Young Dolph Talks ‘King of Memphis’ Album, Effects of Slavery in U.S. and Yo Gotti Beef – Exclusive
Young Dolph is a quiet guy in person. When he saunters into the XXL office, donning designer shades and a sweater that looks plucked from Yeezy's Season 3 collection, he feels somewhat elusive. Despite his wiry 6-foot, 3-inch frame, he's not imposing or daunting. He keeps the talking to a minimum and isn't too concerned with anything in his immediate vicinity except Nutri-Grain bars. In fact, during the course of the conversation, he seems in his head, vacationing in a far away location.
It should be surprising, given his energetic delivery on songs, but Dolph's demeanor is a reflection of his reputation. The 30-year-old Memphis native is one of the most nationally respected rappers in the game, and he wears his dedication to independence on his sleeve. As he opens up more in his interview, he says everybody fucks with him because he stays humble. When he got close with Gucci Mane before La Flare's most recent prison stint, Dolph used to do guest verses for the Atlanta rapper without charging him. He said little gestures like that can help build long-term relationships. Turns out he was right.
Now, after seven years of non-stop grinding on mixtape and concert circuits, Dolph has finally broken out of the "local rap star" category with a series of enormous guest features. Colonel Loud's "California" and OT Genasis' "Cut It," the latter of which just broke into the Billboard Hot 100, both employ the baritone MC, proving Dolph's ear for songs is as good as his sense of social business practice.
He's capitalized on his recent success with King of Memphis, the curiously-titled "debut album" featuring production from both local stalwarts like DJ Squeeky and Atlanta producers like Cassius Jay and Nard & B. At an efficient 12 tracks, it's a nice introduction piece to Dolph's raw street sound. There are no pop concessions, no crossover attempts and no contrived songs for the ladies. It's just Dolph bagging up hard and talking about being a rich crack baby.
We sat down with Dolph for a conversation when he stopped by XXL recently and during the talk, he touched on what his early days recording music were like, how he feels slavery still affects the U.S. today and whether he has any problems with another King of Memphis -- Yo Gotti.
XXL: Let’s go back to your first mixtape from 2009, Paper Route Campaign. What was your life like at the time?
Young Dolph: Think my grandma had just passed. Was a whole lot going on. Just jostling every day, being in the streets, being out here period. Just me and my boys. That’s how I ended up doing music. Just how I was living and what I was doing every day and being around the people I was around like, “Bro you need to rap. Everybody gonna fuck with you because you’re real.”
2009 was a motherfucker. That’s what made me start rapping, I started going through a lotta shit. My grandma had passed, my auntie had passed. I was trying to just tell my story. Music is like art, so I just paint all my pictures and put ‘em out there.
You have a healthy relationship with the legendary DJ Squeeky. How’d you two meet?
When I first started rapping, one of my partners who kept telling me to do music, I had asked him who I should buy some beats from, and he said DJ Squeeky. He’s a music head, he’s the one who when the new shit comes out, he’s on it. And he told me I need to go get some DJ Squeeky. He pointed me in the right direction because me and Squeeky made history. We fucked the city up. We took over that shit.
Memphis has a deep musical history. What was some local shit you were listening to coming up?
My cousin put me on Three 6 Mafia and Playa Fly. My other big cousin put me on 8Ball and MJG. You had Gangsta Blac, DJ Squeeky, Criminal Manne, Al Kapone. Everybody, the whole town, that shit was lit.
It’s cool to see how the sounds of that ‘90s Memphis style make their way to popular music today.
The shit that they call “trap” beats now, Memphis was doing that shit in the ‘90s. That was the whole Memphis shit, the whole DJ Paul and Juicy J sound, that Three 6 Mafia production, that DJ Squeeky production. That shit [today] got Memphis all in the DNA.
And even with the flow. Listen to Lord Infamous, how he used to rap. Juicy J. How they were rapping back then, that’s the style that’s in right now.
Was there a definitive moment when you realized you were becoming a star down South?
I was just getting booked crazy in Memphis, super fast as soon as I came out. Because I set the bar, I was doing a whole lotta shit nobody was doing. But at the same time, the people don’t fuck with everybody music. It be hard for people to get other people to fuck with your music, especially in your hometown. But they were eating my shit up. They fucked with it hard. So when I’m doing these shows and they’re reciting the words? Damn, that’s crazy. Because we just started off doing this shit for the hood. Our home boys, riding in the cars. To now, “Oh shit we gotta represent the city.”
Started going out of town to places I ain’t never been to before. Cincinnati, Roanoke, places I ain’t never been. These places start booking me and I’m going to these places and they’re singing my music word for word, that’s when it hits you. Like, damn. Because you see now that your city is only one city in this big ass country, or even the world. So that shit just opened my eyes up to a whole other level.
What’s your writing process? Do you write your lyrics down?
No. Pull up the beats and just go in the booth.
Do you spit your verses in one take?
No, not one take. It’s like drawing a picture, like how you sketch it first to get that shit all the way right, then you sit back and say OK, this shit finna be stupid, so leme gon’ splash this on it, do that on it. And the shit just come together like a painting.
At one point on the King of Memphis album on the song "Royalty," you say your great great granddad used to be a slave. How’d you find out?
Through the family. It’s a whole lot of stories and shit. My aunties and shit would tell me that my grandma done told them all that shit before. And I don’t be believing the shit they tell me about. Like my grandmamma, the Ku Klux Klan used to terrorize him and shit. Come to his house, burn crosses in the yard. He’d have to sit in the front yard with a shotgun, all the kids running into the woods until it’s over with. All kinds of little shit. That shit is just crazy.
And when you think about the shit we be doing now, like what’s going on in the world right now, that shit done turned all the way around.
How do you feel like slavery affects the country right now?
I think it still affects [the country]. People don’t be realizing it, but it’s a certain mentality people have like you have a slavery mentality, a negative mentality. You gotta be able to see through shit and see your future and not just make decisions for right now. You got to actually sit and think before you make them decisions. Because you’ll end up in a fucked up position or somewhere you don’t wanna be. Ain’t no tellin'. You gotta make them decisions, be smart.
You mention Malcolm X on the album too. What do you feel the greatest lesson he taught was?
Malcolm’s whole story, it’s just the same shit going on now. His own brothers, that’s what killed him, and that shit was about jealousy or you doing too much, you need to calm down. That’s what’s going on in today’s society right now. Niggas get mad at they homeboys like, “Dog he got this or he got that. I’ma break in his house” or do this or do that. Same shit.
Do you have a record deal?
Nah. I ain’t never had a record deal. I ain’t never had no deal. I got some shit going on in the works though. Just because. Everybody know it ain’t nobody dong shit like I’m doing. On successful tours, you getting real bags. Everybody know to book Dolph. On all these top 20 songs. Ain’t no 100 percent independent artist doing that. They can only hold out for so long. Know the want a piece of that action.
And what would make you want to sign a deal?
A good, solid relationship. Because I’m in it for the long run, long-term.
What’s the biggest obstacle been in your career so far?
Being independent and having to go through situations and deal with certain people that all the major label artists have say. They be like, “Ah, you independent.” They wanna give independent artists a hard time. Just a few of them, not all of them. A majority of them fuck with me, they respect what I’m doing. That’s all it is. Just got a point to prove. Any independent artist got a point to prove. What’s going to make them take you more seriously than they take him? Both of y’all are rappers, no matter what y’all backgrounds are.
Why’d you call your album King of Memphis?
Because I’m the king of Memphis. I’m the newest shit, the poppin’ shit. The new wave out of Memphis. The CD ain’t called The King of Memphis. It’s called King of Memphis. So my whole thing is, my last CD was called Shittin’ on the Industry. This one called King of Memphis. So I’m just letting everybody know I do what I wanna do with this shit. And on top of that, all my partners kings. Everybody you see around me, they’re kings. Every last one of them. I ain’t the only one that got paper. None of that. I’m the boss.
So you weren’t thinking about any other King of Memphis?
No. Because I do what I wanna do. Because I’m the new wave of the city. All the rest of the shit, the King of Memphis and all that shit everybody been saying, been doing more to keep our city divided and apart instead of helping the city. It don’t do nothing for the city. It’s just saying, “I, I, I. I’m the big this or I’m the big that.” Versus just an “us” or a “we.” I’d rather see everybody eat. I’d rather open up the doors and fuck with the whole city. It ain’t gotta be artists I sign. It can be artists that are just from the city. You ain’t gotta sign with me to fuck with you. So I fucked with the city and everybody know wassup. Everybody I know I’m independent but I’m a major fucking artist.
From what you’ve said in interviews, it seems like you don’t have a problem with Yo Gotti.
No, I ain’t got no problems with Gotti. I ain’t got no problems with no rapper. Nobody, period. I’m just turning this shit around. I’m just making this shit different. Think about how many rappers done got hot and blew up and became millionaires out of Memphis in the last 10 years. Think about that shit. In the last 10 years, what rappers done came out and blew up and became a millionaire? Yo Gotti and Young Dolph. Triple 6, 8Ball and MJG, that was their time. And even in their time, who all was it -- nobody but Three Six and 8Ball and MJG.
But this is the city of music. This is where the whole sound coming from. It don’t make sense to me so I’m finna change the shit, flip it around. You look at Atlanta and you ask how many niggas out of Atlanta done blew up and made millions of dollars off this shit. It ain’t no telling. In the last 10 years? Man…probably more than 20 or 30 of them. It’s self-explanatory.
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