By Joe Severino, for RealWV
Hundreds of community members packed North Charleston Community Center on Saturday to celebrate 50 years of Hip Hop music, with local advocates using the event to also raise awareness for social and political issues.
City Councilman Dupré Kelly, from the West Ward of Newark, New Jersey, was the celebration’s featured guest. First widely recognized from his rap career, Dupré “DoItAll” Kelly, of Lords of the Underground, is now the first platinum selling Hip Hop artist in the country’s history to hold political office. Newark voters elected Kelly to office last year, bringing with him his long history of community activism.
Charleston City Councilman Larry Moore, likewise representing his city’s West Side, hosted Kelly and helped bring folks out to the event. The event included live performances, Double Dutch and dancing, as well as information tables from more than a dozen local and state advocacy and community organizations.
The event also tied in urban agriculture, highlighting food insecurity in urban areas. Similar to Charleston, Newark is one of the largest food deserts in the state . Event organizer Leeshia Lee said rappers throughout Hip Hop’s history have told many stories about overcoming hunger, and their lack of access to health and nutrition growing up.
Lee said she was ecstatic to see more than 200 people turn out for the event, especially since it was scheduled to be a block party on 2nd Avenue. Pouring rain Saturday afternoon sent the party inside, but it did not reduce turnout.
Lee said she wanted a celebration resembling block parties of her childhood. She grew up in Orchard Manor in Charleston’s West Side. Hip Hop and the culture that grew from music and dance heavily influenced Lee’s life, she said. This event would serve as a trip back for many longtime neighborhood residents.
But the event, much like the roots of Hip Hop, keenly focused on the social issues affecting the community. Lee is a former radio host and author of the book “Based on a Woo Story,” which details Lee’s life growing up in Orchard Manor, nicknamed “The Woo,” and the real-life struggles she witnessed growing up in her neighborhood.
Bringing Kelly down to West Virginia from Newark to hammer home the idea that music, culture, politics and community are all intimately related really showed the strength and belief of the West Side, Lee said in a Zoom event with Black By God: The West Virginian, early last week. She praised Kelly and Moore for achieving out of urban upbringings, representing the places they grew up and not shying away from Hip Hop’s international influence.
“The original message of Hip Hop was the urban issues, the issues of the streets – it was just done over a beat,” Lee said. “To get involved in the policies of change and the dynamics of their neighborhood, I think that is just so dope, and I think that is the original message of Hip Hop.”
Kelly traces his activist roots to what he saw growing up in Newark, but the beginnings of his political career to a motel room in Orlando, Florida, where he talked politics with Tupac Shakur. This was 1992, he said, and both young rappers were about 21 years old at the time.
“[Tupac] suggested that any popular artists in Hip Hop need to run to become legislators,” Kelly said. Initially questioning his reasoning, Shakur told Kelly to imagine these millions of rap fans turning into voters. Real change happens through policy, Shakur told him.
In an interview after the event, Kelly said he had a great time during his visit to the Mountain State. He also sent good word back home about West Virginia. Lords of the Underground’s DJ Lord Jazz has family from the Beckley area, Kelly said, and recently talked with Jazz about coming down to celebrate Hip Hop. Jazz was skeptical, recalling childhood visits to the state, and not remembering rap music being prevalent.
“I called Jazz [on Saturday], and I said “Man, Hip Hop is alive and well out here,” Kelly said. “[Jazz] said, “Man, that’s good to hear.”
Hip Hop’s 50th anniversary is being celebrated this year, with its origins going back to 1973 in Bronx, New York, where a crew of young artists are widely credited with inventing the genre. Kelly, who has navigated the streets, and is now finding his way through politics, said he encourages young people to get involved in fixing the root issues causing problems in their communities.
“If you want a difference in your life, you have to do different things,” Kelly said. “You can no longer be scared of politics. If you want to create change, you have to be involved in creating the laws and legislation to help you reach and obtain those goals.”
The smiling faces of young children, adults and older folks was the best part of Moore’s day, he said. While there are always issues to work toward, Moore said he was encouraged after Saturday’s event about the progress being made on the West Side.