“When I’m finished doing music or whatever, I want people to remember me as just being great.” – Young Dolph
Almost every headline that was written the day news spread about Young Dolph’s death included these key words: rapper, hip-hop artist, Memphis-based, bakery, and cookie shop. While all of those elements give the world, at large, a glimpse into the tragedy that took place on November 17, 2021 at Makeda’s Cookies on Airways Blvd, they do not honor this man—this musical icon—or this Black-owned Memphis mainstay in the way that they both deserve.
Because Adolph Thorton Jr. was more than a rapper. And Makeda’s Cookies is more than a bakery.
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From concocting the perfect cookie recipe to channeling the energy from life experiences to lay down bar after bar, both have embodied excellence within their respective artistries. Not only that, but they rooted themselves, so, in the soil of our city, cultivating communities and climbing the ladder in what some outsiders believe to be a wasteland of inopportune circumstances.
You see, most people think that if you can make it in a New York, or an LA, or an ATL, then you can make it anywhere. But Memphians know different. Because when someone from a South Memphis, or a North Memphis, or a Whitehaven can grow amongst the grain that characterizes this gritty city, then that fruition forges a path for others to walk down—and rarely do they walk it alone.
Dolph did what he did and gave to others so they could do what they do.
We saw it within his musical mentorship towards his cousin Key Glock.
We saw it when he and his family founded the Ida Mae Foundation which sponsors high school literacy and college prep courses, organizes clothing drives for victims of domestic violence, and operates various community outreach programs in Memphis.
We saw it when he donated funds to provide classroom books for students at New Hope Christian Academy.
We saw it when he donated $25,000 to his alma mater Hamilton High to provide new sports equipment to school athletes.
We saw it when he donated Thanksgiving turkeys to youth and families from Memphis Athletic Ministries year after year.
“Young Dolph was committed to giving hope and opportunity to the youth MAM serves, and our hope is that others will continue Young Dolph’s work in the community and follow his example to invest in their neighborhoods.”
He did all of that and then some for Memphis and Memphians. Read those words in bold, because that man left no space to wonder what city he repped.
He could’ve taken his talents elsewhere—could’ve claimed Memphis from afar—but he chose to be present here. He chose to wear the South side on his sleeve like a patch that empowered others to do the same.
“No matter wherever I go I’m still Memphis,” Dolph proclaimed in his song “Real Life” featured on his album King of Memphis, released in 2016.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard that line erupt like a volcanic expression from a Memphian’s mouth—but it hits different knowing that he was about that life literally up until his final moments.
He could’ve gotten cookies from anywhere, but he knew he could only get Makeda’s Cookies from the one-and-only, historic Black-owned bakery that was built to honor the legacy of Makeda Denise Hill, a young Memphian who—like Dolph—was taken too soon in 1997 after battling Leukemia.
Anchored in the Orange Mound neighborhood, this business has stood as a beacon of hope and light, providing hundreds of jobs and the comfort of cookies since its opening in 1999.
And just like Dolph was divvying out his CDs around the block, the Hill family was hustling—selling their cookies to co-workers at their 9 to 5 before taking a leap of faith to run the family business full time.
“I didn’t think we could really just make it off cookies. But my husband said ‘You got faith, don’t you?’ I said yes and so I quit my job,” said Pamela Hill in a 2019 article, celebrating the shop’s 20th anniversary.
It’s that kind of Memphis mentality that’s built this city from the ground up—and it’s that kind of Memphis mentality that will keep us moving forward.
The title of this piece may be “Do as Dolph did,” but it could really be “Do as Memphians Have Done.”
When our energy is embedded within a framework that focuses on seeing to the success of our city, we will continue to defy odds as each generation generates more masters, leaders, musicians, business owners, activists, and the like.
That dedication and determination didn’t die with Dolph. In fact, it lives inside each you 901-grown groundbreakers. And since the only way out is through, let’s channel that level of benevolence and tenacity in everything that we do.