Remembering Young Dolph, a Rapper of Uncommon Generosity

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The Memphis MC, who was shot and killed yesterday at age 36, leaves a legacy of goodness that goes beyond his music.

Young Dolph
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

It’s not unusual for stories of charitable goodwill or kind interactions with fans to flood social media when a beloved celebrity passes, but so much of what I’ve seen in the wake of Young Dolph’s murder yesterday highlights an all-too-rare generosity. Over the past few years, the Memphis rapper had started spending more time in his hometown, giving back significantly to the place that made him. Dolph and his family founded the non-profit IdaMae Family Foundation, which was named in honor of their grandmother and sponsored high school literacy and college prep courses, organized clothing drives for victims of domestic violence, and ran various community outreach programs in Memphis. That he was killed in his own city, a place he gave so much to, musically and materially, makes his death all the more heartbreaking.

That generosity extended far beyond Memphis, too. After two campus workers were fired from a Duke University coffee shop for playing Dolph’s song “Get Paid” in 2018, he flew them out to Rolling Loud for his set and gave them $20,000. Dolph is hardly the first rapper to give away large sums of money, but watching back the footage, there’s something that feels a little different from, say, Drake’s “God’s Plan” video: The gesture doesn’t come off like a prize for being a fan of Young Dolph, but more like a sign of respect and admiration from one hard worker to another. The material realities of a campus service worker and a chart-topping rapper might be considerably different, but as the song says, they’re both just trying to get paid.

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Above all else, Dolph made music to hustle to, less a celebration of wealth itself and more of the work ethic it takes to endure in a cutthroat capitalist world. There was always a single-mindedness to his craft, and an understanding of the fact that all this success could be gone in an instant, so he may as well luxuriate while it lasts. As seriously as he took his business, he was also hilarious, in his lyrics, interviews, and social media posts. At other times, his music could be disarmingly beautiful, like “Black Queen” from 2018’s Role Model, which throws out the beat and replaces it with lone piano accompaniment for a passionate tribute to his mother, thanking her for the lessons he learned from the trials and tribulations of the life she gave him.

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So many of the rappers we’ve lost over the past few years—a dismal list that includes Pop Smoke, Lil Peep, Mac Miller, Juice WRLD, and King Von—were artists whose voices were just beginning to be heard. At 36, Dolph was still relatively young and had so many words left, but he was a little more settled down, a family man who left behind a sizable and exceptional body of work. He’d even flirted with the idea of retirement. But like a journeyman who wants to use their experience to mentor the next generation and help put them over, Dolph stayed in the game to give a platform to others.

His full-length collaborations with younger cousin Key Glock contain some of Dolph’s most electric work, and his label Paper Route Empire recently expanded to something more like a collective, along the lines of Master P’s No Limit. Dolph wanted to give back in music too, transforming his own independent success into a network of support for younger rappers from Memphis and elsewhere, offering not just career advice but the backing and infrastructure to keep their own independence, to have the ability to say no to predatory labels.

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