Young Dolph at his annual Thanksgiving Turkey giveaway at Memphis Athletic Ministries Hamilton Center, next to Hamilton High, the school he attended, in 2018. Photo by Johnathan Martin for MLK50

Since its creation, rap music has been vilified for its vanity and violence, and so have its creators. However, through their music, Young Dolph and other rap artists bear witness to the consequences of decisions made in rooms they and their communities aren’t always invited to.

Young Dolph’s lyrics, even if they offend some people’s sensibilities, make plain the resilient survival and ugly truth of suffering in marginalized communities like his home neighborhood in South Memphis.

In fact, hints of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy can be found throughout Young Dolph’s lyrics, though it’s unclear whether Dolph wrote them with that intention.

For instance, as King built momentum for economic justice with the Poor People’s Campaign, he called out poverty and low wages as moral issues, and most importantly, that no one’s work should be dismissed.

“So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs,” King told Memphis Sanitation Strikers in 1968. “But let me say to you tonight, that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity, and it has worth.”

Always looking to motivate his listeners, Young Dolph stressed the honor in labor, and in a 2017 interview with Fader Magazine, he expressed a King-like respect for workers.

“People that know they gotta work every day, them the kinda people I respect. I respect people that build a career for themselves. I don’t give a damn if it’s a hustle that’s already big or you go to work at Kroger every day, the grocery store. Or you work at Walmart. You work, so I respect you.”

Young Dolph gave the world glimpses into one of the country’s poorest ZIP codes with stories of the deep poverty he climbed out of and the violence entrenched in Castalia Heights. But above all, he took pride in where he came from — he always represented South Memphis.

We tell stories about poverty, power and policy, but so did Young Dolph, whose funeral was today. Here are some of the lyrics that MLK50: Justice Through Journalism connected with most.

On Poverty

Missed Count

Lil nigga came up from shit
Somedays I just sit and reminisce
Who was fuckin with me back then?
When a young nigga was fucked up
And hopeless


Couldn't get it from my mama, so I got it off the block
Been workin' my whole life, but I ain't never punched a clock (trappin')
Nine years old, I seen a nigga get shot, damn

To Be Honest

I could never cross my niggas out for no amount (No)
Free all of my niggas 'til they out.
Remember what it feels like to not have shit (I swear)
Didn't even have no toilet tissue for when I took a shit (Damn)
Now when I wake up, look in the mirror, I can't believe this (It's Dolph)


Remember all those days
We had to eat hot dogs and potatoes
Ain't no love in these streets, man
You ever been so hungry
You couldn’t go to sleep man

Get Paid

Get paid, young nigga, get paid
Whatever you do, just make sure you get paid
Two days after Young Dolph was murdered, Snupe Bandzz (white shirt), Paper Route Woo (black hoodie) and other Paper Route Empire supporters and Castalia community members gathered at St. James Missionary Baptist church to continue the rapper’s Thanksgiving turkey distribution tradition. Photo by Johnathan Martin for MLK50

On Power


They tried to lock me out, I kicked the door down and I took it

How Could

I took this South Memphis shit and I went worldwide

During his 2018 Thanksgiving Turkey giveaway, Young Dolph took selfies and talked with fans. Photo by Johnathan Martin for MLK50

On Policy

The Land

Just 'cause I'm a Black man in America
That's what give them permission to treat us terrible
They too smart, too ambitious, too dangerous and vicious
You ain't one hundred, ain't got no morals, then I don't want no dealings

In Charlotte

Where I'm from you don't make it to see 21 (shit)
That's why all these young niggas ridin' around with their gun

Real Life

Yeah you know I came up from shit man
Know what I’m sayin’, but don’t nothing stay the same forever though, ya’ mean?
I ain’t never wanted nothin’ in my whole life but some fucking money
(That’s all I ever wanted)
No matter wherever I go, I'm still Memphis.

Carrington J. Tatum is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

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