South Memphis rapper Young Dolph became a local hero with stern club bangers and cold punch lines served on a series of mixtapes that led to a nationwide breakthrough around 2014. After he hit the Billboard 200 with four albums ranging from King of Memphis (2016) to Role Model (2018), he levelled up with his first Top Ten album, the Key Glock collaboration Dum and Dummer (2019), and continued with the similarly successful Rich Slave (2020) and Dum and Dummer 2 (2021). In the process, he racked up gold records with singles such as “100 Shots,” “Major,” and “RNB,” and was featured on O.T. Genasis’ multi-platinum hit “Cut It.” Dolph was fatally shot in 2021, and a posthumous album, Paper Route Frank, was released a year later.
Dolph, short for Adolph Thornton, Jr., was born in Chicago and raised in Memphis. He debuted in 2008 with the mixtape Paper Route Campaign. Subsequent releases like The Weed Album and South Memphis Kingpin brought him into 2012, when he dropped the first in a successful series of mixtapes dubbed High Class Street Music. By the time High Class Street Music 4 and the “Preach” single dropped in 2014, Dolph was working with major-label producers including Drumma Boy and Zaytoven. Both provided tracks for his 2016 debut LP, King of Memphis, which featured no guest artists. Thanks in part to Dolph’s audience-expanding featured role on O.T. Genasis’ preceding “Cut It,” the set debuted at number 49 on the Billboard 200 chart.
A trio of mixtapes followed shortly thereafter. Rich Crack Baby, the last of the three, entered the Billboard 200 upon release and included guest appearances by Boosie Badazz, 2 Chainz, Wale, T.I., Gucci Mane, and 21 Savage. Another mixtape, Gelato, followed in early 2017, containing the Yo Gotti diss track “Play wit Yo’ Bitch,” as well as tracks featuring Migos, Wiz Khalifa, and Lil Yachty. Dolph’s second studio album, Bulletproof, was released in April of 2017 and reached number 36. Mere months later, he issued Thinking Out Loud, which featured guest spots by DRAM, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz, and Ty Dolla $ign. The album was another success, hitting number 16 on the Billboard 200.
In early 2018, Dolph issued the EP Niggas Get Shot Everyday, following up later that year with the Key Glock collaboration “Major” and the solo track “By Mistake.” The full-length Role Model appeared later in the year and became Dolph’s highest-charting album yet, hitting number 15. In 2019, Dolph joined frequent collaborator Key Glock for the number eight hit Dum and Dummer, the pair’s first collaborative mixtape. Dolph’s seventh studio album, Rich Slave, landed at number four in August 2020 and found him addressing issues of racism and inequality in America. Included on the album were guest appearances by Megan Thee Stallion, Key Glock, and G Herbo. In 2021, Dolph and Glock reunited for Dum and Dummer 2, a number eight hit, followed promptly by PAPER ROUTE iLLUMINATi, a showcase album for Dolph’s Paper Route Empire label. Young Dolph died on November 17, 2021, after he was shot at a Memphis bakery he was visiting while en route to a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway. He was 36 years old. In December of 2022, previously unreleased material was collected for new album Paper Route Frank, which included appearances from Key Glock, Gucci Mane, Big Moochie Grape, and others, and rose as high as the number 25 slot on the Billboard charts. ~ David Jeffries & Neil Z. Yeung