Adolph Robert Thornton, Jr., better known as Young Dolph, has died of an apparent gunshot wound in his hometown of Memphis. Dolph, 36, was one of the most successful self-made rappers in recent memory, releasing a string of top 10 albums and gold-certified singles in the last five years.
News about Dolph’s shooting broke mid-Wednesday afternoon, By 3 p.m. EST, the story had been confirmed by local law enforcement. After a mixtape run that made him a respected name regionally, Dolph crossed over into the hip-hop mainstream with two projects in 2016, Rich Crack Baby and King of Memphis. Like the best southern rappers, Dolph could glide on top of any beat as effortlessly as Steph Curry pulls off a wraparound dribble.
On his best songs, like “Preach” and “Major,” he presides over the track with uncommon gravitas. There were rarely any wasted words in a Young Dolph rap, whether he was joking about paying an argumentative woman’s way through law school, or reflecting on his independent origins. “I turned dirt into diamonds, that’s major,” he rapped succinctly on the latter record. He also had excellent comedic timing and a deadpan sensibility that was evident in both his verses and his interviews.
In addition to his music skills, Dolph was well regarded for his business acumen. His label, Paper Route Empire, featured some of the most exciting up-and-comers in southern hip-hop, and he went viral back in 2018 for opting to turn down a $22 million deal.
“I think I’m more attuned to the streets. Don’t get me wrong: the major labels, they play a big factor, they do their thing. But like, I’m really hands on,” he told Forbes. “I know what the streets want to hear, I know what the streets [are] going through, the lingo, the fashion, everything.”
Dolph survived two high-profile shootings in 2017, one in Los Angeles and another in Charlotte, where 100 rounds were fired at his vehicle. The latter incident inspired the title of his 2017 album Bulletproof and its single “100 Shots.”
In March 2020, Dolph announced he would be leaving hip-hop to focus on parenting, but ultimately he returned to the studio, inspired in part by his desire to make music for his son to hear. (He’s survived by his two children.)
“Man, my little boy wanted to hear some new music. So it was like, I can’t just play all my music around him, so I got to go ahead and make a whole project so I can get it clean, and have a clean version of all the songs just so he can listen to my music, you feel me?” he told GQ.
In 2021, Dolph released two projects Dum and Dummer 2 with protege Key Glock and Paper Route Illuminati, which featured signees of his label. Dolph was involved with the Ida Mae Family Foundation, a Memphis-based nonprofit named after his grandmother. Since the news was confirmed, artists like Gucci Mane, Kenny Beats, and Westside Gunn have all shared messages expressing sadness at his loss.