Young Dolph Brings Paper Route Empire to New Heights
More than a decade after starting his indie label, Young Dolph looks to bring Paper Route Empire to new heights.
Words and Interviews: Peter A. Berry and Georgette Cline
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Eleven years after it was founded, Young Dolph’s Paper Route Empire record label is in the process of living up to its name like never before. Created by Dolph, 35, in 2010, then a young Memphis rapper with skyscraper aspirations and a point to prove, the PRE era officially began before he even thought of making a label—when he unloaded his debut mixtape, Paper Route Campaign, 13 years ago. Years later, a cousin-by-marriage that Dolph saw at family gatherings would play the Memphis native some music, which culminated in signing the young talent to the label in 2017. That cousin was fellow Memphis rapper Key Glock, 23, and to date, the label has been running off both artists’ success.
In 2019, Dolph and Key Glock teamed up for Dum and Dummer, a strong collabo project that debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 chart. Last year, Paper Route Empire reached a new commercial plateau after Dolph’s Rich Slave album debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 after moving 65,000 equivalent album units in its first week. During that same time, Glock also reached new commercial heights with both of his 2020 projects: Yellow Tape peaked at No. 15 and Son of a Gun landed at No. 37 on the same chart. In March, they dropped Dum and Dummer 2.
Dolph and Glock have been holding things down, but there are more moves to be made in PRE. Over the last few years, Dolph has signed multiple artists, including Brooklyn’s Joddy Badass, 24, and Memphis rappers Snupe Bandz, 23; Paper Route Woo, 25; and Big Moochie Grape, 26. With a collection of dynamic, mostly home-grown talent, a charismatic leader and plenty of room to grow, Paper Route Empire is positioned to do even bigger things in 2021 and beyond. Now, it’s time to look into the future of the empire.
Here, Young Dolph discusses his crew and his team weighs in.
XXL: So, getting into Paper Route Empire. What inspired you to start the label?
Young Dolph: What inspired me was just being a fan of music, watching everybody else, growing up being a real fan of music. I was always real deep into music. From everything, all around the board—from East Coast, West Coast, down South, everywhere. I just been a fan of music and I know I always wanted to do it myself and I wanted to do it my way. So, I told myself if I ever start doing music, I’ma do it my way. That’s what made me start my own label.
Is there a rapper that possibly came before you that had success with an indie label that you looked at and respected?
Really some of everybody… From Master P to Baby [Birdman] to J Prince. All of them.
Paper Route Empire, why that name and what does it represent for you?
Man, I really think I was just fascinated with money… and I always wanted it growing up.
I always wanted money… Once I got upwards in age, the older I got, the more fascinated I got with money. So, once I started doing music, that was the first thing that came to my mind, Paper Route Empire. Like, everybody having real paper, like everybody around me having some real paper. So, that’s what I’ve been on.
Is Key Glock the first artist you signed or is he the flagship artist on the label that had the most success?
He wasn’t the first artist I signed. He was just the next one that had the most success.
From a business aspect, how do you handle situations like when you’ve possibly signed an artist and maybe it didn’t work out for whatever reason?
Man, one thing about it: business is business. So, at the end of the day, this is the entertainment business. It’s not just called entertainment, it’s the entertainment business. So, if it don’t make sense, I’m not with it. If it makes sense, I’m down. If it don’t, I don’t want nothing to do with it. It ain’t personal gain, it ain’t no personal shit. You got to put your emotions and feelings to the side, ’cause I do… At the end of the day, don’t nobody go into business to lose money.
Exactly, you have to gain all of the money back that you’ve spent.
It’s the sacrifice. It’s definitely a gamble, but at the same time, it’s got to be worth the gamble too. You’re gambling with your time and your money; the artist needs to be gambling with what they’re sacrificing. They got to sacrifice a lot of bullshit that they used to doing to go be in the studio and go stay in the studio and work. If they can’t work and if they can’t do that, shit, I ain’t going to do my part.
What is the criteria that you are looking for when signing artists?
It’s really all about that work ethic. I like people that like to work, somebody that I don’t have to keep telling to record. I really like people that are really into themselves and into their product. I like people whose confidence is through the roof—it’s really more so about their confidence than their sound and their work to me. Because as long as you got that confidence, you going to do whatever it takes and can’t nobody tell you about yourself. So, whatever it is you’re lacking on, you are going to get better at it because your confidence won’t let you lack.
Is there one aspect of success within PRE that you have had over the years that you are really proud of?
I really think this tape that I’m finna put out, this compilation tape where everybody is on it just because it’s a mixture, and a variety of a lot of different moods and a lot of different artists. You got the female on there [Joddy Badass]. She’s the first female I signed. I waited a long time to sign a female and just felt like a special moment, a special time. You got everybody on there bringing their creativity to the project and make the project what it is.
The normal stuff like plaques and awards and the whole recognition, all of that is cool. That comes with it when you’re working, but this compilation tape I’m finna put out, I don’t know, it just makes me feel different.
Looking forward to it. When do you plan to drop that?
In the next 60 days.
Who helps you with the day-to-day activities and the duties? Do you have a dedicated staff?
Yeah, I got a staff. I got a staff throughout the country. But, I got a couple of people that I mainly deal with on a day-to-day basis and they get everything took care of and reach out to everybody else.
What project are you most proud of releasing so far on Paper Route Empire?
Man, really all of them ’cause we put our all into them. But if I had to pick one, it’ll probably be, I don’t know. It’s hard to pick one tape. We put out several projects. It’s between [Key Glock’s] Glockoma, Dum and Dummer and [my album] Bulletproof.
Bulletproof is just a body work. The production, the songs, just a dope piece of work. The project is dope. Dum and Dummer is hard ’cause it’s the first project I ever did with an artist, like, a whole tape we locked in, and go in and planned it. And then Glockoma, Glock’s tape, it was right timing on everything when we dropped the tape… like, the name of it, the whole project, everything.
Is there anyone who has given you advice as far as building a label?
Not really nobody ’cause I’m really observing my own work. I’m studying myself. I really be all to myself and just work and be in my own world. So, really ain’t nobody.
That’s amazing because it shows that you are really doing this through trial and error and succeeding without anybody’s help through the process. That’s commendable.
You have been on plenty of tours yourself. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, that’s not happening right now. Do you have plans for a Paper Route Empire tour?
We’ll just have to see when the world opens back up. There’s too much going on right now. I really ain’t thinking about a tour, but we’ll see. We definitely are going to have one, though, when it opens back up.
What can fans expect from PRE artists Key Glock, Paper Route Woo, Joddy Badass, Snupe Bandz and Big Moochie Grape this year?
A lot of dope music, dope projects. A lot of videos.
So for this year, what are you excited about for the label?
I’m really excited about everybody dropping their projects ’cause everybody gearing up to drop right now. So, everybody is going to be dropping back to back. I like when they be having fun. When people have fun with it, it’s the best. For right now, everybody is just in that mode.
What is the PRE motto?
“It don’t matter how it get done, just get the shit done.”
So, you have been doing this for 11 years, over a decade at this point, which is amazing. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Never stop working. Never stop, never get satisfied.
For aspiring entrepreneurs who want to launch a record label just like you, what are some words of advice that you would give to them?
Whatever you’re thinking, you can do it. I don’t care what it is, it probably seems far-fetched because of the position you’re in right now, but don’t never use your right-now mentality to determine your real-life reality for the future. I don’t care where you’re at right now.
What do you say to people who think they have to have all the funds to start a record label and they don’t?
It ain’t even about that. It ain’t even about what you got. It really don’t even matter. Keep it 100, tell you the truth, the people that come in broke and not having no money, they turn out to be the best ones because they are super hungry. It’s just, the thing with me, why my shit worked because I come in with money but at the same time, I always stayed hungry.
I know what it feels like to not have nothing. Even to this day, that’s why I hustle the way I hustle, that’s why I work the way I work, because I know what it feels like to not have shit. I reminisce about it all the time. When you got that fire in you, that fire don’t go nowhere. It’s got to be in you. As long as it is in you, you’re straight.
Get to know the artists of Paper Route Empire as they explain their label and rap style.
“Paper Route, it ain’t even just what we do different than an indie label, we do stuff different than a major label do, too. We do what we want to do. I can drop a mixtape every day of the week, if I wanted to. I can’t do that with a major.
Signing and all of that stuff… It ain’t got nothing to do with what me and [Young Dolph] got going on, it’s deeper than rap. We [PRE artists] don’t look at each other as no different [from each other]. We all one, we all got the same purpose, all got the same goals, all trying to get the same thing.
[My rapping style is] impeccable. I don’t got the same flow everybody else has. I just make sure that I stay different as much as possible. Everybody gets that wave, everybody gets that time. It’ll catch, if it ain’t already catched, it’ll catch. I’m not gon’ switch my flow and style because that’s what’s trending right now.
I just want to get a diamond plaque with a diamond record while I’m independent. I know [PRE is] going to make it happen. You gon’ see.
Reppin’: Brooklyn by way of Haiti
“My music style, I would want to call it organic. I feel like I can be myself. I don’t have to go in and pretend to be anybody. I can go in and be myself, or I can speak from a third-party point of view. I can literally be myself.”
Big Moochie Grape
Reppin’: East Memphis
“I like to rap on up-tempo crunk shit. Gangsta shit only. Basically, what my whole life been about, gangsta shit. I’m me. I can’t compare myself with no one else. I can’t compare derrated like a muthafucka, though. I’m finna wake everybody up.”
Paper Route Woo
Reppin’: South Memphis
“My rapping style different from everybody… Motivational music. It’s the come up. A lot of people from Memphis, they pretty much know what I’ve been through and what I’ve come from. I ain’t just one of those rappers that just rap about it.”
Reppin’: South Memphis
“I would describe my style as versatile. I can rap over any beat. My music is mostly trap music; music for the streets. I’m different from other rappers because I didn’t choose rap, rap chose me… Everybody around me kept telling me I should rap because I look like a rapper and live a rapper lifestyle.”
Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2021 issue including Cardi B’s cover story, how rappers are legally making money from the cannabis boom and the social justice that comes with it, Snowfall’s Damson Idris on how hip-hop impacted his life, A$AP Ferg reflects on the making of his Always Strive and Prosper album, Shelley F.K.A. DRAM talks about his comeback, Trippie Redd speaks on how Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert helped change hip-hop, Waka Flocka Flame checks in with us and gives an update on his Flockaveli 2 album in What’s Happenin’, Show & Prove interviews with 42 Dugg, Blxst, Lakeyah and Rubi Rose, Erica Banks discusses the making of hit song “Buss It,” the Internet Money takeover with producers Taz Taylor and Nick Mira, the artists that are up next on rapper-run record labels and more.
See Cardi B’s XXL Magazine Spring 2021 Cover Story Photo Shoot
Cardi B covers the spring 2021 issue of XXL magazine.