Will Hagle’s currently working on his Manifesto for Rap Bloggers.
“Play Wit Yo Bitch” was the most entertaining song on Gelato, the 11-track mixtape Young Dolph released in early February. It was a verbal attack on Yo Gotti, the culmination of long-building tension between Memphis’s two most nationally-known rappers. It was, like beef songs tend to be, funny. And that, barring a possible response from Gotti or something, should have been that.
Writing about the song for this website, I claimed that anyone who takes such music beef seriously is the equivalent of the armed conspiracy theorist who went into Comet Ping Pong to investigate PizzaGate. That is, they were clearly missing the point. A few days later, a gunman opened fire on Dolph’s bulletproof SUV before a show in Charlotte, North Carolina. It occurs to me that I was wrong. Whether or not the shooting was related to “Play Wit Yo Bitch,” someone tried to kill Young Dolph.
Once again, Dolph has responded to aggression against him by releasing yet another mixtape on his own Paper Route Empire. This one is called Bulletproof. For what it’s worth, Dolph released the project on April Fool’s Day. The track list—“100 Shots,” “In Charlotte,” “But I’m Bulletproof,” “So Fuk’em,” “That’s How I Feel,” “All Of Them,” “I’m So Real,” “I Pray For My Enemies,” “I’m Everything You Wanna Be,” “SMH”—tells you everything you need to know about Dolph’s attitude towards whoever shot at him. The album cover shows him standing atop scattered shell casings, in front of his black SUV, alive.
Dolph addresses the shooting at various points throughout the album, but it’s by no means a guiding theme. Most of the songs could slot in on any of the many mixtapes Dolph has put out in the past few years. He often reminds the listener that he is a self-made millionaire. He encourages you to go get the money yourself. He punctuates almost every line with a different adlib. He tosses out hook after hook. Gucci Mane appears.
The chorus of “100 Shots” is the closest Dolph gets to reflecting on the incident, but it’s far from the paranoid reliving of trauma YG explored on “Who Shot Me.” Dolph asks “How the fuck you miss a whole hundred shots?,” but he also aims for punchlines like “Nobu in Malibu was my last supper/I fucked her in rush hour traffic, Chris Tucker.” A few lines later, he names Tori and Brittany as the women involved in his first menage a trois. He is, as he was on “Play Wit Yo Bitch,” funny and resilient in his attempts to keep making good rap music. On “In Charlotte,” there’s a short phone-call skit in which Dolph dismisses the shooter(s) in a sentence or two, then gets back to doing what he needs to do with the Metro Boomin’ beat beneath him.
The flippant manner in which Dolph has responded to the attack in Charlotte only adds to the (self-)mythology of his character. Dolph performed that same night he was shot at, and he put this entire album together a few weeks later. Talking about the attack too much would only prove that it was effective. He’s better off praying for his enemies.
The troubling part about Bulletproof, musically, is that the Dolph rap song formula is growing more predictable. Dolph’s strategy of self-releasing mixtapes every couple months or so has contributed to his success, but it also limits him from really locking in for an extended period of time. Gelato was strong when it dropped, but two months later, with new Dolph music to sort through, it plays like a ten-song buildup to “Play Wit Yo Bitch.” The quality of Dolph’s output, at least, hasn’t faltered. The formula is predictable, but Dolph never said it wasn’t. He’s long deserved to be held in the same regard as 2 Chainz or Gucci Mane, rappers with the ability to make tossing out memorable lines and hooks sound effortless. He may not have spent the requisite amount of time working on a hook that radio listeners will remember, but he’s built himself into a reliable figure.
Bulletproof ends with “SMH,” an acapella song in which Dolph repeats a single question: “Why the fuck is you mad?” He might be talking to Yo Gotti, or whoever shot at him, or the music bloggers who come up with reasons to pick apart his music. The fact that there’s no easy answer to that question proves that Dolph is doing something right.