By Adrian Sainz
MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) — A man accused of masterminding the murder of Young Dolph pleaded not guilty on Thursday — a year after the rapper and record label owner was ambushed and shot while shopping cookies at a bakery in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.
Hernandez Govan, 43, made a brief appearance in Shelby County Criminal Court in Memphis. He was arrested last week after being charged with first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder in the murder of the rapper, who was 36 when he died. The judge scheduled Govan’s next hearing for December 16.
Govan is the third man charged with the November 17, 2021 murder of Young Dolph, real name Adolph Thornton Jr. The broad daylight killing stunned Memphis and shocked the entertainment world. Police say two men got out of a white Mercedes-Benz and fired shots at Makeda’s Homemade Cookies, which is near the rapper’s childhood home in the Castalia neighborhood. Police released photos taken from surveillance video that captured the shooting, and authorities later found the abandoned car.
Justin Johnson and Cornelius Smith Jr., pleaded not guilty to first degree murder and other charges in the shooting and are being held in jail without bond. They are due in court on January 20.
In a weekly bulletin, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Govan “solicited and instigated the murder.” But no evidence has been made public to support this claim, and no alleged motive has been disclosed. The investigation is ongoing.
“I know you all want details, facts, answers to some of these mysteries and things like that,” prosecutor Paul Hagerman told reporters after Thursday’s hearing. “Even if we knew them, we couldn’t tell you. For reasons of ethics and legal requirements, we must limit ourselves to what is made public.
Govan’s attorney, Bill Massey, said he was seeking prosecution evidence in the case, which Massey said may not go to trial until next year due to the amount of evidence and the number of accused.
Known for his portrayals of tough street life and his independent approach to the music industry, Young Dolph was admired for his charitable work in Memphis. He organized turkey gifts for Thanksgiving, donated thousands of dollars to high schools, paid rent and covered funeral expenses for residents of the Castalia Heights neighborhood where he grew up.
His work as a rapper, producer and owner of the indie label ‘Paper Route Empire’ took him away from Memphis, but the father-of-two had returned to town days before his murder to visit an ailing relative and host a turkey gift that took place without him.
After Young Dolph’s death, a section of a street near his childhood home was renamed for him. A private funeral was held and he was honored in a public celebration at FedExForum, home of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzles and the University of Memphis men’s basketball team.
City officials and community activists have also pointed to the killing as a symbol of the scourge of gun violence in Memphis. Since the rapper’s death, Memphis has seen several other high-profile murders this year, including the murder of a United Methodist Church pastor during a carjacking in his driveway; the abduction and murder of a primary school teacher who police say was abducted during a morning run; and the one-man shooting rampage that was partially broadcast live and resulted in the deaths of three people.
Young Dolph is one of many prominent hip-hop artists to have been killed off in recent years. His independent approach to the music industry has drawn comparisons to Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was fatally shot in 2019. Other rappers who have lost their lives to gun violence since 2018 include XXXTentacion, Pop Smoke, and most recently Takeoff, who was killed off. outside a bowling alley after a party in Houston on November 1.
In an article in The Atlantic on Tuesday, rappers Too Short and E-40 called on the hip-hop community to find ways to come together and support each other amid the spate of shooting deaths in the industry.
Young Dolph was born in Chicago and moved to Memphis with his parents when he was 2 years old. He has released many mixtapes, starting with “Paper Route Campaign” in 2008 and several studio albums, including his debut album “King of Memphis” in 2016. He has also collaborated on other mixtapes and albums with other rappers Key Glock, Megan Thee Stallion, TI, Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz and more.
He had three albums reaching the top 10 on the Billboard 200, with 2020’s “Rich Slave” peaking at No. 4.
Makeda’s, the bakery where he was shot, was boarded up and closed before it reopened in September.