“Rip Young Dolph.”
That is what flashed across my phone screen last week.
It was a text from a friend; ambiguous for others, sure, but not for me.
My mind raced, hoping my friend was being metaphorical. Maybe Dolph had been canceled?
But as I searched up his name, tweets from just seconds earlier confirmed my greatest fear: Young Dolph was dead.
Adding on to the numerous recent deaths of rap-industry giants, Dolph was notably more under-the-radar than other recent fallen artists. But this fact alone makes his death all the more heartbreaking.
One day earlier, a friend told me the late Memphis rapper was “old.”
Yes, Dolph outlived many of his peers, but how can we, as a society, call 36 years old — old ?
Do Black rappers really have such a low life expectancy?
“It’s his fault, he rapped about violence, so he should have died by violence,” I heard from another friend. Some questioned why he never left his Tennessee hometown, citing how dangerous it is for someone of his notoriety to stay in a location where so many know his business.
But Dolph was far from a careless thug.
He stayed to support his hometown.
Without ever signing to a major label, Dolph launched his own independent label, Paper Route Empire, and was able to earn more than his peers despite keeping a lower profile. And where did this money go? Back to the people.
The day after his murder, the rapper was scheduled to host his annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway, donating turkeys to Memphis-based families in need.
On an even larger scale, the hard-as-nails trap artist looked after his city’s youth, purchasing foreclosed properties for his own children on their birthdays and pushing numerous adolescents to find mentors and help them succeed.
He wasn’t just a rapper. He was an ambitious entrepreneur who stayed loyal to his roots, looking after the same community that raised him.
But for longtime fans, his rise to success was only a matter of time, but those who were there from the start know just how long it took him to reach this point.
While platinum hits like “Cut It” and “Major” made him a household name, Dolph had only just begun to enter the mainstream, with his final solo album preceding his death, “Rich Slave,” which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200, not to mention his two collaborative albums with Key Glock, “Dum and Dummer” and “Dum and Dummer 2,” which both peaked at No. 8.
Acting as Dolph’s protégé, Glock was one of Dolph’s only frequent collaborators in the twilight years of his career. Working typically as a solo artist, Dolph could effortlessly carry any song on his own, equipped with some of the hardest verses around:
“Uncle Vic told me stay down with this s--t ‘til it blow up / Smokin’ on some shit you not, got Wock-Wock in my soda / Used to sign for the packs, now I sign t-shirts and posters / Drop five hundred racks to drop the top on that new roadster / Balenciaga the drip / First class, Dubai, take a trip / Spend a little bit, stack all the chips / I walk in Margiela and go crazy / Can’t get money with me, you too lazy / One thing I ain’t never did was never ever ever let a b---h play me.”
To most people, this is just a verse from a little-known late rapper.
But to me, it’s a verse from one of the most respected rappers in the game.
Dolph may never have never had the sales or fame of mainstays like Drake or Kendrick Lamar, but that didn’t stop him from securing features with heavy hitters like Wiz Khalifa, Gucci Mane and Memphis pioneers Juicy J and Project Pat, only further proving his low-key legendary status.
In an era where celebrities are immortalized after death, it’s easy to predict Dolph’s popularity will only grow posthumously, but it’s sad to realize how little new fans will ever know of his tireless work ethic, both in and out the studio.
That’s because Dolph was not just another rapper.
He was a menacing persona who could intimidate any listener in seconds, yet he still found time to become one of the most giving souls his hometown could ever ask for.
Alex Falter is the senior arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com