It was the early ’90s. 1993 to be exact. Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was top of the charts. “Whoomp There It Is” by Tag Team was rocking clubs. “That’s The Way Love Goes” by Janet Jackson was the swoon fest of probably the decade. And this was all according to Billboard‘s top charts. Meanwhile, BET crowned Lords of the Underground, a hip-hop trio from Newark, New Jersey, as the best rap group for hits from their album released March 6 of that same year, Here Come the Lords.
Twenty-four years later, group member Dupre “Doitall” Kelly has traveled the world, achieved fame, and is now bringing his talent back to his hometown. He is running for another title — an at-large council seat in Newark. If elected next year, he will be the first platinum-selling hip-hop artist to be elected to public office in a major U.S. city.
Newark is no stranger to being led by men within the arts community, as poet Ras Baraka, son of the late Amiri Baraka, serves as mayor. Kelly is a native of Newark’s West Ward, where he attended public school and honed his craft as a rapper. He attended Shaw University, a historically black university in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he became a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. With his group he earned platinum and gold success, and as an actor he appeared in hit shows such as The Sopranos, Oz and Law & Order.
He currently serves as co-founder and executive director of 211 Community Impact, a nonprofit that promotes literacy, good health and giving. Alongside a host of other organizations in early 2017, Kelly helped raise funds to purchase a lift bus for children at John F. Kennedy School in Newark.
After a meeting with his campaign staff, Kelly spoke with The Undefeated about his run for City Council.
How did you decide to engage in politics?
My decision was made because of my journey through living the hip-hop culture and seeing how it has grown into a culture that influences and inspires the world. I decided, why not use it to help my community on an elected-official level?
Why is it important for hip-hop to have representation in government?
It is super important to have someone at the table of politics that understands and speaks the language of the community. For the last 20 years, hip-hop culture has been the most popular on this planet and is indeed a movement by definition. Hip, meaning in the now, and hop being a form of movement. If looked at that way, you can see that hip-hop is the now movement.
How do you feel about Jay-Z’s latest album?
I feel like it’s part of the evolution of hip-hop. The points and subjects Jay chose to address with a feel of honesty were topics that a 25-year-old Jay-Z would have never talked about. The experiences that he has encountered on his journey, using hip-hop as the vehicle allowed him to articulate to the rest of the hip-hop community and beyond in such a way that in my mind displayed his genius.
Do you hope more people within the hip-hop culture engage in local government?
Yes, I pray so. I hope to be the spark that ignites the flame of any and everyone who has a platform that can galvanize citizens in every city. If that happens, we can really effectively make changes in our communities.
What plans do you have for the city of Newark?
I plan on making a greater investment into our youth by bringing new innovative ideas that will generate revenue through arts and culture that can be used to spur job creation. Keep our young people engaged and residents invested into making the quality of life better for everyone in every ward of the great city of Newark, New Jersey.
What did people say when you decided to run?
It depends on which person you or I ask. When asking seasoned political figures, they would say, ‘Maybe you should wait until the next election to be ready.’ If you asked a person from 35 to 55 years old, they would say, ‘You have my vote and I’m with you.’ If you asked a 25- to 34-year-old, they would say, ‘You are going to win this by a landslide,’ but clearly don’t know what it takes to enter into a political race, let alone win one. If you ask an 18- to 24-year-old, they want to know more about me and once they find out, by searching the internet and doing their research of what I have done in the community, they also say that they are with me. The 60-year-olds-and-over residents want to know who I am, but more importantly where I stand on certain issues and policies.
Interesting theory based upon age ranges. How old are you?
Well, if you have heard the classic Lords of the Underground single ‘Funky Child,’ the intro begins with ‘The year is 1971.’ … I will let you math experts figure out what age that makes me. [Laughs.]
Who are you mirroring this campaign off?
I am mirroring chess players like grandmaster and Hall of Famer Maurice Ashley and Garry Kasparov.
What is your mission statement for your campaign?
My mission is [to] add on to the great things that are happening in the city of Newark, New Jersey, and help create bigger and better opportunities for the residents, entrepreneurs and local businesses. I also will talk to the people of the community in every ward to work on a solution to get residents to come from out of their individual silos, making every neighborhood in the entire city inclusive. When people love their city, they can change it.
As someone passionate about our home teams, will the New Jersey Devils win the Stanley Cup this year?