Young Dolph was more than a rapper, he was an icon. He inspired tens of thousands of people, no matter the distance from our shared hometown of South Memphis. It was very inspirational seeing someone like Dolph, who I can relate to, make it that far.

It was equally devastating when Dolph was murdered last November while out at a local bakery picking up cookies for his kids. It was around noon when I heard he got shot. I was at McDonald's getting something to eat and had plenty of people calling me. To hear that he was shot was kinda like a joke because that's Dolph… come on. But it was the truth. That day hit harder than any other day because it was Dolph, man; somebody I looked up to, somebody that inspired the world, and he got taken away from his kids, family, and wife just that fast at the age of 36.

I remember my first time hearing about Dolph: I was like 11 years old, and I was all on YouTube looking at his videos. I've always loved music so it gave me a rush. As I started getting older, I could actually understand the meaning and power of what Dolph rapped about. I could relate to the struggles in his lyrics. Growing up in South Memphis wasn't that easy—from getting locked up to experiencing shootouts. Stuff happens when you're actually in the trenches; I'm just glad I made it out.

Music was my guidance, honestly. Anything that had to do with a hustle was all in my ears, and can't nobody talk about hustling better than Dolph. I tried everything just to get money because that's what he motivated me to do. My family really wasn't wealthy so it was hard for us.

Dolph didn't just rap about guns and women, he rapped about different ways to hustle. I took game to everything Dolph said in his songs because I could relate. It felt like he was talking to me through the music; I could feel it in my soul every time. He inspired me to be confident and always pray through the worst of times no matter how hard it was. Dolph was one of the best.

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In 2017, I caught a charge as an adult in Mississippi at just 16 years old. It was hard the first couple days thinking about everything because I've never been that deep in a situation. They transferred me from juvenile to an adult jail, and everything hit me all at once. I just really started looking at everything for what it was. I was only 16 going to the county jail. I also understood enough to know I'd never go back through that road again. After 6 months, I was down the road to a prison in Rankin County, and down there I met a lot of people who actually helped me. The warden of the unit for kids charged as adults, some of the staff, and the friends I made saw talent in me that I didn't see in myself. So, I started going harder every day.

I had faith in myself and so did the people around me. I was thankful for anybody and everybody for being there with me through tough times, no doubt. I kept my head up regardless, no matter what I went through, and that's all that matters. Nothing can change that because I'm going to forever stand up on my behalf.

Being locked up taught me a lot of lessons, and I'll never forget them. But it also brought me a lot of depression because it felt like I was never getting out. As my motivation, I wrote my pain on my paper to express my feelings through lyrics. Making music brought me light, honestly.

My granny died while I was in prison. I never got to tell her sorry for everything that I did; she only wanted the best for me. It feels like there's a Dolph lyric for every situation. In the chorus of "I Apologize," Dolph says:

"The worst day of my life, I made my grandma cry
Lord, can you please tell her I apologize
Every time I think about it, I get the water eyes
I'm sorry grandma, I apologize

I got out of prison in June 2019, a day before my 18th birthday. On that day, I knew that I had to take a different route. It took time and patience to make it this far and, to be honest, I never thought I could make it here.

"Dope boy with dope boy dreams, never thought I'd make it this far (For real though)
Fourteen, I jumped out there, started swimming with the sharks"

Young Dolph, 'Talking to My Scale'

Just like Dolph said: Never give up on your dreams, you gotta keep chasing them no matter what happens. You can live your best life if you put your mind to it and just run it up 'til you can't nomoe! That's exactly what I did and never looked back again.

As much as Dolph inspires me to chase my dreams, his life has also taught me to not keep your head too high in the clouds. Violence in our city can be so personal. No matter how big or small you are, it'll always be somebody watching. You just gotta move smart and be careful of your surroundings no matter where you go because it could be the one you call family or best friend that'll cross you out and not look back.

"Keep it real with your dog no matter what (Preach)
Same bitch that claim she love you, she'll set you up (Preach)
Out here in these streets, it ain't no such thing as love (Preach)
The only thing I trust is this pistol and these slugs (Preach)"

Young Dolph, 'Preach'

After Dolph's death, I've gotten better day by day as an artist and person. I started pursuing my dreams more and believing in myself, and now my music career is taking off. It'll still be a long road, and I have a lot more to learn in the industry, but I'm coming full steam ahead. Everything just takes time and it'll fall in place. You always gotta stay consistent, and I did just that! Now my life is almost like a movie every day and I love it.

"I remember when this shit was all just a dream
I ain't ever had shit, but a fucking dream"

Young Dolph, 'Dream'

It's crazy how an icon like Dolph could inspire people like me. So one day I want to be that same role model giving game and helping my community. That's the impact of an icon, and the measure of a man.

As part of Scalawag's 3rd annual Abolition Week, pop justice is exclusively featuring perspectives from currently and formerly incarcerated folks and systems-impacted folks.

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Dorian Record is a rapper based in South Memphis, who records under the name South Memphis Babyface. You can find his latest music here.