It’s been a long road from the streets of Memphis for Dolph, who picked up the mic after a near-death experience in a car accident coupled with the death of his grandmother shortly thereafter.
Initially, Dolph was just recording for fun so he and his friends had something to listen to in the car, but his unique voice, no-nonsense delivery, and real-as-fuck subject matter made him a local hero in Memphis.
Dolph released a non-stop stream of mixtapes over the years, gaining local fame and collaborations with ATL legends like 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, and Peewee Longway gave him the Atlanta co-sign.
In 2015, O.T. Genasis dropped the street anthem “Cut It”, featuring Young Dolph. The song did wild numbers on streaming services (over 123 million streams on Spotify and over 178 million views on YouTube). To the general music public, this was their introduction to Dolph’s Memphis drawl.
In 2016, despite almost a decade of mixtapes, Dolph dropped his official debut studio album King of Memphis. It was a statement that some in the city didn’t take too kindly. Fellow Memphis rappers Yo Gotti and Blacc Youngsta took shots at Dolph over the King of Memphis moniker.
The beef, specifically with Yo Gotti, escalated over time and when Young Dolph released “Play Wit Yo’ Bitch”, one of the most savage diss tracks in recent memory, the dispute reached a fever pitch.
Then Dolph’s sprinter was littered with 100 shots in Charlotte. Dolph survived the shooting and performed that very night, later releasing his second studio album Bulletproof that heavily focused on that incident.
Weeks ago, Dolph was the target of another shooting, this time in LA in broad daylight (mere minutes after we published this tribute to the Memphis rapper). Dolph again survived and has now released his mixtape Thinking Out Loud.
Much of the beef between Dolph and Gotti revolves around Gotti’s attempts to sign the rapper to his Collective Music Label. But Dolph has always shown his dedication to doing this all on his own. Young Dolph remains unsigned and has funded his own label, Paper Route Empire, all off his previous street hustle.
Young Dolph is unstoppable and the latest incidents around Dolph only confirm his legend.
Zaytoven, real name Xavier Dotson, first hopped onto the waves of hip-hop radio with “So Icy” in 2005. This was also the hip-hop world’s introduction to Gucci Mane, beginning a partnership that would shape the future of rap music.
The loopy synths, crashing drums, and big bass knocks are staples of Zay’s sound. Back in 2005, Atlanta was still entrenched in the crunk movement, with Dem Franchize Boyz and Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz dominating the radio and the club.
Zay, Gucci, and Jeezy offered a different sound, a harder sound, but one that listeners could still bop to in the club. “So Icy” was the turning point in Atlanta hip-hop from crunk to trap and Zaytoven was there at ground zero. It’s no wonder that Zaytoven has come to exemplify the last decade of ATL hip-hop.
Ironically, dude isn’t even from Atlanta.
Zaytoven was born in Germany to a military family. After moving around for most of his childhood, Zay settled in the Bay before moving to Atlanta at the turn of the century to pursue music.
Evidence of the Bay Area hip-hop sound is all over Zaytoven’s production, the “So Icy” beat sounds like it could fit right in alongside Mac Dre’s entire catalog. Zaytoven told Noisey about the Bay influence on his music, especially on “So Icy”:
“It was very Bay influenced because I was just moving from the Bay Area. So if you listen to the music, you’ll say, “that doesn’t sound like no producer that came out of Atlanta!” That’s because I was fresh from out of the Bay Area.”
At first, even while all the artists were in the studio to record “So Icy,” no one was really feeling the beat, the synths were too weird, the drums didn’t hit like standard ATL snares.
But after Lil Wheel got on the hook, as Zay told Noisey, everyone was trying to get on the track, “Once [Jeezy] heard [the chorus] and the beat going together, then you started looking around the studio and everybody in the studio got a pen and paper trying to write to get on the song.”
While Jeezy and Gucci would have a well-publicized beef since that song and have never recorded together again, since “So Icy,” Zay and Gucci have formed one of the most dominant partnerships in hip-hop history.
The two artists have influenced each other’s sound, finding the perfect sonic zone for both of them to thrive. And while Gucci Mane is largely credited with starting the trap wave in the A, Zaytoven was right alongside him, providing him the backdrop flourish as an artist.
“Trap music I will say kind of evolved on what I knew making beats coming from The Bay. But then, working with somebody like Gucci Mane from out here, it’s just us working together and finding a sound together. It turned into what it was.”
Zaytoven’s sound is so unique, any rap listener can identify a Zaytoven production immediately.
The church organ-on-acid synths, the twinkling piano underneath, and impeccable drums kicks are unmistakable, like on OJ Da Juiceman and Gucci’s “Make Tha Trap Say Aye” or Gucci’s “Bricks.”
Zay met Gucci Mane through a co-worker at the barber shop where Zaytoven was cutting hair after first moving to Atlanta.
They met, instantly clicked, and started recording religiously. The producer told Noisey about his co-worker introducing him to Gucci,
“One day he brought Gucci Mane over. Now, Gucci Mane was Radric Davis at the time. He wasn’t a rapper or nothing like that. He was just one of the guys who came over. He brought his nephew over, trying to get his nephew to start rapping. So he’s writing the songs for him. I was the new guy from California making beats with a little studio. So that’s how we met, then it just turned and evolved into us working together everyday, he coming over at eight o’clock in the morning and being here all day everyday.”
Zaytoven and Gucci Mane’s shared work ethic allowed their partnership to blossom. Earlier this year, Zay became the subject of producer debate when he told Sway that, “There is no record that you done heard me produce that I done spent over 10 minutes on.” Sway responded that some would find that blasphemous, which Zay agreed with, but he explained that that’s just the way he and Gucci worked,
“I got into working with Gucci Mane. The reason why is because he’s impatient. I’m impatient. We want to listen to this music in our car. I don’t wanna just do one song and ride around listening to that. I want to listen to five songs. We can’t do five songs if I spend an hour on the beat, you spend an hour writing it. Now we only got one song.”
Not all producers can do this. But Zaytoven’s upbringing gave him the musical skills to do whatever the hell he wants on the keys.
Zay’s mom is a church choir director and Zaytoven got his start in music through the church, playing the organ during songs of worship.
While Zaytoven usually keeps his synths pretty simple, he can truly spaz on the piano when called upon.
In an “Against the Clock” segment with FACT Magazine, Zaytoven makes a fire beat in under 5 minutes, freestyling on the keys at the end, displaying his wild musical skills.
The church organ background is clear to see on many Zaytoven productions, flipping those organs with trap drums and bass, not to mention the lyrical content that rappers like Gucci Mane and OJ da Juiceman are coming with, makes for intriguing listening.
During Gucci Mane’s NPR ‘Tiny Desk’ concert, Zaytoven ripped it on the piano.
More than a decade after “So Icy” Zaytoven is still doing his thing.
He contributed to Future’s triptych of genre-shaping mixtapes, producing all of Future’s Beast Mode project, bringing a whole new flow and sound out of Super Future.
He was one of the first producers to really fuck with the Migos and gave them their smash hit “Versace,” produced a bunch of shit on their initial mixtapes and two tracks off their album Culture.
Zay’s story on how he met Migos is wild. A friend whose opinion he trusts told Zaytoven about Migos and after doing some searching on YouTube, he immediately saw the vision. He told Noisey about being immediately drawn to Migos,
“When I looked up the song, I see that they have a little video, this is maybe, like, 2000 views. But as soon as I seen them, and heard the song. It sounded like something me and Gucci did ten years ago. But it just caught me so much—that look and that sound.”
And how a chance encounter with Quavo turned into “Versace,”
“I went for maybe, like, two weeks, not knowing how to get in touch with them or nothing like that. Then I went out to a show…I’m walking to the stage and Quavo stepped on my shoe on accident…He stepped on my shoe and was like, ‘Oh, my bad.’ I looked up at him like, ‘Bro! I was looking for you!’ And then they were like, ‘Aw no! WE were looking for YOU!’ so it had to be God that put that together…We exchanged numbers. The next day, they came over, we recorded maybe three or four songs. I gave them about twenty beats. ‘Versace’ came off almost the first time of us meeting.”
On top of continuing to work with Atlanta’s most prominent artists on their projects, Zaytoven also releases a seemingly never-ending stream of mixtapes and throwaway beats of his own.
A couple weeks ago he dropped Where Would the Game Be Without Me 2, featuring artists like Yo Gotti, Quavo, Lil Uzi, and Young Scooter.
Then dropped the banger with the great Young Dolph, “Left Da Bank” last week.
Zaytoven has never switched up, never done something that doesn’t represent his sound and his ideals.
With over a decade in the game, Zay may just be the most influential hip-hop producer in recent memory and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
Gucci Mane is officially getting out the game. The 1017 Bricksquad president proposed to Keyshia Ka’oir with a $500,000 ring at an Atlanta Hawks NBA game last year and is tying the knot tomorrow on October 17, 2017.
My Wedding on 10.17.17. I need all my fans to get dead fresh head to toe in ALL WHITE! Girls Boys Men Women. Hashtag #GucciWeddingPics
It’s quite special to see how it’s all come together for Roderick Davis.
He just dropped his album, Mr. Davis, this past Friday (his second of the year), in mid-September he became an author, releasing The Autobiography of Gucci Mane, and now he’s having a grand wedding.
It’s funny because people love to peg hip-hop as this morally corrupt culture ran by barbarians or something.
Just recently, while explaining her return back to her rock and country roots in an expansive interview withBillboard, Miley Cyrus said that she favors artists like Kendrick because it’s not like the “come sit on my dick, suck on my cock” stuff that pushed her out of the hip-hop genre.
“It was too much ‘Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock’ – I am so not that.” she said.
And that’s the image that she, and many others, perpetuate about hip-hop — one of irresponsibility, drugs, violence, and moral corruption.
And it doesn’t matter what level of success you have either, the media has always held the hip-hop community to an unfair standard, regardless of how accomplished they are.
Tomi Lahren stirred the Beyhive when she came for Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance and brought Jay Z into the bashing.
“Your husband was a drug dealer. For fourteen years, he sold crack cocaine. Talk about protecting black neighborhoods? Start at home,” the TV host said.
The truth of the matter is that yes, hip-hop is an instrument for many to document the experiences they’ve had, experiences that aren’t always the prettiest due to circumstances out their control.
And that’s what make’s hip-hop great: you’re getting expressions from regions all over the world in the rawest form. We get a front row seat to the evolution of these artists as they begin to see a world less limited, which in turn inspires us to want to see more, too.
Gucci has murdered someone before (in self defense). Now, he’s chopping it up with Malcolm Gladwell and Beyonce and has a song titled “Changed”.
And change he has. His evolution has been documented, coming from a life of drug addiction and violence to being completely sober and having a successful music career afterward.
The Davis’s wedding will be branded as The Mane Event live on BET.
This is obviously great for Gucci and Keyshia but it also shows another side of hip-hop, a side of growth.
Rap gave Gucci the opportunity to have a life after prison, see the world, and live comfortably apart from how he moved previously.
Now I’m not saying make Gucci and Keyshia relationship goals or am I assuming that they have a perfect relationship — that’s impossible to truly know. But to see someone such as Gucci have the desire to pursue an honest monogamous relationship is good to see.
You get a little bit of everything from hip-hop — the people who are engrossed in it know that without saying. With all the ratchet, it’s only right that Gucci brings a little righteous to the table.
With Rihanna, The Weeknd, Selena Gomez, Pharrell, Diddy, Rick Ross, Monica, Trina, Migos, and Solange rumored to attend it’s sure to be an over the top event.
And for the man with an ice cream cone tattooed on his face, I expect nothing less.