[Dolph], there is too much to think about you, and too much to feel. The difficulty is your life refuses summation – it always did – and invites contemplation instead. — From Toni Morrison’s eulogy for James Baldwin
Adolph Thornton, Jr., was the griot of the ghetto; the prophet to the poor. Not only was he gifted in rhyme and rhythm, but he spent his life giving the world at least three gifts.
First, he gave the gift of the impenetrable hustle. A graduate of South Memphis’ Hamilton High School and Castalia Heights School of Hustlin’, he was born to parents who were committed to “the game.” They sent him to Memphis from Chicago where he followed in their footsteps, a mirror image of his father.
He wasn’t studyin’ anyone else; he took on responsibility early – for himself, for his family and for his community. A college degree wasn’t his priority; it was becoming his own man and creating opportunities for other men around him who desired to make it out the hood. His early years were not without mistakes, however. Yet, his rap sheet didn’t prevent him from rapping, using the money he earned from the streets to produce and market his mixtapes.
His second gift was building ladders. He would establish Paper Route Empire for the other rap hopefuls who crossed his path and in whom he believed. With over 20 mixtapes, several studio albums, a plethora of features, Top 200 Billboard hits, he could sign his name next to rappers turned businessmen like Jay Z and Master P.; he reached back to pull others along as he climbed.
The unspoken golden rule says once you make it out the hood, never go back. While he may have known this, Dolph didn’t believe it. His actions spoke that every person living where he left deserved a better life. Reaching in the depth of his heart and pockets, he often returned to Memphis, with his children by his side, giving back, lifting up and inspiring the next generation. Whether they wanted to be rappers, ballers or simply thrive beyond the ZIP codes of abject poverty, Dolph knew kids didn’t need another lecture or sermon; his presence in his hood and hometown was the third gift.
It is tragically poetic that his final breath would be taken at one of his favorite mom and pop shops, Makeda’s Homemade Butter Cookies. His love for his community reached beyond any fear or threat he may have ever received. The beat of his heart lived in the hustle of South Memphis streets, in the smiles of the Hill family in Makeda’s; in the love from Hamilton students. The embrace of his grandmother and children. The admiration of his protegees. When he was home, he was king. And we crowned him.
As Morrison said in Baldwin’s eulogy: “This then is no calamity. No. This is jubilee. ‘Our crown,’ you said, ‘has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do,’ you said, ‘is wear it.’”
Cheers is a social media guru and writer and the director of communications for Bridges.
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