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'Dolph had that hustle about him': Rapper Young Dolph inspires Memphis' independent artists

Artists see their own growth among Young Dolph's independent success

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — "Everybody from Memphis has music in their blood. You can't escape music in Memphis," Lukah said.

The independent rap artist started music young, influenced by family. His mother, grandmother and grandfather were all musicians, his father a DJ. Lukah took after his rapper uncle, Fathom Nine.

"He's actually a hip hop, Memphis legend, part of this group called Iron Mic Coalition and it was part of a group called Genesis Experiment did a lot of underground stuff. And he influenced me heavily," Lukah said.

The south Memphis rapper apart of Dogg Deep Enterprize has seen his music recognized heavily in 2021. He had mentions in the New York Times, NPR, and Pitchfork since June. The year has been about growth.

"I'm growing constantly. I mean I just see growth as just a continuous thing. People overseas are hearing about me, country wide they're hearing about me," Lukah said.

Inside the 4U Recording Studio on Union Avenue works independent producer Kingpin Da Composer. Kingpin is part of a team of producers by the name of Steaksawse, but his personal baby is the beat battle league he began in 2017, Let's Get Loud.

"I feel like Memphis didn't really have a home for producers, especially like rap producers, so to speak," Kingpin said. "So I just seen a void. And for years, I just waited to see what somebody else was going to do and kind of creatively but I'm like, 'I'm tired of waiting.'"

The beat battles typically include eight producers who go head to head in a battle rap style competition, but Kingpin said wins and losses aren't the goal.

"It's never about winners or losers is about us just getting together and sharpening our sword," Kingpin said.

Both artists have been working independently for a number of years just like Memphis' own Young Dolph who was shot and killed in November. The two said the music scene hasn't been the same.

"At first I thought somebody was joking, but then I seen more news reports come in confirming and I'm like, 'are you serious?'" Kingpin said.

"It felt like a shift in the city happened that day. I mean it was gloomy that day. And the next day actually, still gloomy if you ask me," said Lukah.

The pair are still mourning the loss of Young Dolph like many across the city, but acknowledge that there are lessons to be learned from the Memphis icons career.

Young Dolph headed up his independent label Paper Route Empire, taking other artists under his wing. The rappers grit and grind embodied the city he was from.

"Dolph had that hustle about him, just like all the Memphis artists," Lukah said. "I just got to use that hustle, that grind, that grit from Memphis that we have to make it succeed because we get looked down on all the time."

"It was just phenomenal like to see his work ethic and to see his grind to take, this one idea, and to not only feed himself, but feed others around him where people around him have successful careers, that's the ultimate goal as a creative, like, it's good for you to eat. When you have a team of people that's eating like you - mission accomplished," Kingpin said.

Like Young Dolph the pair also give back to their community. Lukah tutored and volunteered as a basketball coach. Kingpin is a music fellow with the Memphis Music Initiative, teaching kids how to produce their own music. 

They also recognize that to accomplish their goals, they have to continue to grind. While resources and support may sometimes be in short supply, confidence in yourself, cannot. And when they rise, so do those around them.

"Do what Young Dolph did. Have a team around us where all of us can eat together. That's the ultimate goal for me and that's the ultimate goal for Steaksawse for all of us to come up together." Kingpin said.

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