, putting project after project into the world mere months apart. Despite beef within Memphis’ trap community, his standing on a national scale towers over nearly everyone in the 1017 extended family. And, as indicated by the tragic feuding that terminates his erstwhile partnership with Waka Flocka, who remains in label limbo and unable to drop his long-awaited Flockaveli 2, few of those can assume Gucci’s role as trap’s standard-bearer. (Dolph even managed to escape the multidirectional wrath of Gucci’s infamous social media-fueled meltdown of 2013, which found him threatening to sell 1017 artists’ contracts and making targets of everyone from Nicki Minaj to Rocko.)
Furthermore, Gucci remains a staple of recent Dolph projects, and vice versa, with joint tracks “Bling Blaww Burr,” “Go Get Sum Mo,” “Stunting Ain’t Nuthin,” “That’s How I Feel,” and more all within the last two years. His endorsement still carries weight, and the longevity of their fellowship suggests one of the strongest bonds in contemporary hip-hop, a scene where friends become foes overnight on social. Even as he continues to nurture promising talent on his Interscope affiliated 1017 Eskimo imprint, with signees like Asian Doll and Lil Wop, his support network also extends to PRE. Key Glock featured on three cuts off resurgent Chicago spitter Z Money’s latest Chiraq Mogul tape for 1017 Eskimo, including the single “Durag.”
Nobody will ever truly replace Gucci Mane, and considering he’s shown no sign of retiring anytime soon that conversation isn’t even on the table. Still, he’s moved on from the street hustle and hassle like so many other hip-hop greats, living that hard-earned mansion life. And while we’ll always enjoy his anecdotes and reminiscences, trap needs stewardship from someone we believe is still trapping or at least deeply embedded. Someone needs to take up that mantle, to keep this music on track. Thankfully, we have someone: it’s Dolph.