Will Hagle has been known to jook and bugg.
In 2013, Young Dolph held a free event called “A Plus Day” in south Memphis’s Lincoln Park. The concert was the culmination of Dolph’s efforts to obtain the respect of his hometown. Willie Herenton, five time mayor of Memphis and the first African-American to be elected to that position, gave a speech. Local legends 8Ball & MJG were surprise guests. Drumma Boy and Snootie Wild graced the stage. So did local upstarts Don Trip and Jay Fizzle.
The most noticeable piece of the Memphis scene missing from A Plus Day was Yo Gotti. There’s a lot of talk about regarding Yo Gotti’s relationship with Young Dolph—the two have shared songs and stages in the past but don’t seem to be working anymore. Yo Gotti is the only other rapper who could get a Memphis crowd to show up like Dolph did on A Plus Day, and that success could be construed as a threat. But Dolph straightforwardly addresses then dismisses any beef speculation on High Class Street Music 4’s “What’s Poppin.”
“Everybody keeps asking me what’s up with me and Yo Gotti,” he says as the beat cuts out. “Fuck all that, let’s talk about the new Porsche I’m riding. I’m getting money, they getting money. That’s the end of that. Ya’ll know how this Memphis shit be.”
Dolph’s decision to differentiate himself from Yo Gotti was likely intentional. Dolph is bolstered by (but not reliant on) the many co-signs he’s received. He reached this point through his own hustle, not the support of anyone else. “Had 40 racks on me the same day I met 2Chainz,” Dolph says, again on “What’s Poppin,” even though 2Chainz is largely responsible for the success he’s had in his musical career. Dolph talks about moving his parents out of the hood before he ever even started rapping. He made his first album as a joke; when people actually enjoyed it, he pressed 20,000 CDs and gave them all away. Every tape in the High Class Street Music series has been released by a company called Paper Route Empire. He’s the CEO.
For a city with such a rich musical history, Memphis has always existed on the margins of hip-hop. 8Ball & MJG are the forefathers and Three 6 Mafia are as entwined with the city’s culture as Elvis, but the Memphis scene has never captivated the nation’s attention the way other Southern cities like Houston or Atlanta have. By keeping everything under the Paper Route Empire umbrella, throwing events like A Plus Day and releasing a steady output of music and accompanying videos, Dolph is positioning himself to be the next great Memphis representative. Yet his scope spans much farther than the Tennessee borders.
Gucci Mane is a frequent collaborator, and also a Birdman-like potential source of the Gotti drama. He appears on several Dolph songs, including one called “A Plus.” Dolph’s recent video for High Class Street Music 5’s “Down South Hustlers” shows him holding his own in one of the aforementioned musical hubs of the South, enlisting Slim Thug and Paul Wall for guest verses and model Mercedes Morr for guest ass visuals. Don Trip may have been an XXL Freshman and Snootie Wild’s “Made Me” hit the Billboard charts, but Dolph is also a young regional star who gets love anywhere he goes.
Dolph’s delivery on club tracks like “Down South Hustlers” often sounds like a drawled version of 2Chainz, slowly-paced and with sudden changes in pitch and volume. His lyrics are usually more straightforward and serious, but that doesn’t mean he sacrifices personality. When he does give punchlines, they tend to be darker—“I ain’t got no friends, all my friends dead,” he says on “Forever.” If you’re not listening closely, you might hear the “presidents” ad-lib that follows.
Dolph’s other recent video was also shot outside Memphis, but the song and clip have a much more somber tone. “Cold World” finds Dolph visiting the Michael Brown memorial in Ferguson, rapping about trying to raise his son in a country where people are killed by cops for their skin color. The imagery of MLK interspersed among clips of Dylann Roof and nationwide protests serves as another reminder that Dolph hails from the city where the civil rights leader was gunned down.
It’s a cold world and Memphis can be a cold town, but Young Dolph has navigated the system well. He could’ve capitalized on the early Yo Gotti support, but that wouldn’t have left room for Paper Route Empire to overtake Memphis. He could still ride the coattails of 2Chainz or Gucci Mane, but then he’d forever be associated with Atlanta.
He doesn’t need the help of anyone at home or elsewhere because it’s not even about the money anymore. “I’ve been working my whole life, but I ain’t never punched a clock,” Dolph says on “Preach.” A successful event like A Plus Day doesn’t mean that Dolph’s grind is over, but it does show how he’s the most likely candidate to secure the next spot in Memphis’s national hip-hop lineage. He was the one bringing 8Ball & MJG on stage; not vice-versa.