Dupré “DoItAll” Kelly is living by his rap name and still doing it all.
The community activist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and one-third of the ‘90s hip-hop group Lords of the Underground, hopes to add one more title to his name: City Councilman.
Kelly is running for the Newark West Ward councilman seat. If elected on May 10, he will become the first platinum-selling hip-hop artist to hold a public office in a major U.S. city.
Kelly says he’s excited that his connection to hip-hop has brought people into politics who weren’t previously interested. Newark is among the New Jersey towns with the lowest median income. In the 2021 general election, Newark had the highest number of registered voters in Essex County, yet the lowest percentage of ballots cast. Still, elections have shown that there’s power in the hip-hop vote.
“In politics, you’re fighting for the people,” he says. “You’re fighting for the voiceless, you’re fighting for the unheard. Hip-hop has always been that way.”
In 1993, Lords of the Underground exploded onto the scene with their debut album “Here Come the Lords.” The trio rose to fame with hits like “Chief Rocka” and “Funky Child,” matching funky beats with socially conscious raps. But activism was nothing new for Kelly. Since he was a teenager, Kelly says he has been dedicated to giving back to his community.
Kelly’s non-profit organization 211 Community Impact (211ci) offers literacy and educational programs to the local community. Born out of the 211ci was the 211 Women’s Impact Network, which provides women with resources to help them become successful entrepreneurs.
“After understanding that Newark’s total female population is 51.9% and females between the ages of 25-34 are the largest demographic in poverty, I felt it was necessary to ask questions to women in the community to figure out what they thought was needed to help them get to a thriving position in life and not merely surviving or holding on,” he says.
Kelly says running for office in his hometown gives him a unique perspective as a candidate.
“We have somebody at the table who knows our situation, who knows and understands the situations that we’re going through,” he says. “I believe that we have an opportunity to make that happen in our city.”
This isn’t Kelly’s first time running for public office. In 2018, he ran for councilman at large in Newark but lost the election. Kelly says the defeat taught him an important lesson.
“There’s a difference between an advocate and being in the community as an activist and being in the community with political power,” he says. “I wanted to be a part of sustainable change in our community in our city.”
Kelly has the support of Mayor Ras Baraka and Sen. Ron Rice (D-Newark), one of Newark’s longest-serving politicians. If elected, Kelly says his main goal will be to revitalize the West Ward. His plan focuses on increasing economic opportunities for residents, improving the extremes in wealth and poverty and making the West Ward safer.
“Brick and mortar development is important, but it’s not just about brick and mortar,” he says. “It’s about revitalizing the mindset of the people and restoring trust in the system that they believe was against them.”
When asked about the significance of his candidacy, Kelly says he’s fully aware of the importance not only for hip-hop but also politics. Kelly reflects on a discussion he had with the late rapper Tupac Shakur when they were in their 20s.
“What he said is we have to sell millions of records so we can turn those millions of record buyers into voters. And once they’ve turned into voters, we can’t move from where we’re from. We then have to become elected officials. If we don’t create the laws, then they’re going to always be made against us and not for us.”
At the time, Kelly says he shrugged off Shakur’s words, but now understands and accepts the gravity of Shakur’s message.
“I don’t have to do this, I HAVE to do this,” Kelly says emphatically.