The rap community is in a collective state of mourning following the unexpected shooting death of 36-year-old Memphis rapper Young Dolph. On Nov. 17, the rapper was mid-route to his annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway when he decided to make a stop at Makeda’s Butter Cookies, a local favorite. Memphis police said the shooters—armed with a semi-automatic rifle and handgun—pulled up in a white, two-door Mercedes Benz before running past Dolph’s car and firing into the cookie shop, killing him. The horrific act of violence brought Dolph’s life to an untimely end, leaving his longtime girlfriend and two young children to pick up the pieces.
Despite the Paper Route Empire CEO’s hardened rap persona, the Chicago native was involved in numerous charitable efforts. Just two days before the deadly shooting, he had visited the West Cancer Center in the Memphis suburb of Germantown where a relative had received treatment. He spent time talking with the clinical staff, thanking them for providing his loved one with such excellent care.
“Our associates were deeply touched by his sincerity and effort to extend such gratitude,” the cancer center said in a statement published by the Associated Press. “During his visit, Dolph explained that he would soon venture to donate turkeys to the Memphis community at a variety of community centers across the city before Thanksgiving—which is yet another testament to his gracious heart.”
But he never made it. As the news spread like wildfire throughout Memphis, Young Dolph’s former principal at Hamilton High School, Michael Bates, took his grief to Facebook and eulogized the ambitious young man he once knew simply as Adolph Thornton, Jr.
“This one hurts because I knew the respectful little boy in the pic that turned himself into national icon!!!” he wrote. “I was so proud of him because he actually did what he said, he blew up!!! It’s nothing like seeing your former students achieve their dream!!! Tears in my eyes rest well son. I pray for the safety of the rest of my former students, and peace for our city!!!”
Just last year, Young Dolph donated $25,000 to Hamilton High School for new sports equipment—and that was just one tiny example of his generous spirit. The day before Easter 2021, he stopped by the St. James Missionary Baptist Church where he met Pastor Rodney Herron who asked if he’d return to help hand out turkeys to families before Thanksgiving. Dolph happily obliged and planned on returning November 19. Despite his murder, Herron decided to move forward with the event.
“This is a nice young man, he was down to earth,” Herron said. “I am distraught, because I knew what the young man was doing for the community, how far he was going to go in the community. … He came back to where his heart was, and he always gave.”
Executive director of Memphis Artists for Change Tameka Greer confirmed Young Dolph was also expected to show up at a holiday event in December for children of incarcerated parents.
“His generosity knew no bounds,” she said in a statement. “Young Dolph didn’t deserve to die, and neither do the children, youth, and adults who lose their lives to gun violence every day.”
As expressed in a statement from Young Dolph’s publicists Audible Treats, his charitable arm reached far and wide. The founder of the Ida Mae Family Foundation (named after his late grandmother), Young Dolph dedicated his time to “serving the needs and strengthening the community” of his Castalia Heights neighborhood, the same neighborhood his grandmother raised four children on a shoe-string budget.
In 2019, he hosted a Mother’s Day brunch to benefit victims of domestic violence and women suffering from addiction and homelessness, then changed a fan’s life when he gifted her his own custom-wrapped Lamborghini, which she later sold so she could buy a home for her expanding family.
Tales like these were common when it came to Young Dolph. But the gun violence that has disproportionately wreaked havoc on the hip-hop world this year continues to rob young men and women of the chance to evolve into the people they are truly meant to be. In 2021 alone, at least 16 rappers have been fatally shot, including Lil Durk’s older brother and fellow Chicago rapper Dontay “DThang” Banks who was killed outside of a Chicago strip club in June. Toward the tail end of 2020, another promising Chicago rapper, King Von, was shot and killed in Atlanta, while Boosie Badazz’s artist Mo3 was gunned down on a Dallas highway just a few days later.
While Young Dolph certainly wasn’t immune from his imperfections, he was someone who genuinely wanted to improve the environment around him but, sadly, won’t ever have the opportunity to see his dreams realized. In the words of Gnarls Barkley singer CeeLo Green, who took to Instagram following Young Dolph’s passing, “To all who are mourning the loss of these young lives of these aspiring artists who have so much power and influence, to continue to dance to that bullshit we call music (you know, the narrative of death, destruction, misogyny and self-perpetuated genocide), you desecrate the graves and legacies of these lost souls. We have got to stop.”