Come and Get Me
After surviving a hit on his life, Young Dolph is out to prove he’s unstoppable with a new project and renewed focus.
Words: Georgette Cline
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

Young Dolph’s extracurricular activity on a cloudy March day in Atlanta is dropping $183,000 on jewelry. After he parks his Rolls-Royce Wraith outside Icebox Diamonds and Watches, the 6-foot, 4-inch rapper heads inside the spot, known as Atlanta’s premier diamond jeweler, to drop some serious cash—specifically $58,000 on his own Rolex watch, $40,000 on his longtime friend and business partner Jeremel “Daddyo” Moore’s Rolex, plus $85,000 on another watch that wasn’t yet finished.

“I spent like a couple hundred thousand dollars with [Icebox],” says Dolph, 31, as he settles back into the driver’s seat of his navy blue Rolls-Royce Wraith and starts rolling up a blunt. “A couple thousand dollars with Avianne up in New York. I spent a couple hundred thousand dollars with TV Johnny. I be dealing with something from everyone. I get bored and go buy some shit. When I’m in New York, I go buy something. In Atlanta, go buy something. Shit, look at today. It don’t even look like a day that make you want to go buy something. It’s gloomy as hell out here. I really was just wanting to go get the earrings cleaned, but fuck it. My boy got a new Rollie.”

Dolph’s gift to Daddyo is a sign of appreciation for his constant support. The relationship they have moves beyond business into more family-oriented territory. The indie artist and his business partner have known each other for years, stemming from their hometown of Memphis. Daddyo looks at Dolph like a brother—the rhymer himself is one of five children. “Dolph the type of person he care about everybody around him,” Daddyo explains. “The stuff he doing now he just doing it on another level. Dolph been takin’ care of his family; he moved his mama out the hood. He just like me, family first.”

While dropping an average man’s entire yearly salary on a friend’s watch would put most people in the poor house, it’s chump change for Young Dolph, who’s been grinding as an independent artist since he was 23. With 19 mixtapes (both solo and collaborative), a debut album behind him and a recently released project keeping his name in the hip-hop conversation, in addition to a self-made record label, a strong social media presence (he’s got 1.8 million Instagram followers and 253,000 Twitter followers) and his city behind him, he’s giving his peers some stiff competition. Combine that with two near-death experiences and Dolph is proving to be an unstoppable force in the rap game.

The father of two (Dolph has a 3-year-old son and just welcomed a baby girl in March) has his grandmother, who raised him, to thank for instilling both tenacity and family values in him. The “Preach” rapper came from an unstable home, where both his mother and father were hooked on drugs. Without his father’s guidance, Dolph found his own way, teaching himself how to cut hair—his first hustle—at the age of 12. With the streets in his rear view, Dolph adopted a get-money attitude and hustler mentality early on, which helped him later on in life as he developed his career as a rapper.

Nearly 10 years ago, before Young Dolph, born Adolph Thornton, Jr., became the successful indie rhyme-slinger he’s known as today, he almost died. He and Daddyo were involved in a serious car accident while driving from their Memphis stomping grounds to Chicago, where Dolph was born, for a court appearance. The “Get Paid” rhymer fell asleep at the wheel during the 2007 road trip, which resulted in the vehicle he was driving flipping over three times. That “scary as fuck” incident, as Dolph describes it, was a turning point in his life.

“It’s just certain shit, like, when you’re going too hard, you gotta tell yourself like, Man, I gotta slow down,” he admits, referring to not only the accident but his life as a whole. “Then my grandma had passed and all that so, it was just everything leading up to me like...I’m grown now. I ain’t a kid no more. I got responsibilities I got to take on whether I like it or not... If I ain’t start rapping it’s like—I been coming close as hell, close as hell to death and fatal tragedies and shit, know what I’m saying? And it just made me open my eyes and start thinking smarter and being wiser.”

Diwang Valdez for XXL

At that point, Dolph got his “shit together” and went full force with rapping. Inspired by the likes of Jay Z, C-Murder, 2Pac and Boosie BadAzz, and armed with an independent state of mind, Dolph launched his own label, Paper Route Empire, and went to work on his first mixtape, Paper Route Campaign, in 2008. The 19-track effort featured Dolph’s southern-coated, reality-based rhymes and a nod to one of his favorite artists, ’Pac, on songs like “Hotter Than a Crack Pot,” which uses the Daz Dillinger-produced, piano-driven intro from ’Pac’s “Ambitionz Az a Ridah.”

A product of the streets, Dolph has always thrived in the mixtape circuit, dropping 19 tapes over the last nine years, including Welcome 2 Dolph World (2010), his famed High Class Street Music series (2011, 2013, 2014, 2015), a collaboration effort with Gucci Mane called East Atlanta Memphis (2013), the boldly titled Rich Crack Baby (2016) and Gelato (2017), among others.

Young Dolph’s consistent musical output speaks to his work ethic, which Street Execs Studios co-founder Dismas “Coach Tek” Matheka can attest to. “He knows what he wants,” Tek says of Dolph, whom he’s known for about six years. “You know, working with different artists, some people kinda get confused in trying to find their way, he stays true to himself.”

His authenticity permeates his raps. According to Dolph, with him, “You get a muthafuckin’ Jay Z mixed with Master P vibe.” Songs like the Zaytoven-produced “Preach” earned him respect both in the streets and in the clubs but it was his appearance on O.T. Genasis’ “Cut It” that earned him more widespread acclaim when the song landed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2016.

After releasing a steady stream of mixtapes, Dolph finally dropped his debut album, King of Memphis, in 2016, but not without creating a bit of controversy in the process. See, Dolph and fellow Memphis native Yo Gotti were cool at one point. There was even a time when the latter tried to sign Dolph to his CMG imprint. But subliminal disses back and forth—both on social media and on tracks—and Dolph naming his LP King of Memphis—a title Gotti has used throughout his career—seemed to create a rift between the two. Their beef carried on throughout 2016, and came to a head in 2017, when Dolph dropped the diss track “Play Wit Yo Bitch,” accompanied by a video with a Yo Gotti look-alike. After all that, if you let Dolph tell it, there is no beef. “Ain’t no beef, period, know what I mean?” states Dolph, as he sits on a table inside Street Execs Studios. “So it’s other shit. It’s jealousy and all that kind of shit going on but as far a beef and what beef is? It ain’t no beef... All I care about is the dollar signs, the muthafuckin’ check, that bag, you know what I’m saying? And my family. After that shit, everything else, that shit irrelevant to me.”

What’s extremely relevant to Young Dolph is his life, which was put in jeopardy on Feb. 25, 2017, in Charlotte, N.C. during CIAA weekend. The bulletproof SUV he was in was riddled with 100 bullets by an unknown suspect. Luckily for Dolph, he escaped unscathed. Now he’s using the hit on his life as inspiration for his new project, Bulletproof. His Gucci Mane-assisted single “That’s How I Feel” details his views on the life-threatening moment. “Sittin’ in the truck, smokin’ on a blunt/Then I realized, I hear somebody shootin’/You think I’m going out like ’Pac and Biggie, you must be stupid,” he rhymes.

“They tried to pull a move, they tried to get me in the car, know what I’m saying?” Dolph says of the unidentified shooter, who is still at large. “My haters is bigger than life. But, if you think I’m finna go out like ’Pac and Biggie you must be stupid. Like, it’s 2017. Nah, I ain’t going out like that. You gon’ have to try hard or just basically stay out of my way.”

Surrounded by Daddyo, his co-managers Allen Parks, also a co-founder of Street Execs Studios, and Coach Tek, among others, inside a dimly lit studio in Atlanta, Dolph is in a bubble of positivity despite the fact he almost lost his life two months ago. That’s yesterday’s news. Now the rapper is focused on his Bulletproof project and what’s to come. With close to 10 years put into rap and a new lease on life, Dolph feels more invincible than ever before. “I’ma pop just because I’m being real and authentic,” he continues. “When I’m finished doing music or whatever, I want people to remember me as just being great.”

Real talk.

Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2017 issue including the cover story with DJ Khaled, Joey Bada$$ discussing his ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ album, Freddie Gibbs and the trial that almost cost him his freedom and more.