Now that the world has grinded to an unsatisfying halt and artists are delaying release dates, marring what promised to be among the greatest years in rap history, the time is right to reflect on the largely ignored conflict in Memphis, T.N. between Young Dolph and Yo Gotti, perhaps the most bizarre footnote in the genre of the past decade.
Before 2000, Southern rap was jeered at by a largely metrocentric genre. Rap communities from all over the American South then organically developed their own subgenre with practically no commercial pressure. This national condescension evaporated when Atlanta rappers polished trap music and dove headfirst into the limelight. Soon, most Southern hubs were exploring the new market.
But Memphis has made few attempts to incorporate itself into the larger genre. This isolation is essentially what makes Memphis the Galápagos Islands of the rap world. And like the Galápagos, separation from the mainland in no way means homogeneity. Each Memphis rapper has some distinguishing aspect that is mirrored by successful Southern rappers in the mainstream, so every niche is filled. In the city, the earworm adlibs of Atlanta, intensity of New Orleans, sweltering paranoia of Alabama and everything else trap fans love are delivered with a rich, Tennessee drawl.
It is a self-sustaining ecosystem that has become a bitterly contested kingdom. The king (or duke) coming into the mid-2010s, was Yo Gotti, best known to the nation as the guy who got bodied by Nicki Minaj in a song about his DMs. Yo Gotti epitomizes Memphis in that he is a C-list national celebrity but a veritable hero in his hometown, playing the character of “boss” with a powerful presence reminiscent of Rick Ross in Miami. His label, CMG, represents the most popular artists from the city, including Moneybagg Yo, Blocboy JB and Blac Youngsta.
Enter Young Dolph. Dolph was born in Chicago, but raised in Memphis, and had gained traction there with his magnetic delivery and uniquely deep voice. Yo Gotti was a fan, and offered him a record deal in August 2014, a symbolic acceptance of an outsider into the Memphis rap mafia. Dolph, a man devoted to independence and inhuman gall, declined the deal.
Eighteen months later, Dolph released an album called “King of Memphis,” an obvious slight toward Gotti and the spark that let the fires of hell loose. CMG lackey Blac Youngsta fired back on social media, but was further antagonized to the point of gathering a heavily armed militia and unsuccessfully searching the streets of Memphis for Young Dolph.
Disses were traded, including a wondrously forgettable track by Youngsta, and bad blood remained for the rest of the year. At this point, Yo Gotti was largely unconcerned with an outsider making the outrageous claim of king; he was too successful and too rich to have that fragile of an ego.
Then, Dolph went nuclear, releasing “Play Wit Yo’ Bitch,” one of the most venomous diss tracks in all of rap. It is carefully constructed to cast Gotti as an exploitative, dishonest, sneak-dissing, disloyal-to-Memphis weakling, and it does all of this beautifully, with the rhetorical peak of the song being “They say you make them pu**y a** n****s call you Boss / But they can't call you King (Why?) / Because that's Dolph.”
This track is arguably defamation, and it was too disrespectful to just accept. There was some back and forth on social media, including another forgettable diss track, this time by Gotti, who was just starting to take the feud seriously. Too little, too late. Less than two weeks later, Dolph released a video for his diss track. If you watch even a minute of that, it is easy to see why Young Dolph’s car was shot at over 100 times the next day in Charlotte, N.C.
The car was bulletproof, so the person that ordered the attack (take a guess) most likely meant it as a warning to tread lightly and respect the established leadership or be killed — simple as that. However, Dolph either did not understand the nuance of unloading dozens of clips into his town car or had absolutely no fear of death, because five weeks after that he released his album “Bulletproof,” named both to immortalize himself and ridicule his attackers for not being able to kill him.
Before “Bulletproof,” one could be forgiven for saying Dolph was merely a troll trying to solicit a response from celebrities to bolster his exposure. But trolls usually stop running their mouths when Twitter fingers once again become Trigger fingers. They usually do not taunt their aggressors in the form of an album and exasperatedly ask them, “How the f**k you miss a whole hundred shots?” in the first song.
It’s hard to overstate just how ridiculous this progression was. Young Dolph backed a wolf into a corner, dodged the animal’s warning attack, and then ruthlessly made fun of it for leaving him alive. When the wolf attacked again, however, it bore its fangs, and sunk them deep. Young Dolph was shot multiple times in Los Angeles just a few months later. He survived, and since then he has been quieter, less openly hostile, as if he finally understands the stakes.
For native rappers, Memphis is the only place that matters. Dolph wanted the city’s respect, and thought to earn it by mutilating the reputation of the autocrat. Few deny that Dolph obliterated Gotti and his posse in rap. But he was walking through a room of eggshells with Timberlands on, and the more he broke, the larger the target grew on his head.
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