Harold Bingo is still in search of his own signature emoji to ice out.
Young Dolph is a name that inspires a number of different reactions. There is the typical old head grousing, and we all remember Pete Rock’s convenient memories of an era where no one rapped about anything illicit in front of a child (has he seen a ’90s video?)
There are even those who enjoy others in his lane, yet find him to be one dimensional or unskilled. In a rap world where you’re either a “versatile” trend chaser or you’ve dedicated yourself to one particular subgenre, Dolph has carved out a unique niche.
Simply put, he knows what his audience wants and he’s committed to providing it on an every six to eight month basis. He’s gained more access to guest stars as his profile grows, but the general spirit of the music remains the same.
There are no “songs for the ladies” or any real attempts at a crossover hit. When he even attempts such things, we get songs like “On The River,” where it becomes obvious that Dolph thinks a limp Wiz Khalifa verse is enough to do the job for him. There is very little introspection or hand wringing about the lifestyle he’s chosen. His writing is very celebratory and while most rappers traffic in “I fucked your girl and make more money than you” cliches, Dolph truly seems to get a great deal of joy out of delivering them.
He can be hit or miss from a lyrical standpoint, and while no one would ever confuse him for Starlito or Don Trip, he is capable of digging into his bag and coming up with something a little deeper than the usual jewelry and drug lingo.
Take “Everything Happens For a Reason,” a one off that Dolph gave to Zaytoven for the Finesse soundtrack. While the story ends as most Dolph songs do, the first verse finds him offering the listener a detailed backstory for the success of one of his schemes.
Mostly, Dolph offers pathos to the listener in the form of tossed off asides in the midst of his braggadocio. On King of Memphis, he reminisced about nights spent eating hot dogs and potatoes and a neighbor who was stealing lights and cable.
He is quick to remind you that he got to his current position on his own. High Street Music 3 includes the seminal Dolph classic “Money Callin,” wherein he lays the template for songs to come, recounting tales of weighing dope on his own and selling at school. There is no mention of anyone who helped him along the way.
One key factor that sets Dolph apart is a trait that he shares with his antecedents Project Pat and Gucci Mane: an unabashed sense of humor. While Gucci tends to be more of a sly fox who somehow found himself in the henhouse and Pat’s humor is mostly derived from his irreverent delivery, Dolph is more than happy to shout 2 Chainz-esque dad jokes from the rafters.
This is a man who got audible joy out of deploying a “BECKY!” adlib while bragging about smoking Kush with his white bitch on Bosses & Shooters highlight “All About.” A man who gleefully spoke about how he “showed her a Xanax. she hurried up and took it! Fucked her so good, she got up and started cooking!” on “Get Paid” a song where he outlined two simple rules for getting money. Rule #1: Get the money first. Rule #2? Don’t forget to get the money!
It’s not hard to picture a past life where Dolph became a Def Comedy Jam regular or a Hypnotize Minds B-teamer known for crude jokes. He has had the good fortune to exist in a rap universe where mastering one lane allows for a longer career than merely synthesizing whatever is currently trendy.
This brings us to the current state of Dolph, who is now known to many merely as “The guy who Yo Gotti really wants dead.” While Gotti himself has transcended the Memphis mixtape scene that Dolph finds most comfortable and crafted two legitimate crossover hits in recent years, the two have had a long simmering cold war that seems to have consumed Gotti.
Gotti has been able to successfully sign various artists from the area and has been responsible for providing Snootie Wild and Blac Youngsta with a larger platform. When he attempted to do the same for Dolph, he was met with derision and Dolph has commented on the disrespect he felt by being offered a lowball deal by the CMG mogul.
Seasoned listeners of both can sift through the songs of the past few years and pluck out the subliminal disses. With two attempts having been made on Dolph’s life in the past year that are both linked to Gotti associates, it is safe to say that the sneak disses have now turned into something a little more frightening.
These types of beefs tend to contain more layers than what has been made readily available to the listening public. But it is telling that someone who has been able to become a legacy act of sorts and emerge from the crowded southern mixtape scene to score top 10 pop smashes is still consumed with Dolph.
In a world that loves the antihero, Dolph offers the sort of visceral thrills that even a prime Yo Gotti cannot match. His songs allow the listener to ride shotgun with Dolph while he drops off pounds and stops off for carnal interludes. Gotti has always struggled to find an identity of his own and listeners would be hard pressed to describe what makes him special or allows him to stand apart.
Gotti was kicking around the southern scene for a couple of decades before achieving acclaim. Meanwhile, Dolph has fashioned himself into a peer in a fraction of the time and with nary a “Down In The DM” to show for it. One gets the feeling that Gotti is a much bigger fan of Dolph than the reverse and that the botched attempt to sign him is the root cause of their current issues.
It is my sincere hope that these two patch things up, but Dolph’s insistence on inflaming the situation has made this prospect seemingly far fetched. This is a shame, because Dolph’s 2017 output shows a strong understanding of what makes him great.
Gelato felt like a breakthrough moment while it was taking place. Songs like “Meech,” “Whole Lot,” and “Baller Alert” would fit comfortably among some of his finest work. He even flirts with some more dexterous flows than his usual fare and boasts like “I heard they want me dead so now I’m flexin’ even harder” hit much harder when they are actually true.
While Gelato is Dolph preaching to the converted and offering a perfectly distilled version of the music that’s allowed his following to grow, Bulletproof finds an angry Dolph harnessing his rage. As a result, we receive some of the most terse and focused music of his career. The track listing conceit that spells out his feelings about the attempt made on his life in Charlotte only adds to the intrigue.
Bulletproof’s pleasures are less immediate than Gelato’s. It took the tape a few months to sneak up on me as a result. Dolph doesn’t use the murder attempt as a springboard to unearned gravitas as so many others would in his position.
Instead, it’s used to color his usual stylings and serve as a constant reminder that death potentially lurks around every corner. When he says that he’s not “Goin’ out like Pac and Biggie,” it feels earned. The salt haters sprinkle may kill a snail, but it can’t touch him.
He cracks several jokes at the expense of Gotti’s shooters and his taunts to fake rappers feel more lived in than most. “I’m Everything You Wanna Be” is arguably the tape’s crown jewel. Dolph sheds light on his past, speaking openly about selling dope to the fiends in his family; watching Master P and Baby on television; and playing in the dirt. Of course, by song’s end, he is covered in ice and Diddy dancing while he counts millions.
The rap game anxiously awaits further word on Dolph’s condition (he has already tweeted, which would seem to be a good sign). Will Dolph return with the same cocksure attitude that his fans have come to know and love? Or will he finally change his ways and lay low?
No one can predict the future, but I, for one, will be doing everything in my power to appreciate Dolph while he is still here. You should do the same.
POW Young Dolph Spotify playlist: