Before he went off to college in North Carolina to co-found hip hop's Lords of the Underground as DoItAll Dupre, he was Dupre Kelly, a kid growing up and going to school in Newark's Central Ward.
And Kelly has remained a Newarker, evan as the Lords' single, 'Chief Rocka' reached No. 1 on the rap charts in 1992, and Du, as he is also known, branched out into acting in films, on television and off Broadway.
So Kelly was eager to take part in an event in Newark this Saturday addressing a problem effecting both his home city and Flint, Mich., wherelead in the water of two cities inhabited largely by people of color and lower incomes has been blamed on state, rather than local, officials.
Saturday's event in Newark, called Hip Hop for Flint, will be at the Robert Treat Hotel, from 2-6 p.m. With a suggested donation of $10 a person, the concert by Kelly and a live band â fellow Lords Mr. Funke and Lord Jazz can't make it â plus fellow hip hop artists Artifacts and Rahzel the Beatboxer, is a fundraiser for the purchase of 250 fixed and portable water filtration systems for the most at-risk families in Flint, including single mothers and undocumented immigrants.
'Hip hop has always been the voice of the unheard,' said Kelly, who spoke during a press conference at Newark City Hall on Wednesday announcing the Saturday afternoon show, which follows similar Hip Hop for Flint fundraisers around the country on March 19 and 22. 'It doesn't just have to be Flint. It could be Newark, N.J., tomorrow.'
Earlier this month, months after Flint first attracted nationwide attention for having lead in its state-contracted water supply,Â elevated levels of lead were found in the water in Newark schools, a problem the administration of Mayor Ras Baraka has attributed to the neglect of aging pipes while the under-performing district has been under the control of the state Department of Education.
While some have called for widespread testing of all of Newark's water system, officials have insistedÂ the problem is confined to pipes in 30 of the district's 65 schools, and that the problem does not effect the reservoirs that make up the city's water supply, or the main lines that transport it.
In conjunction with the state, the city has been providing voluntary blood tests for school children in various locations around the city. More than 260 children had been tested as of Wednesday, though samples are being forward to the state and results have not been released, said the mayor's press secretary, Marjorie Fields Harris.
Baraka said Monday that it could cost 'billions' to fix the schools' aging infrastructure, a cost he said his city cannot bear on its own. The assertion was supported by the non-profit Education Law Center, which stated in a letter to state officials that New Jersey must foot the bill.Â Gov. Chris Christie has indicated that the state should help pay for an overhaul.
Marcy DePina, a national organizer with Hip Hop for Flint, said the Newark fundraiser had actually been scheduled before word of the city's own lead problem surfaced the second week of March.
During the press conference, Kelly made a point of defending hip hop as a vehicle for social change and civic activism, despite wariness of the music among older people who continue to view it as violent or misogynistic.
'One thing that I love about it, that I want to say to say to some of the elders, this is hip hop,' said Kelly, 45, dressed in a jacket and tie, gesturing around the room to other hip hoppers involved in the fundraiser. 'Hip hop sells advertising, everything from chicken to dish washing detergent. So why can't we be making a change?'