There’s a torrential influx of talent from the Memphis rap scene — and Young Dolph’s label Paper Route Empire is hungry for recognition.

Young Dolph is a mystic figure in rap, standing as perhaps the only artist to release an entire album failure shaming his would-be assassins. He’s also one of the longest-running Memphis rappers to maintain his status and elevate it, releasing projects dating back to 2010 and way before the recent regional renaissance.

After feigning retirement, Dolph has returned alongside his signees with Paper Route Illuminati, a label album which serves as Young Dolph’s meet-the-family event. The result is mixed, ripe with both sweltering Memphis bangers and lifeless tracks that could have stayed on the cutting room floor.

The album was intended to shine light on the hidden gems of the Paper Route Empire, in which it mostly succeeds. Some of the newcomers, including Joddy Badass and Big Moochie Grape, take the opportunity and run with it. Joddy, in particular, is an unexpected show stealer. “333” finds her rapping with more dexterity than anyone else by a mile, bobbing and weaving with pinpoint precision, landing blow after blow.

Big Moochie Grape takes advantage of prominent placements on two of the best beats on the album with “Non Stop” and “Standing Ovation.” His commanding presence makes him one of the few able to hold entire tracks down on his own, which is a happy portent for his eventual breakthrough.

Others don’t quite capitalize. SNUPE BANDZ is everywhere and nowhere on this project, contributing faceless verses to nine of the 23 songs, the epitome of playing 28 minutes without a stat line like Tony Snell. Big Unccc has two placements, “Back to Back” and “Beat It,” — the latter which finds him claiming he uses neither pen nor pad when writing his raps. One listen, and it’s easy to believe him, especially when he spits lazy lyrics such as, “Ice on my neck and wrist, look like a Christmas tree, a Christmas tree, a Christmas tree.”

No one on the project quite reaches the magnetism of peak Young Dolph, with even Key Glock lagging a bit behind the standard. Songs such as “Bandaid,” “Big Ol Racks” and “South Memphis Rugrats – Remix” are some of the best examples of the infectious energy that courses through many of the tracks. Bandplay, the serially undervalued producer behind much of the Empire’s success, continues to be the Ark upon which Dolph’s progeny floats. Without his signature style of high-velocity, easy access trap beats, this album would be much worse.

Given Dolph’s shit-talking extravagance, it’s no surprise his signees take after him in their boundless confidence. The spectacle is something to marvel at but does get tedious after a while. After a thunderous solo opener (“Talking To My Scale”) and a star spot on “Blu Boyz,” Dolph goes uncharacteristically numb, delivering several forgettable verses (“Dance,” “Trust Nobody,” “Here We Go”). Key Glock occasionally shines, especially when paired with ghastly beats (“Broccoli & Cheese,” “Freeze Tag”), but he never sounds entirely present or like the ominous presence he exhibits on his solo material.

Paper Route Illuminati exposes the dangers of the label album model. Spare for a few moments, the verses on the album are surface level and even boring. Purposefully light on features (except for a short, George Floyd remembering spot from Gucci Mane), the album feels a little homogenous. Bandplay’s beats, albeit catchy, don’t provide solid ground to warrant multiple listens.

What’s billed as a star team’s exhibition match ends up feeling like an intoxicated pickup game.

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