December 1, 2021

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Various Artists: Young Dolph Presents Paper Route Illuminati Album Review


Where Memphis rap was once defined by 8Ball & MJG’s somber drug-dealing rhymes and Three 6 Mafia’s dystopic horrorcore, Young Dolph chose a different lane: He fought the stress of being a dealer who was also a user by making crude jokes. Take “I’m Everything You Wanna Be,’’ a standout from 2017’s Bulletproof. The album’s genesis was an attempt on his life, yet on that song, he riffed on everything from selling drugs to family members to dancing like Puffy in Times Square. He brings that same vital balance of levity and darkness to his latest album, Paper Route Illuminati, a collaborative effort with the Paper Route Empire. Although it is a chance to show the talent of his homies, Dolph is still a presence on the record. He is on ten songs out of 13, and the first three, providing both his star aura and his talent for street tales.

This new album feels like a culmination of this career. Yes, the 78-minute runtime is intimidating, but it means we get to spend more time with Dolph and his compelling roster of personalities. On opener “Talking to My Scale,” Dolph starts with a motivated Tupac-on-lean monologue about the fakeness of your enemies and “running it up to the motherfuckin’ ceiling,” then asks an earnest question: “If I sacrifice myself, will I go to jail?’’ It’s Dolph’s gift to casually let you into his life like this, using first-person anecdotes that detail his rise to the top. Key Glock, his most direct descendant, has a similar knack for storytelling, and he displays it on “Mister Glock 2.’’ In a monotone flow, he recounts the things he did to survive his difficult teenage years: “Fourteen, smoking dope, shooting guns/Yeah, fifteen, flipping Os or onions/Sixteen, taking niggas’ money/Seventeen, had juggers jumping/Eighteen, got locked up for hustling.’’ Glock speaks like a kid who has seen it all, and, to some extent, he has; his mom was in prison, and his father came in and out of his life. 

The Paper Route team injects their narratives with smooth threats. On “Remember,’’ Snupe Bandz, who might have the thickest Southern accent since Daniel Craig in Knives Out, draws a precise, terrorizing picture of the days when he was on the street: “You gotta die if you play with my pesos/You got to go if you reach for my ice/Play with the mob and we taking your life/I got hitters creeping out through the night/Get caught out of bounds and you know it’s on sight.” On “Trust Nobody,’’ Dolph and PaperRoute Woo, whose voice has more of a formal enunciation, both hand out threats; one dips and the other dives. The album’s most impressive performance comes from Brooklyn rapper Joddy, who dismisses competitors with the biting humor of Lil’ Kim: “All these bird bitches getting pissed off, steady writing diss bars/Worried ’bout me? Sis, worry ’bout your discharge,” she raps, sounding like Regina George. The addition of Joddy to the Paper Route roster is testament to Dolph’s A&R skills; most Southern groups aren’t mixing the car-trunk trapping swagger of Memphis with Brooklyn bullying.

A few days after releasing this March’s Dum and Dummer 2, Young Dolph flirted with retirement. “I hope y’all enjoying the new mixtape. It’s my last project that I am putting out,’’ he said at the time. Thankfully he hasn’t hung up the microphone yet; if he does, his influence will continue to be felt in Memphis rap. He understands that if a community has to share its pain, then its success must be shared as well.

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