by Donna Muhammad, Contributing Writer
MEMPHIS—Affectionately known as “Main Main” to his family and close friends and “Young Dolph” in the entertainment industry, the impact of the slain rapper was felt nationwide, however, it felt much more personal in his adopted hometown of Memphis.
Born, Adolph Thornton, Jr., in Chicago, he moved to Memphis at the age of 4, where he eventually took the city by storm with his music and the establishment of his record label, Paper Route Empire (PRE), along with best friend Jeremel “Daddyo” Moore. His music career started in the heart of his South Memphis neighborhood, Castilia Heights.
While many already loved and followed Young Dolph, his tragic passing opened a larger audience to his charitable works. News reports, personal narratives, interviews with friends and families filled the airwaves and print media, all echoing his great love of family and the extensive list of his philanthropic contributions, both public and private. Some of his good works included assisting victims of domestic violence, women suffering from addiction and homelessness and financial support to his former Hamilton High School for new sports equipment.
The entrepreneur also supported the Ida Mae Family Foundation started by his aunt in honor of his grandmother as a legacy to her philanthropy, volunteerism, and service (the foundation’s website has since been updated to include the rapper’s legacy). Young Dolph donated money, cars and more.
Many young entertainers in Memphis credited him with making them millionaires through either his PRE label or providing them with much-needed exposure. A public memorial was held Dec. 16 at FedExForum arena in Memphis to honor the life, legacy and impact of the beloved rapper.
Jermia (Mia Jaye) Jerdin was Young Dolph’s life partner and mother of their two children, 7-year-old, Adolph Thornton, III and 4-year-old Aria Ella Thornton. She shared the story of an instance when the rapper had given away all his cash to a group of admiring youth and a remaining child came forth. Young Dolph literally gave him the shoes off his feet because he had no money left to give and did not want any child left out of his generosity. That was the heart of Young Dolph.
Unnecessary tragedy and saluting a local hero
Young Dolph was tragically gunned down Nov. 17, two days before he was preparing for his annual turkey giveaway in his former Castalia Heights neighborhood. He was shot by two assailants as he was entering Makeda’s Cookies, a well-known Black-owned bakery he frequented. He was 36.
On Jan. 6 authorities announced that an arrest warrant was issued for a Tennessee man named Justin Johnson, 23, wanted in connection with the fatal shooting. Authorities state they are still searching for the second suspect.
In appreciation for his contributions, Memphis City Councilman J.B. Smiley quickly moved to sponsor and have a resolution passed for a permanent marker in the form of an honorary street sign on Dunn Road, “Adolph ‘Young Dolph’ Thornton, Jr. Avenue,” which runs through Young Dolph’s Castalia Heights neighborhood.
“This opportunity is for us all to come together show support for a man who did great things not just for the community but by supporting the folks in this community, said Councilman Smiley at the Dec. 15unveiling, the day before the public memorial service.
Ms. Mia Jaye also shared words with those gathered for the occasion. “That’s what I’m hoping for this community: Every time each and every person drive by the sign, they see ‘Adolph Robert Thornton, Jr.’ When you see that name that you’re inspired to just make a difference and to just make a change, a small change in giving and loving and just being a better person for the betterment of this community,” she said.
The State of Tennessee issued a proclamation designating Nov. 17as Adolph ‘Young Dolph’ Thornton, Jr. Day of Service, presented by State Rep. Katrina Robinson during his public memorial service. “We all want that Dolph’s legacy to be marked by service, by loyalty and by commitment to our community, reaching back to elevate those around us,” she declared. An identical resolution was also adopted in Atlanta, Georgia.
Accompanied by a delegation of Muslims from Mosque No. 55 and Holly Springs, Miss., Study Group, Student Minister Muthakkir Muhammad, the Nation of Islam Midsouth Representative, spoke on behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Nation of Islam. “History will show that our brother was an evolving human being and revolutionary in his own way,” he shared. He closed with a call to action: “The time is now, dear family, for us to accept responsibility to change the reality of our community, to do our part in the community, to be role models as Young Dolph did.”
“I am your brother and I am standing here on behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam and we extend our hand to anyone who wants to make our community a safer place to live. We want to work with you. All of us have responsibility to do something,” said Student Min. Muthakkir Muhammad.
Prior to the program, Muslim women from the Nation of Islam presented Ms. Mia Jaye and Young Dolph’s aunt, a plaque featuring a picture of the rapper and Min. Farrakhan taken during his 2015 Justice or Else tour stop in Memphis, which Young Dolph later posted on his personal Instagram page.
Memphis-bred comedian, Mario Bradley aka “Grovetown Hero,” expressed during the tribute how the exposure given to him by Young Dolph took him from a state of having nothing to being able to provide for his family and extend charitable acts to others. Mr. Bradley is known for his Stop the Violence Block Parties, food giveaways, providing families with homes and more.
Young Dolph’s shooting came at a time when Memphis is reeling from increased record high murder rates. On the day of his death, the city had already reported 241 murders, with 292 reported by Dec. 23, surpassing rates from previous years.
After losing her own brother to gun violence in 2021, Ms. Mia Jaye started a foundation under her brand MOM-E-O, called Black Men Deserve to Grow Old, another philanthropic initiative Young Dolph was heavily vested in. After his death, MOM-E-O, on the official Instagram page, stated “Protecting and nurturing our young Black boys is the first step of breaking this vicious cycle of intra-racial crime.
That’s why we are launching the Black Men Deserve To Grow Old Youth Sweater & Hoodie. Honoring Adolph’s legacy and sending the message of how he deserved to grow old.” The foundation’s goal is providing financial and therapeutic support to families that have lost loved ones to gun violence. Though funeralized in a small private ceremony on Nov. 30, thousands gathered Dec. 16 at the Fedex Forum in Memphis for the public Celebration of Life Memorial Service.
The memorial service included a mix of live and videotaped tributes and performances from notables such as 2 Chainz, C-Murder, Gucci Mane, rap duo 8 Ball and MJG, T.I., Deion “PrimeTime” Sanders, Juicy J, and KeKe Wyatt. Heartfelt words were also shared from a variety of speakers including: Pastor Earle Fisher of Abyssinian Baptist Church, R & B artist Monica, and Young Dolph’s beloved Aunt Rita, who described him as the “glue that held the family together.”
Former Memphis Mayor W.W. Herenton made an appeal to the crowd. “A man should not have to pay a price of death because he excels, because he has a lifestyle of his own. Because God gave him talent. He should not have to relinquish his life of being himself when he gives to others,” he said. “We need to love each other and respect each other. And that’s what Young Dolph was about,” said Mr. Herenton.
The crowd was especially moved to tears by the words of Adolph Thornton, III, as he said shared how his father, “trained me up to be a good man when I grow up.” The youngster added, “Since he had (died), I’m gonna make it up to the whole world and I’m gonna be the greatest person you’ll ever know.” Perhaps, still sensing the pain of the loss by those in attendance, he returned to the microphone and said, “Everybody, if you feel sad about my dad dying, I want to let you know that everything will be fine because I will become a great man, because my heart is like my dad.”
Breaking the cycle of violence
Memphis native and Atlanta-based Grammy Award-winning producer and artist Drumma Boy and Dallas-based radio personality and producer, DJ BayBay shared with The Final Call their thoughts on the impact of Young Dolph’s passing and what can be done to stem the tide of violence.
“I think this event, unfortunate—his celebration of life I’ll call it—is bringing together people that wouldn’t have been brought together and I think it’s showing this youth and the generation what can happen, in circumstances of disagreements with one another,” said Drumma Boy. “I think this will influence more young rappers to make music for love, to motivate us to love again, to motivate us to dance and inspire the youth to do something positive and say let’s turn this city around and guys like myself, pioneers in the city of Memphis should come together and let’s make better music and make a better Memphis,” he said.
DJ BayBay expressed that a return to God was necessary to turn the situation around. “I feel, personally, I feel that God is speaking and until we acknowledge God then it won’t change. We’ve got to admit God is a jealous God and when you don’t acknowledge God, God will speak, and I feel our young men have to start tapping into a higher power and have some type of humility and some type of respect,” he said. What young people are exposed to, how they are raised and fear are all factors, DJ BayBay continued.
“I fear no man but God, because I know whose I am and I am a son of His, so I acknowledge that and unfortunately nobody knows how God moves. He’s an awesome God. So, as a young man growing up and meeting Dolph and just being able to speak to my younger brothers, you got to learn to be able to praise God even when you can’t see him and that’s what I feel like is the sole ingredient in changing our culture, changing our community,” he added. “We can’t do it alone; we’ve got to depend on God and then add a little work. A whole lot of work.”
Young Dolph was also an example with his staunch stance of remaining an independent artist and retaining the masters to his music.
Drumma Boy also shared the importance of artists’ control over the recording environment. “If this is going to be our profession; we don’t have many places to work that encourage positivity. A lot of times it starts at the head of the labels. A lot of labels aren’t signing guys unless there are guns and violence and certain things in the video,” he explained.
“I think it starts at both ends of the street from the street, all the way up to the head executive aspect. And we’ve got to, from a radio programming standpoint, we’ve got to give more opportunity to songs that’s encouraging love, the music that’s encouraging dance and fun. I think if we drive that energy around that media it’ll reciprocate.”
Min. Farrakhan has previously criticized the profiteering and control of record companies regardless and the misuse of artists. “We’re tired of allowing people to use our pain to get rich and then watch us die and then hold our masters and keep making money for themselves and their families at our expense,” the Muslim leader said in remarks in 2003.
The Minister has also on numerous occasions counseled and spoken to hip hop artists on their responsibility to create uplifting and revolutionary content.
“One rap song from you is worth more than 1,000 of my speeches,” Min. Farrakhan stated during remarks to hip hop artists at a summit in New York. “Will you accept your responsibility as a leader?” he asked. From all accounts, Young Dolph was willing to step up.
Illyasah Muhammad contributed to this report.