Hip-Hop Writing Worth Reading

Super Empty

The Catch-Up, May 20: Old Duke vs. Young Dolph

Super Empty illustration by Annalee Rigdon ©

Super Empty illustration by Annalee Rigdon ©


Dolphgate takes its rightful place in North Carolina internet history.

What was the funniest part of the now-infamous Young Dolph-Joe Van Goh-Larry Moneta incident that took place at Duke two weeks ago, becoming the most absurd meme/news story out of North Carolina since the Raleigh highway blizzard photo?

Was it when an awkward, rhythm-challenged group of white Duke students marched, gangsta rap music blaring, into the offices of a campus administrator? Was it the fact that Kevin Simmons, a barista not even involved with the playlist that day, somehow got fired for just being there? Or maybe it was Moneta telling Indy Week, “‘I’ll eff you upside down’ is inappropriate,” which is so perfect because while that phrase would never actually be said in a rap song, it’s exactly what someone like Larry Moneta would imagine gets said in a rap song.

Maybe it’s the fact that this whole thing started with a vegan muffin.

There were points along the way when this story could have served as the foundation for a number of important, fruitful discussions: power dynamics between a large institution and its vendors (and the employees of those vendors), racial bias (both Moneta’s and ours, as we read the original Indy Week story), and the media and the public’s fixation on celebrity — manifested herein whenever Young Dolph, really an incidental character, would take center stage as the protagonist of the story (including this article).

I took a number of notes this past week centered on those very topics. I wanted to write about the technological precedent and dumb luck of how an automated playlist, not a human being, pulled Young Dolph — a rapper known for a song called, “Play Wit Yo Bitch,” and for almost being shot to death last year — into the center of a scandal at dignified, well-heeled Duke University.

Not only did the presence of Dolph’s crude, gangster persona in the same news clippings with Duke University provide yet another illustration of the wide chasm that exists between different classes of American life, but it complicated our feelings about Moneta’s reaction. To be charitable: as far as rap music goes, Larry Moneta didn’t exactly walk in to “Can I Kick It?” when he entered Joe Van Goh. (To make the songs more similar, just switch out Q-Tip’s line, “If you feel the urge to freak, do the jitterbug/ Come and spread your arms if you really need a hug,” for “I showed her a Xanax, she hurried up and took it/ Fucked her so good, she got up and started cooking.”) As Desus & Mero joked on their VICELAND show, “Young Dolph’s music isn’t... that bad…. ehhh…… OK, it’s pretty bad.”

It seemed, for a couple days, as if the story had slowed down. Indy Week had published multiple stories, Moneta had made his obligatory, ineffectual PR statement, and things were wrapping up. As usual, no profound changes would be made, and the news cycle would move on in search of new material. That’s when the fired baristas Britni Brown and Simmons emerged on stage at Rolling Loud festival in Miami — apparently having been flown out by Young Dolph — where they were each presented with $20,000 from Dolph himself. Moments before handing over the cash, he gave his two cents about Moneta:

“I know for a fact, that the VP… at that school… he get money, but he ain’t get money like Dolph.” The crowd, and his DJ, erupted.

And with that, the potential for this event to be an instructive lesson on one or two topics of greater societal concern buckled under the weight of its sheer lunacy. Baristas from Joe Van Goh were on stage at Rolling Loud. Young Dolph was doing his own low-budget “God’s Plan” impression in front of thousands. Back in Durham, Joe Van Goh was permanently cutting ties with Duke University and sheepishly offering Brown and Simmons their jobs back, in the off chance that, fresh off Miami vacations and $20,000 paydays, they still wanted them.

We may never know if Larry Moneta is really a racist, or just a 50-something white man who heard “Me and my Memphis Grizzly partners fuck the same bitches,” while ordering a coffee, and overreacted. What we do know is that rap music is dangerous, the internet moves fast, and people are crazy. Just keep that in mind — how far things can go in 2018 — the next time you’re ordering a vegan muffin, or better yet, throwing on a Spotify playlist.

- Ryan Cocca

"No Better Love" - $wank 

"No Better Love" first greets you with a comfortingly familiar kick/cymbal and guitar lick, courtesy of the Young Gunz, leaving you with no choice but to start bobbing, soon followed by an exceptional verse from $wank himself. This track isn’t just a stellar showcase of his flow and wordplay out of sheer luck — the choice in beat is an inspired one, allowing for a solid background for his bars to shine on. While it’s an entry found in many a rapper’s catalogue, a flex of a love song, $wank packs his single verse full of witty bars declaring his desire for a deeper kind of love. If there’s one thing I’m left wanting it’s more of this track; the hook, kept intact from the Young Gunz track sampled, has become the track’s ending, though every time it comes I’m ready for another verse. Regardless, $wank has blessed us with a bop that more than deserves a steady spot in your rotation. 

- Alex Yllanes


"The Prologue" - The Guy With Cloud Envy

The Guy With Cloud Envy came for my soul on “The Prologue.” The jazzy sax in the background transported me to Cadillactica as Aushoj Reckut ushers the track with an intro that hearkens back to the best of Pac’s flow. Then, Cloud Envy attacks the track with an aggression that counters the laid-back mood, creating an engaging dynamic that eases off with a singing outro. My only real gripe is that the track needs a touch of extra mixing to give it the sound it deserves.

- Jimmy Branley


"Chocolate" (Video) - Young Bull

For a place that still doesn’t ring a lot of bells for casual hip-hop fans around the country, Durham, North Carolina is less desperate for rap credibility than you might think. Out in L.A., Durham-raised G Yamazawa is swiftly transitioning from one of the world’s best young poets to one of its best young rappers, getting the attention of legends like DJ Jazzy Jeff and underground staples like Dumbfoundead. Every spring, four-day music and tech fest Moogfest brings a plethora of hip-hop’s finest to downtown Durham, from producers to rappers to label heads (at the time of this writing, KRS-One, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Pete Rock are all in town for Moogfest 2018). And there’s a couple of NC Central grads (and former Kanye and Drake collaborators) still hanging around, two guys by the names of 9th Wonder and Phonte Coleman, who you may have heard of before.

But for all of the Bull City’s sneakily low-key rap bonafides, the city has failed to foster a creative breeding ground from which a nationally respected rap scene could emerge. The closest thing to a flag-bearing young act, Yamazawa, lives 3,000 miles away. And the hip-hop production prowess housed right down the road in the form of 9th Wonder and the Jamla Soul Council — capable of culling together the unique spirit and sound that any emergent scene needs — is largely reserved for the roster of 9th’s label, not a resource for public use.

In its youth, creativity, and surprisingly mature execution (attributable in no small part to in-house producer and multi-instrumentalist Gabe Fox-Peck), Young Bull has, in the past two years, begun to realize its potential as that missing piece. By combining elements of jazz, hip-hop and R&B, a genuine embrace for creativity and musicality, and ambitions of being a Big Deal, the group that began as a duo at DSA has presented itself, intentionally or not, as a potential nucleus for hip-hop out of the Bull City.

That sense of infectiousness, community, and a high level of execution, is on display in the group’s new video for “Chocolate,” which concludes with the group playing something of a Roots, illadelph halflife-inspired block party on the corner of King’s Sandwich Shop in Durham. One of the slower, quieter tracks off last year’s Midnight Sun EP, “Chocolate” benefits greatly from a visual complement, giving some added flavor to a song that may have been a touch too sleepy in its first iteration.

- Ryan Cocca


"Blank" - Elevator Jay

Before I even hit play, I saw this album artwork and knew I’d love the song. Elevator Jay really showcases his songwriting ability on “Blank.” Every piece comes together perfectly - he knows how to flow on this beat (which is this great blend of the best parts of Dungeon Family and Pimp C), his verses all succeed at the sort of shit talking I listen to rap for, and his call-and-response hook had me ready to shout, “BLANK! BLANK!” at his next show. Somebody needs to open up the budget for Elevator Jay because “Blank” should be NC’s next rap smash.

- Jimmy Branley


The Catch-Up is an irregularly published weekly update on new and noteworthy hip-hop releases around the Carolinas. To submit music or videos for consideration, please email