Paper Route Empire
Paper Route Empire

The year may still be young, but that hasn't kept Memphis rapper Young Dolph from making his presence felt in a major way, as the budding star continues to keep his foot on the gas, as well as on the necks of his foes. Looking to build on the momentum set with the release of his Gelato mixtape earlier this year, Dolph is back with another project, aptly titled Bulletproof, which finds the rapper blurring art and reality and sounding as defiant and brash as ever.

Dolph's first release since surviving a hit on his life in Charlotte, N.C. in February, Bulletproof is inspired by the shooting, with the rapper referencing the incident throughout the project. Even the song titles form a bold statement when the tracklist is read in order: "100 Shots," "In Charlotte," "But I'm Bulletproof," "So Fuk'em,' "That's How I Feel," "All Of Them," "I'm So Real," "I Pray for My Enemies," "I'm Everything You Wanna Be," "SMH."

"100 Shots," the opening number on Bulletproof, is proof that the shooting has provided additional fuel for the Memphis rep's relentless drive. Produced By DJ Squeeky, the track finds Dolph in a boastful state, bragging, "I pull up, pick up that bag, and burn rubber/I got a sweet tooth but I stay away from suckers/Nobu in Malibu was my last supper/I fucked her in rush hour traffic, Chris Tucker" over ominous xylophones.

While Dolph vaguely mentions his near-brush with death on this introductory offering, it doesn't take long for the topic to be broached again on the Metro Boomin-produced "In Charlotte." The song is a brooding, yet boisterous number on which the independent tycoon struts over while serving out a healthy fixing of spite. Sneering at his opponents with lines like, "They started shootin', we didn't even break a sweat/April Fools, the trick's on you bitch," it's clear that the recent events have not left him faint of heart.

Izze The Producer comes through with a warped soundscape on "So Fuk'em," which beckons Dolph to give a glimpse into his philandering and luxurious lifestyle, before Gucci Mane, the lone guest artist on the project, joins Dolph on "That's How I Feel." Produced by Drumma Boy, who turns in a track dominated with jittery snares and pounding 808s, "That's How I Feel" rates among the instant standouts found on Bulletproof and is yet another example of Dolph and Gucci's innate chemistry.

"For 100 shots, I heard you paid a 100 stacks/Hope you got your receipt, go and get your hunnid back," Dolph rhymes on "That's How I Feel," sending what could be perceived as a subliminal diss in the direction of Yo Gotti, whom both he and Gucci have had strained relationships with in recent years. Tackling the chorus and adding his personal flair to the track, Gucci also delivers a favorable stanza, drawling, "Nigga, this is how you feel when you walk up out the jail/And walk up in that bank and tell 'em give ya 20 mil," as he continues to revel in life after prison.

Th first half of Bulletproof contains various highlights and sets the tone, but the latter portion of the project is where Dolph truly finds his footing. Linking up with Zaytoven for three of the final five tracks, Dolph connects with his southern compatriot to drop musings of a dope boy on "All of Them," but it's "I Pray for My Enemies," a beat that Zaytoven co-produced with Cassius Jay, that is the pick of the litter. "I wake up in the morning and go buy my young nigga a drop/R.I.P. J Money, free all my niggas on lock/They tried to do me like they did Kennedy/I ain't mad at cha, I pray for my enemies," Dolph spouts on "I Pray for My Enemies," yet again alluding to the Charlotte incident.

"I'm Everything You Wanna Be," one of the project's more poignant compositions, is reflective in nature, with Dolph looking back at his rise in the drug trade and the dire circumstances that thrust him into the lifestyle. "I had to hustle, my family full of dope fiends/Years go by I'm 18, 19/Neighborhood dope boy, I got what you need/Everyday I get up, I put J's on my feet," Dolph recounts, a sobering moment on a project high in materialism, threats and boasts.

Bulletproof may add to the quantity of Young Dolph's output but in terms of quality, when compared against his previous body of work, Gelato, which was a more focused effort, the project doesn't quiet outshine its predecessor. Although packed with enough heaters to make it deserving of a spin, Bulletproof leans closer to being a serviceable listening rather than a tour de force, but is sharp enough to hold Young Dolph enthusiasts over until his next release.

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