Young Dolph’s legacy goes far beyond rap

Altruism was just as important as artistry to the Memphis rapper.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 09:  Rapper Young Dolph performs onstage during 2021 ONE Musicfest at Cen...
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The pain of losing someone extends as far as the lives that person touched. Wednesday, November 18, Adolph Robert Thornton, Jr, known by the world as rapper Young Dolph, was murdered in Memphis — and with his death, hip-hop lost one of its great philanthropists.

Law enforcement sources speaking with Fox 13 Memphis reveal Dolph was shot and killed after entering local bakery Makeda’s Butter Cookies Wednesday afternoon. Unverified reports have surfaced of Dolph attempting to return fire, before being hit and succumbing to his injuries. No information has been made available about the shooter or their whereabouts. Dolph’s death comes as Memphis is on pace to surpass its all-time record for homicides in a year. But Dolph was more than a statistic. For many, he was a walking miracle.

Outside of being a prolific artist who released over 20 albums and mixtapes over the last decade, Dolph was revered for the philanthropy he’d spread around Memphis. In a twisted irony, the Black-owned bakery he was murdered at was the same one he was promoting less than a week prior. For five straight years between 2015 and 2019, Dolph went out of his way to hand out free Thanksgiving turkeys for families in Memphis. Last March, Dolph donated $25,000 to the Hamilton High School he once attended. He was helping the city of Memphis until his last day, as his Paper Route Empire record label and IdaMae Family Foundation planned to give away clothes and food to Memphis families in need this week, including an event at the Charles E. Powell Westwood Community Center on the afternoon of his passing.

It’s not only Memphis grieving Dolph’s death; his helping hand stretched across the country.

When two Duke University students were fired from their jobs as baristas in 2018 after they played Dolph’s song “Get Paid” at the campus coffee shop, he returned the love with stadium-sized altruism. He flew them to his concert at Rolling Loud Miami, and surprised the unemployed students with $20,000 on stage. When the pandemic crushed the nail business owned by one of his pregnant fans, Dolph drove his Lamborghini to her home, gifted her the luxury car, and allowed her to sell the $400,000 ride.

He also helped an untold number of artists understand the music business by the example he set as an independent rapper. In 2018, Dolph claimed on Instagram to have walked away from a $22 million record deal in order to stay fully independent and bet on himself. Not long after, he signed a multi-million dollar distribution deal with Empire that allowed him to retain ownership of his masters and take home a larger percentage of the revenue from his music. With all of his records coming out through his Paper Route Empire label, Dolph dropped five projects in the past four years that reached the Top 20 on the Billboard 200 charts. His final album while he was alive, Rich Slave, debuted at #4 on the charts when it was released in August 2020. Those lessons in independence were invaluable for his cousin and Paper Route Empire signee Key Glock.

“On the business side, he probably inspired me with everything I do because this is deeper than music with us,” Glock said on REVOLT’s Off Top. “Just like he handle business with other things outside of music, and I still be there sometimes witnessing and understanding.”

Dolph is survived by his two children and their mother Mia Jaye, a woman who was an advocate for Black men deserving to grow old, and even included Dolph’s parenting skills in an August Instagram post highlighting some of the Black fathers taken from their families too soon. Dolph himself contemplated retiring from music in order to spend more time with his children.

Upon the tragic news of his death, the hip-hop community bonded while sharing memories. Megan Thee Stallion, who appeared on Dolph’s final album on the song “RNB,” dedicated a post on her Instagram page to express her love for his music and how “he was so genuine so real so kind to me and [her manager] T. Farris.” Chance the Rapper shared a similar memory of Dolph’s magnanimity. Lil Yachty shared how he and Dolph used to be neighbors, and Westside Gunn mourned the loss of a man he’s publicly called his favorite rapper for years.

Dolph made a life for himself, his family, and others in a city known for taking them brutally. He shouldn’t simply be remembered as another rapper who fell victim to gun violence, an issue that goes far beyond hip-hop. Dolph should be remembered in death the same way he was revered while he was alive: a caring father, loving partner, and a man who spent his last days trying to better the lives of those around him.