Young Dolph was a king in his city, never expending too much energy in his raps, but always delivering something bright and full of character. He was clever, insightful in conversation, he was funny as hell.
Young Dolph was a guy who gave away turkeys around Thanksgiving, donated money to schools, spoke to children. Hell, he gave away his Lamborghini to help a family.
He was Memphis.
Of course, legends came before him, from Three 6 Mafia to 8Ball & MJG, but for a new generation, Dolph was the face of the city. He inspired countless people, not least of which fellow artist Key Glock. It’s no exaggeration to say he was akin to Nipsey Hussle for his city: he never necessarily had mainstream domination, but he didn’t need it. He had hits where it mattered, and a rapt audience who ate up his every move.
He had an ear for beats rivaled by very few, and could put together a smash with only the leanest ingredients. He had only recently released his best projects to date, 2020’s Rich Slave on his lonesome and this year’s Dum and Dummer 2 alongside Glock. By all accounts, his star – and his talent and focus – were only on the rise.
He was killed buying cookies for his mother, at his favorite shop, one he happily promoted on social media.
This piece is short because, truly, there just aren’t any words.
May he rest in peace. The words ring hollow, but what else can we really say?
Adolph Robert Thornton Jr. 1985 – 2021
Further words, and a tributary playlist, from Ethan Reis:
About as emphatic and funny as they come, Young Dolph had a strong presence in the rap world and always did things his way. Releasing over a dozen full-length projects on his own label, he reportedly turned down multi-million dollar deals in order to stay independent. To jumpstart his career he sold marijuana as opposed to harder drugs, and weed was never far from his raps or his reach (see 16 Zips).
From Memphis rather than Atlanta, Dolph nevertheless came up in the early 2010s recording with Gucci Mane as part of a class of budding stars, like Young Thug and Migos, all of whom released era-defining material at a prolific pace. It must have been around 2013 when I first heard Dolph, probably on a classic Gucci track like “Muddy” or “Texas Margarita”. I drove around with a burned CD featuring the latter track and relished every adlib that Dolph rattled off during Gucci’s verse. The bounce of Dolph’s chorus, beat courtesy of London (who would make several more classics with Dolph), hooked me. I was a fan from then on.
Dolph always came with crazy energy on those Gucci features, not to mention dropping a scene-stealer of a verse on Young Thug’s “Never Had It” (from Barter 6, one of Atlanta rap’s greatest albums). But one need only to listen to a banger like “Preach” or “Pulled Up” to know how capable he was as a solo artist. A consistent rapper over the past decade, it’s hard to pick a single tape or album from his discography that stands out as his best. Even his recent label compilation Paper Route Illuminati was tight.
One thing that always stood out about Young Dolph was his sense of humor. On Gucci Mane’s “I Quit”, he raps about calling his plug to announce his retirement, only to call back 5 minutes later with a “sike!” On “Skerr”, he comes in like this: “Nah that ain’t me, n****, that’s Gucci scrapin’ that pot!” Last year, he edited multiple album covers in his discography to add face-masks as a playful pandemic response (they’re still there as of this writing). His chemistry with Key Glock was always high, and I’ve repeatedly watched their hilarious Vice interview in which they pontificate on the existence of aliens.
With fandom comes the surreal experience of mourning the loss of someone you may have never met or seen. It is hard to process an unexpected death, and it becomes even harder to rationalize the loss of someone like Young Dolph knowing that he was murdered. Sadly, it reminds me of the loss of Bankroll Fresh, another close associate of Gucci’s who was killed by gunfire in 2016. I wish peace for his family and friends. As long as we have music, we’ll have the spirit of Young Dolph.