Memphis rapper Young Dolph isn’t as imposing as his bravado-filled and energetic dope boy tales suggests. On record, the 6’3” rapper is brash. Formidable. Swaggering. And he makes one feel foolish for lacking the tireless and intense focus needed to run a multi-million dollar company. But in person, he’s not taxing at all. The former street hustler is reassuring in bringing out one’s inner king status.
It’s midday here at VIBE and from the window of the office’s conference room, down below one can see pedestrians rushing to and from point A to B in the tidy, yet busy Manhattan streets. Cabs prowl busy avenues for customers amid a sea of vehicles bravely taking on NYC’s frenzied traffic. It’s feverish out there, but up here, the conference room has a laid-back vibe to it, thanks in part to Dolph’s relaxed demeanor.
The former neighborhood barber and local weed-man-turned-rapper rocks a modest black T-shirt that fits snug across his chest. Black jeans hug his long slim legs. With the exception of the PRE (Paper Route Empire) pendant that’s resting on his chest and swings from his thick gold rope chain, Dolph looks like your average ‘hood superstar with a few dollars. But Dolph’s appearance reminds us of something more important than new money. The rapper born Adolph Thornton, Jr. entered this world as the son of crack-addicted parents. Defying the odds, Dolph never accepted the statistics that state 70 percent of people who are born into poverty will stay in poverty.
With Dolph’s parents fighting addiction, and a grandmother who couldn’t convince him to work a regular job, the then-future entrepreneur found alternative ways to stack dollars. It’s for this reason that Dolph is accepted by the streets. Never mind that he raps with a slow, stop-and-go southern drawl. Street cats don’t care that Dolph’s rhymes aren’t heavy on wordplay. He really sold drugs. Real street cats identify and understand his story, his struggle. And he became a millionaire by telling his story. So, f**k rap skills, this kid survived the game of life.
On this day, Dolph is attentive to surroundings. He holds a serious business-like glare on his face. And while Dolph is approachable, his seriousness has the ability to ward off imbecility. He stares as if he’s thinking about his next move. You see, Dolph is so much more than a country trap rapper. He’s a businessman.
On Friday (Feb. 16), Dolph released his mixtape, N***as Get Shot Everyday, a direct reference to the Sept. 2017 incident when he was shot multiple times. Months before the September shooting, Dolph’s bulletproof car was riddled with at least 100 shots. But he’s not here to talk about the ammunition that ripped his flesh. He’s here to talk business and music. He only smiles when his songs “Facts” and “Royalty” are spoken of, songs from his King of Memphis album.
“When people think Down South they think: ‘They’re not up on game,’ or ‘They ain’t hip.’ When you from Down South, it’s, ‘You’re a trap rapper,’ ‘You’re a street rapper.’ They try to put you in a category,” Dolph says. “But everybody that comes in contact with me, that sh** changes. They say: ‘Wow, that n***a is different.’ So, it is what it is. People are going to treat your sh** how you treat your sh**. You treat your business like it’s gold, everyone else will treat your sh** like gold, and treat you like gold.”
Long before Southern hip-hop dominated the rap game, Southern MCs played the background while the East and West Coast rappers basked in the forefront. Either no one was interested in Southern hip-hop or outsiders just didn’t understand it. Southern spitters had to find unconventional ways to get their music to the masses. With that came the independent grind of Tony Draper’s Suave House; J.Prince’s Rap-A-Lot; Master P’s No Limit; Baby and Slim’s Cash Money; Houston’s Big Tyme Records, Wreckshop and Swishahouse labels; and Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def, among others. Now Dolph is following his elders’ lead with his PRE label.
“It was really going hard,” Dolph says. “Trying to do something every day. We felt like we had a point to prove. N***as jump in the rap game and they think it’s all about rap, grills, this and that. But that was our thing from day one: to make Paper Route Empire strong. That’s why I never wanted to sign to no label. So in doing that, we cater to the streets, the [men], the [women], the kids, all the way around the board.”
But getting to this point wasn’t easy. With both of Dolph’s parents crack addicted to crack, he would up being raised by his late grandmother. “I Survived,” a deeply vulnerable track from High Class Street Music 3: Trappin’ out a Mansion, outlined his troubled upbringing. After hustling in the streets, surviving two car wrecks, and some heavy convincing from two of his homeboys, Dolph decided to tell his story of pain, hustle and struggle through rap.
“I was like n***a, you crazy,” Dolph recalls of the day his homeboy suggested he start a rap career. “But I had always rapped, just freestyling, but I never took it seriously. But they kept telling me that I could do it.” Eventually he gave in. After recording some songs, Dolph pressed up to 20,000 CDs and gave them away free of charge. Now with his name ringing Memphis’ underground circuit, Dolph went back to the studio only to emerge with the local classic, Welcome 2 Dolph World.
“Welcome 2 Dolph World did it, after that it was a wrap,” he says. However, the celebration of his newfound career was bittersweet. Shortly after the release of Welcome 2 Dolph World, his grandmother died, as well as an aunt who died of cancer.
“I knew then that I was losing too much time in the streets,” Dolph recalls. “Me and my n***a, Daddy O, knew what we wanted to do and that’s to get the Young Dolph campaign off the ground. And when people notice that it’s all PRE versus me being co-signed by another artist, or me being on a label, you only get so much credit. But when it’s your own sh**, you the CEO of your own place, people respect it and they look at you differently. It’s all what you make it.”
Dolph has been talking for about an hour now. He’s looked back over his career, talked about the love that Memphis has for him, building his brand, and his mistakes. As he does on his mixtapes, Dolph’s voice rises with exuberance then falls to a monotone pitch. But his voice rises when he’s proving a point, boasting or giving out game. Looking back at his accomplishments, he smiles. Now he’s not the relaxed rapper that he was just 60 minutes ago. To make his next point, he scoots the edge of his chair and speaks excitedly and matter-of-factly.
“What people don’t understand, the stuff that people have in their heads about their dreams, and how they want to be and their future and sh**, really it’s reality. You ain’t got to do nothing but wake up and go hard every day, it can’t do nothing but happen. You might get it way faster than everybody, or it might take you way longer than everybody. Sh** just be different. You just got to do that sh**.”
Get paid young dude, get paid.
Stream Dolph’s N***as Get Shot Everyday below.