Memphis rapper Young Dolph’s influence and impact on the city’s rap industry is expected to last for years to come.
This will happen in part thanks to his indie label, Paper Route Empire, which features a stable of young Memphis rappers – including his cousin Key Glock. Dolph’s success has also shown a model, even in an ever-changing music industry, that others can learn from.
Dolph’s untimely death – he was shot on November 17 at Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies on Airways Boulevard in Memphis – has left a town mourning for one of its most prominent musicians and community members.
His death has also left some wondering what the impact would be on the revival of the city’s rap industry – a Dolph, whose first name was Adolph Robert Thornton Jr., played a key role in establishing it.
Memphis music experts who spoke to The Commercial Appeal said there are plenty of future rap talent in Memphis. The key now is to maximize this talent, through a robust musical ecosystem, and fully embrace this music to help continue the city’s rap renaissance.
âI think what we’re starting to understand as a community is that hip-hop music, R&B music is just another form of expression,â said George Monger, CEO of Connect Music . âIt’s no different from the way people didn’t like soul music. No different from the way rock ‘n’ roll was not accepted. This music is here to stay.
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Impact of Young Dolph’s decision to become independent
One of the most important decisions in Dolph’s career was to forgo several reported opportunities for the traditional major record label contract and to start his own business, Paper Route Empire, in 2010.
That meant doubling down as an emerging solo actor and CEO of a new independent label. However, the latter allowed him greater control over his collection of music and masters.
A master recording is the official original recording of a song, sound, or performance. All of Dolph’s studio albums have been released via Paper Route Empire, including his most successful studio album, âRich Slaveâ in 2020, which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard charts. Owning his masters gave Dolph complete control over the creation and licensing of his music and access to royalties and more income opportunities than if he signed with a record company.
Monger said Dolph is far from the only independent artist and it’s a continuation of a growing trend nationwide, especially in the rap industry. In 2020, Monger launched Connect Music, a Memphis-based music distributor and music publishing administrator.
âWe’re in a streaming business,â Monger said. âThat means we’ve gone from physical brick and mortar to fully digital by 2030. It’s a $ 103 billion music publishing and sound recording company. This brought about the democratization of music. The ability to be independent.
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In a Q&A with Forbes in 2020, Dolph explained why becoming a freelance artist works for him.
âI think I’m more of a street listener,â Dolph said in the June 2020 interview. âDon’t get me wrong: the majors, they play a big role, they do their thing. But like, I’m really practical. I know what the streets want to hear, I know what the streets are going through, the jargon, the fashion, everything. It’s nothing ; this is my real life.
Beyond his solo career, Dolph’s musical talents have become a kind of âmicroeconomicsâ. Indeed, once an artist is successful, they are likely to reinvest in their community by adding local artists, music publishers, and working with producers, among others, to create a stronger industry, said. Monger.
âAll of this is residual income,â Monger said. âIt’s not a one-off fee. This is ongoing and is starting to build a steady income book for these writers, producers, and artists. “
Young Dolph’s impact on the Memphis rap scene
The emergence and endurance of the late rapper came at a time when figures like Yo Gotti, Moneybagg Yo, NLE Choppa and Blac Youngsta, to name a few, have all established themselves before or recently in the part of the growing rap scene.
âIt saddens me to lose one of the future generations who will bring musical recognition to the music of Memphis,â said David Porter, legendary songwriter and record producer of Stax Music. âThere is no doubt that YD was. He will certainly be missed.
All have experienced different levels of local and mainstream success. Blac Youngsta and Moneybagg Yo are linked to Yo Gotti through his Collective Music Group, one of the rival local labels of Paper Route Empire. Memphis rappers under Paper Route Empire include Snupe Bandz, Paper Route Woo, and Big Moochie Grape.
Alandis Brassel is Assistant Professor of Music Business at the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, University of Memphis. He said Dolph played a key role in Memphis rap’s re-emergence – along with his rival Yo Gotti.
âI think the pre-shoot, I think we could say that we saw at the major level that we have CMG, PRE (Paper Route Empire), and I think they were both doing a lot to recruit talent from. Memphis and continue to put Memphis on the map, âBrassel said.
Dolph’s influence also came by uplifting those around him or bringing them into his circle.
A few years ago, before his rise as a well-known comedian, Grovehero, a native of Memphis, lived in Atlanta with his career in an uncertain place. One night he received an Instagram message from Dolph.
The two connected and Dolph told Grovehero, whose first name is Mario Bradley, that he was going to change his life. It came about by featuring Grovehero in the music video “Major,” which has over 87 million views on YouTube since its debut in 2018.
âI’m not going to lie,â Grovehero told The Commercial Appeal. âI think I would still be who I am today, but it probably would have taken a little longer. With him, it just happened instantly. This man changed my life instantly in a blur.
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The two then went on tour together and remained close until Dolph’s death. Grovehero said Dolph “had a real empire”.
âHe (Dolph) can put out an album a year and be good and live shows,â he said. “He had so many YouTube revenue streams for shows, feature films, album sales, even the artists under him (his label).”
Dolph was also recognized for giving back to his community, another reason why so many people in the city appreciated him. Even beyond the music he produced. He regularly organized food gifts and attended other outreach events in Memphis.
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Memphis music experts remain optimistic despite Young Dolph’s death
Dolph’s passing leaves a void in the Memphis rap industry that likely won’t be filled anytime soon. However, the conversation about talent at the local level remains an optimistic one.
Elizabeth Cawein is the Founder and Executive Director of Music Export Memphis, a non-profit organization dedicated to the presentation and export of Memphis music.
While some may focus on what’s missing in Memphis, Cawein said, she wants to focus on what’s already in place to help artists thrive in the city.
âFor example, there are currently educational opportunities for artists,â she said. âMonetize your music. Protect your music. Publishing and copyright. We need more of our artists to know these things. “
Monger said the city’s music leaders must embrace the success of people involved in various sectors of the industry in Memphis.
âIf you look at the Billboard charts, whether it’s musicians, writers, or artists, if you look at the Top 100, it’s going to be someone from Memphis,â he said.
Cawein doesn’t like the phrase âa rising tide lifts all boats,â but she does think the hip-hop and rap industry can have that musical impact in Memphis.
âIf we could fully embrace who we are as a city of black music, other genres and other artists and music makers will benefit as well,â she said. âAttention and potential investment. The excitement. Brand recognition. Everyone benefits. “
This can result in the continued revival of local rap even without one of the most notable people who created it.
Omer Yusuf covers the Ford Project in Haywood County, residential real estate and tourism for The Commercial Appeal. He can be contacted via email Omer.Yusuf@commercialappeal.com or followed on Twitter @OmerAYusuf.
Memphis Police investigate death of Young Dolph
Memphis Police continue to investigate the November 17 shooting death of Young Dolph. Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 901-528-2274.