Young Dolph, from nothing to an independent empire

Young Dolph, a South Memphis rapper with a very humble background, has managed to build an independent empire through his label Paper Route Empire and has thus turned into a positive role model for his entire community.

Essential Projects
  • Role Model
  • Gelato
  • Rich Crack Baby

Memphis, Tennessee

Adolph Thornton Jr, stage name Young Dolph, was born in Chicago Illinois in 1984. When he was 2 years old he moved with his family to the Castalia neighbourhood in South Memphis. One of the most important cities of Tennessee, Memphis is located on the banks of the Mississippi river, in the deep South of the United States. This area was once a hub for the slave trade and also the place where Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Castalia Memphis Tennesee Young Dolph quartiere

il quartiere di Young Dolph – Castalia, Memphis (Tennessee)

The cities and banks along the river have always been intrinsically tied to the Afro American community which makes up the majority of the population and unfortunately often lives below the poverty line. In this scenario, black music, especially Blues, has a strong tradition and identity which is in part due to the typical accent of these parts but also stems from the deep suffering experienced by the population. In the same way, since the 90’s, a particularly successful Hip Hop movement developed in the area.

This sound would then influence the whole of the Southern U.S and, passing through Atlanta, would help to build the foundations of the trap sub-genre. Among Memphis greats, such as 8Ball & MJG, Three Six Mafia, Project Pat  and Yo Gotti, there definitely is a place for Young Dolph, who is also the subject of this Art of Bars installment.

Young Dolph, born of the “crack era”

As we previously mentioned, Young Dolph, moved to the working class district of Castalia in South Memphis, to live with his grandparents, uncles and cousins. This impoverished community was made up of large family units often related to each other. Ever since a baby, Adolph (Young Dolph) was forced to live in extreme conditions of poverty and neglect. South Memphis, like many other American ghettos, was swept up in the so-called “crack epidemic”.


Under the reagan presidency, during the Crack Era, the United States were flooded with cocaine which had been cut, cooked and sold cheaply to the poorest social classes, often of Afro Americans. Young Dolph’s mother and father were both drug addicts. Therefore, since an early age, he was forced to fend for himself as well as take care of his younger siblings. His only point of reference within the family was his grandmother who gave him an education on how to survive the streets.

I don’t fuck with these niggas ’cause they shady
These bitches they just wanna have my baby
Born in the 80’s, crack baby
Mama, she was in the streets, so guess who raised me (the streets nigga)
You muthafuckin’ right
Couldn’t get it from my mama, so I got it off the block
Been workin’ my whole life, but I ain’t never punched the clock
9 years old I seen a nigga get shot, damn
Niggas quick to run their mouth when they get jammed
Pussy ass nigga telling on his own fam
Same nigga that you break your neck for
Be the same nigga that cross you out and wet you up
‘pposed to be chasin’ money, but you chasin’ bitches
Real bosses don’t talk, we just sit back and listen
Stack that paper up, and then make boss moves
“Preach” – Young Dolph

Young Dolph: Hustle and hard work, from the streets to music.

When you are born in hell, like Young Dolph, no one gives you a free pass and you have to hustle and get it by any means necessary in order to feed your family. This mentality was central in forming the character of the South Memphis rapper and was obviously transposed into his artistic career. The sale of crack and other hard drugs is the only taboo for Dolph (although he is a lean consumer) because of the effect these substances had on his immediate family. Young Dolph soon became enamoured with Hip Hop music and was influenced by legends from his city and top players such as Master P who hailed from nearby New Orleans. However he began considering the possibility of making music himself only in 2008. He was 24 years old.

His neighbourhood homies, with whom he would spend entire days smoking weed and freestyling, convinced him to record his debut mixtape “Paper Route Campaign” in 2008.

Young Dolph beneficenza

Young Dolph regala soldi ai bambini del suo quartiere.

In the space of a few years, after setting up his label Paper Route Empire, he began releasing mixtapes at an incredible rate and distributing them hand to hand in the streets and the hood, thus rapidly becoming a legend in South Memphis. He organized parties and was invited to perform shows in clubs all around Tennessee and other bordering states. In this period Young Dolph also established ties with some of the most renowned DJs, producers and rappers from nearby Atlanta and New Orleans such as: Gucci Mane, Zaytoven, DJ Scream and 2 Chainz aka Titi Boy. Young Dolph’s brand, success and money began to increase rapidly over time.

Feuding with Yo Gotti for the title of King Of Memphis

In certain areas of the United States, Hip Hop holds specific weight on the streets. The multimillion dollar music business attracts many shady characters who are active on the streets, these are gangsters and “borderline” figures from Memphis, Atlanta and Chicago. Music is the perfect business for reinvesting the proceeds of illegal activities and, in sometimes, it can also generate legit money.

Therefore when the “lobby” representing Yo Gotti, another trap star from Memphis, tried to get Young Dolph to sign a multi million dollar deal, they were met with staunch refusal and that did not go down well. When Young Dolph released his first official album titled “King Of Memphis” (2016), sneak dissing turned into open attacks, these can be heard especially in the explicit track “Play With Yo B”. In 2017 Young Dolph was shot at almost 100 times while he was on board his SUV in Charlotte, Carolina. Coincidence? Maybe not.

The South Memphis rapper miraculously avoided death thanks to the bulletproof lining of his vehicle. No one was charged with the attempted murder, although initially Blac Youngsta (a rapper affiliated to Yo Gotti) was investigated, and Young Dolph always refused to speak to authorities about this incident. On the contrary, the cunning rapper released a new album, ironically titled “Bulletproof” (2017), only a few weeks after the drama occured. 5 months later the Paper Route Empire CEO was once again caught up in a shootout, this time in Los Angeles. This time he narrowly escaped with his life and was wounded in the arm.

Young Dolph sparatoria ferito al braccio

Uniqueness and vision: Paper Route Empire and turning down 22 million dollars

After that Young Dolph decided to bury the hatchet with Yo Gotti since he didn’t want this rivalry to impinge on his career, he risked losing everything he had worked so hard for. Actually, he continued to flood the streets with mixtapes and LPs: “Rich Crack Baby” (2016), Gelato ( 2017), “Thinking Loud” (2017), “Role Model” (2018) just to name a few. His popularity continued to grow.

In the following years he also turned down many offers from major labels, including a 50-50 deal that would have netted 22 million dollars.

His independence, which he had built from the ground up with blood sweat and tears, was not for sale. Young Dolph wanted to maintain control over his music with the cartainty the his long term vision is worth more than any offer. On the other hand he had become an idol and role model on the streets of South Memphis and, as soon as he could, he began giving back to his community. He also launched the career of various up and comers from his area, among which Key Glock is definitely a standout figure. In 2019 they release a joint album titled Dum And Dummer.

It’s safe to say that Young Dolph’s particular brand of trap music is unique in the Southern music scene. The Memphis rapper is always able to kick his rhymes with weightiness. He is characterized by a unique vocal tone and unmistakable adlibs. He seems like a preacher recounting street parables through the mic. Young Dolph has managed to set up an empire which he fully controls artistically and financially, his is a story of redemption and get back as he conquered a unique spot in the world of rap music.


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