The Memphis Rap Renaissance
While Drake’s unexpected feature on BlocBoy JB’s “Look Alive” has captured the attention of the masses, the Memphis rap scene has already been thriving on its own for the last couple of years. Memphis was booming in the early 2000s with acts like Three 6 Mafia, 8Ball & MJG, Project Pat, and many others garnering critical acclaim. And while there was definitely a down period following the city’s time in the national spotlight, in the last couple of years the rap scene in Memphis is experiencing a cultural rebirth.
To closer examine the current big players, let's start with Yo Gotti, who was really the face of post-Three 6 Mafia Memphis and is now the elder statesman of the scene. When the first Cocaine Muzik mixtape dropped on February 6th, 2008, Gotti made his presence felt and has continued to do so over the last decade with nationwide hits and collaborations.
From the outside looking in, Gotti’s business relationships are difficult to read. Oftentimes it’s hard to tell if an artist is signed to him, or if they’re just collaborating. His experiments with Zed Zilla, Snootie Wild and LeMoyne-Owen College student Wave Chapelle -- Yo Gotti even released an official CMG compilation mixtape that featured all four artists on the cover -- largely failed. In his very brief career, Snootie Wild was certainly the most successful. “Yayo” was a nationwide hit, and he had more than a few other songs that racked up millions of plays, including “Made Me feat. K Camp,” “Stackin’ & Flippin It” and “She’s A Keeper.” While it is unclear what happened in Snootie Wild’s situation, and why he suddenly stopped releasing music, Zed Zilla has since released a track called “Shoulder To Lean On” addressing his situation with CMG.
Since then, the CMG boss has moved onto other endeavors, which include a joint mixtape titled “2 Federal” with MoneyBagg Yo -- who has quickly risen to the top of the scene -- and strong co-sign of Blac Youngsta (which included gifting him a Lamborghini on his birthday). MoneyBagg Yo has become a certified hitmaker in his own regard; and while some may argue that Blac Youngsta is more known for his social media antics -- such as going crazy in the Apple store promoting his mixtape, running around with guns in Young Dolph’s hood, and countless Instagram soundbites rather than his actual music -- he has still racked up millions of plays and streams. It should be noted that he has done this without numerous big name collaborations; most of his records have no features.
While the newcomers are certainly making their names known, it is without a doubt that aside from Gotti, Young Dolph is the most relevant and influential rapper from Memphis at the moment. Dolph has put together a mixtape run that is so prolific, it reminds me of early Gucci, and some of the diss records that Dolph has put out targeting Yo Gotti are some of his biggest to date. Since Yo Gotti brought out Young Dolph at his Youth of Memphis showcase in 2012, things have gone sour between the two, and while the CMG-PRE beef seems to have somewhat subsided, both factions have shown no affection towards each other.
Young Dolph - 100 Shots
Dolph’s most notable artist at the moment is Key Glock (who is rumored to be his cousin by marriage). His most recent mixtape Glock Bond is making serious waves. His other artists -- Jay Fizzle, who has few solid projects out, and Bino Brown who is set to drop his debut mixtape Straight From The Carter very soon -- both collaborated on a mixtape with Dolph as well.
2012 XXL freshman Don Trip is still going strong as well. While his early single “Letter to My Son” (which has racked up almost eight million plays on YouTube) may be his most well known song to date, the plethora of material released following that has made him a local legend in the city’s music scene. As a fully independent artist, Don Trip operates on a different wavelength than the rest of his contemporaries. In addition, while his music does not shy away from trap themes (check out “2 Magazines,” a single off his most recent album Christopher or “Caesar & Brutus” off of Step Brothers Two), he is certainly the most lyrically inclined of all the local talent, even on somewhat playful records of his such as “Ask Juicy J.”
Speaking of Juicy J -- while Three 6 Mafia the group is no more, Juicy J is in a lane all his own, and is still lending his talent to chart topping hits. I would still say that Gotti and Dolph are larger figures in the scene overall -- not only because of their personal records, but the artists that they have helped develop and collaborated with (especially within the city of Memphis) -- Juicy J is still a mega-star. Everytime you think Juicy J is finally washed, he finds his way onto another certified banger. In fact, at age 43, Juicy J has arguably the best placement of ANY Memphis rapper at the moment (even BlocBoy JB) on Rae Sremmurd’s “Powerglide,” which has been featured on a number of NBA commercials.
Switching gears here, I think that it is also important to not that this renaissance is not all about the rappers: producers have played a major role as well. While Tay Keith’s production credits on “Look Alive” will make him a household name among rap fans nationwide, he has been putting in work for years and has a discography that reflects his impressive career. He has produced for every single forementioned rapper in this article -- except for Young Dolph -- and the song he did with Dolph’s most prestigious signee, Key Glock, titled “Russian Creme” has garnered 1.4 million plays on Youtube alone -- in just one month.
It is too early to tell if Tay Keith is the next Metro Boomin, and while many Memphis rappers are still sourcing their beats from Atlanta acts such as 808 Mafia, Mike Will Made-It (Yo Gotti did an entire tape with him) and others, local producers are creating their own sound, which is on track to be in high demand very soon. Others to keep an eye on include TK On The Beat, who was responsible for Snootie Wild’s hit “Made Me” feat. K Camp, who has now moved on to produce hits such as Moneybagg Yo’s “No Love.” Greedy Money has also earned recognition for his production on Yo Gotti’s “Fuck ‘Em” and Don Trip & Starlito’s “My Love”.
shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot
It is only fitting to end this article where it began -- with BlocBoy JB, who, at the moment, is not affiliated with anyone. His sound is unique and while he raps fast, it is not quite in the Migos triplet fashion, but rather with an exaggerated drawl followed by a choppy double-time flow. His series of ten no-hook songs, titled No Chorus, and the fact that his “shoot” dance might be one of the best of all time (spawning the “shoot challenge,” which has caused everyone, including celebrities like Lebron James and Lil Uzi Vert, to run to social media and post their best rendition of the dance), solidify him in my mind as the most interesting up-and-coming artist.
It is clear that Memphis’ rap scene is alive and thriving, and that the future looks very bright -- at least for the near future, especially considering that there have not been as many artists coming out of Atlanta recently, as they have in past years. BlocBoy JB & Key Glock should both be 2018 XXL Freshman. MoneyBagg Yo & Blac Youngsta are nationally known by anyone that listens to rap music. Young Dolph and Yo Gotti will probably continue to beef and make things interesting. Last but certainly not least, the talented crop of young producers makes for a compelling mix of both artists and creators. Overall, it will be fun watch how things unfold in Memphis over the next few years, but I am almost certain that there will be more stars made -- and it is even possible that Memphis could become the hub of Southern rap talent.