Build and Destroy with "Doitall" Dupré Kelly
I've been WAITING to make this one available. In February, unknowingly on the cusp of a pandemic, I had the chance to sit down with a hip-hop deity: Lord of the underground and keeper of the funk, "Doitall" Dupré Kelly.
Doitall is likely your favorite emcee's favorite emcee from a group you may have never heard of. DoItAll teamed up with Mr. Funke and DJ Lord Jazz to form the group Lords of the Underground. The three met as undergraduates as Shaw University in Raleigh, NC. After they linked up with superproducer Marley Marl, they not only became staples of the Newark scene that included figures like Queen Latifah and Redman, but they also gained national attention and in 1993 were named BET's best rap group of the year. Now DoItAll is mentoring younger artists and serving his community with the non-profit 211 Community Impact, which promotes literacy, good health, and giving.
Some of my favorite moments of our conversation included:
LOTUG's funk aesthetic [0m]
how poets, rappers, and emcees are branches of the same tree [5m-10m]
how "build and destroy" is a useful paradigm for understanding hip-hop's shifting soundscape [15m]
LOTUG's development of stage presence [20m]
a fresh perspective on authenticity and hip-hop's content[25m]
The meaning and significance on the underground [30m]
How dancing enhanced his emcee practice [40m]
The changing same of his changing name [45m]
His approach to emcee pedagogy [50m]
Note: All artist interviews are posted with explicit consent of the artist. None of this transcript has been edited for time and minimally for sensitive content, and I have added annotations when necessary to elaborate on the conversation. Edits, additions, or changes will always be made with the artist's request.
Interview with Dupré "Doitall" Kelly
Tyler: All right, so we’re recording. Are you okay with me recording?
Tyler: Great. I wanted to ask you first, in terms of your career, funk is always very explicitly kind of popping up in all your music, right? Like in the… I mean, genre-ically it’s really funky, but also it’s in all the titles and all of your lyrics, all that kind of thing. And you even got, in the early ’90s, to have a group on the East Coast that’s so focused on funk, so much that you got George Clinton on a record, right? Only, like, Snoop and Ice Cube kind of had those types of features, and it didn’t seem to be as much of an East Coast thing. So, what does funk mean to you as an East Coast artist, and what does it inform in terms of the way that you make your music?
While I was mistaken that Snoop has a track with George Clinton explicitly featured, his "Who Am I? (What's My Name)" (1993) heavily features Clinton's "Atomic Dog" (1982), just one example of Clinton's massive hip-hop legacy.
Ice Cube, however, did indeed feature George Clinton in the video for "Bop Gun (One Nation)" (1993), which heavily samples Funkadelic's "One Nation Under a Groove" (1978).
DoItAll: Well, funk started on the East Coast. George Clinton is from Newark, New Jersey. So, we’re from Newark, New Jersey—well, with the exception of DJ Lord Jazz. So, funk is just the energy that they were using to make their music, and they called it the vibe that they had. You know, the energy is just the vibration of how you create. So, the funk was that for them, and that energy was so popular that we wanted to sample that music. And the West Coast just started to really utilize the funk more than the East Coast, but the East Coast is where it started. George Clinton used to get his hair cut right downstairs from us, right here.
It blew my mind that Clinton got his haircut just downstairs. For an example of how Lords of the Underground foregrounded the funk aesthetic, check out "Chief Rocka" (1993) and "Keepers of the Funk" (1994).
Tyler: Oh, really?
DoItAll: Yeah, at the barbershop. He probably stopped, probably in the last three to four years because the barbershop closed.
Tyler: Oh, wow.
DoItAll: But people wouldn’t even know that this was George Clinton, because he didn’t have all the crazy colors in his hair and everything at the time. Yeah, so the funk is created by somebody that’s from our city, from the same city that we’re from, so we wanted to expand on that vibe, on that energy, and take it to the next level and show them what it sound like twenty years later after they created it.
Tyler: Yeah, absolutely. So, in terms of… You talk about in “What Is an MC,” the elements of MCing, and there’s, like, that the crowd is jumping and hollering, that there’s a certain kind of swagger that comes with it, funk is part of it. And “it’s more than just a rapper,” I think is another line in that. And so, with that, to you, what defines… Versus, I would say, a poet, a rapper, and an MC, are there differences between the three of those? Are they all branches from the same tree? How does their art look different?
DoItAll: An MC, a poet, and a rapper are all one and the same.
DoItAll: But they’re all different as well.
DoItAll: You know, if that makes any sense, meaning that they come from the same element, but an MC is one part of performing, of being that hip-hop person. So, an MC is… They’re all hip-hop, all right? An MC is a person who can actually perform and control the crowd. Now, a poet can do the same thing, and a rapper can do the same thing, but a rapper is generally somebody who is made up to be this artist and be someone who delivers the message of hip-hop. So the message of hip-hop is delivered through rap music, so that will be a rapper. A rapper might not necessarily be a great MC. He might not necessarily even be a writer. But he can be a person who can play the role of this artist. He or she can have the look, they might have a certain swag, but they might not be a great performer. Maybe they don’t like to jump and run around on stage and have that energy to do that. And they might not have necessarily written the rhymes, but they can deliver them.
Tyler: So it’s like performance is what kind of marks a rapper as a rapper, that they’re very good at engaging a crowd in that way?
DoItAll: No, no, not performance.
DoItAll: Performance doesn’t… Not necessarily with a rapper. A rapper is just someone who delivers the raps.
DoItAll: And he or she is dressed up in the outfits, and the… You know, it’s almost, it can be gimmicky, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. So, that’s somebody who probably necessarily didn’t really live the culture, but they got invited into the culture somehow and became this rapper, or they fell in love later in life with it and became this rapper, but they didn’t really grow up possibly even living the things that they saying, because they were written by somebody else.
Tyler: Right, okay.
DoItAll: You know? Now, an MC is a person who probably most likely writes his rhymes, but doesn’t… not necessarily. But he or she controls the crowd.
Tyler: Got it.
DoItAll: You know, Biz Markie is not the best lyricist. But you put him on stage in certain venues, and he’s going to control the crowd.
Biz Markie is perhaps most famous in mainstream American culture for his 1989 single, "Just a Friend."
Tyler: True, yeah.
DoItAll: Doug E. Fresh is not known for being a lyricist. He doesn’t even have a whole bunch of records. But he’s considered the world’s greatest entertainer in hip-hop.
While Doug E. Fresh is not known for being a lyricist, he is known for being Slick Rick's DJ and producer as well as a world renowned beat boxer.
Tyler: Okay, yeah, that makes sense.
DoItAll: You know what I mean?
Tyler: Yeah, I’m tracking with you.
DoItAll: So, those are MCs, the people… You know, usually when you write, you’re more emotionally connected, so you’re more emotionally connected, you get into a zone differently. You get into the funk differently, you get into the vibe differently, because you have an emotional connection. So, those people are usually great MCs, but you don’t necessarily have to be a writer to be an MC. And the writers… What was it, the writers…
Tyler: The third was a poet.
DoItAll: Oh, poet.
DoItAll: So, poet is all of that too.
DoItAll: It’s just, what do you call… I think they’re one and the same, but you call them different things on different platforms.
Tyler: Got it, okay, that makes a lot of sense.
DoItAll: You know what I mean? So, a poet, he or she is… they’re rapping their… the rappers are doing poetry, you know, poetry and rhythm. Sometime a poet doesn’t necessarily have music behind them, so now that just, depending on what platform they’re on and their technique of delivery, now it’s considered just poetry, because it doesn’t have all the other elements that make it hip-hop. It doesn’t have the beats behind it and things of that nature, so it just… When you break it down and just use the basis of the lyrics, now it’s just poetry.
Tyler: So, with that, because you might consider someone like… A lot of people point to the Last Poets as the pre–hip-hop, like it’s right on the verge of coming into hip-hop, right? But still, we call them poets, and that they’re not necessarily hip-hop. But they had backing music, right? I don’t know if you’d call it beats, but they had some sort of—
DoItAll: They had percussion.
The Last Poets were a group of New York spoken word poets who put out poetry records with their words being performed over percussive backing tracks. Perhaps the most famous record to come from the poets actually didn't emerge from the original group. Gil Scott Heron, part of the group's second iteration, has the group's most famous record, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" (1970).
Tyler: Yeah, a rhythmic kind of thing going on behind them, with written words that are kind of being spoken or sung-spoken over the top. So, what differentiates that flip or that switch or that transition from what the Last Poets were doing and what rappers do?
DoItAll: That’s a good question. What differentiates them is the culture.
DoItAll: The culture of hip-hop. In the ’70s… If they were coming out in the ’90s, they would be rap artists. Last Poets would be a hip-hop group.
Tyler: Yeah, that makes sense.
DoItAll: But because they came out in the ’70s, it wasn’t a culture of hip-hop as we know it today, you know? It was fairly new, and so underground, and nobody really know about it. Like Last Poets, it probably was on their radar, but it wasn’t like it was something that “we’re going to do hip-hop.” You know? It was “we’re going to do our poetry to music, to percussion music, and we’re going to talk our shit.” You know? And that’s what they did. But I think just, if it was a different duration of time, if it was a different time period, they would be considered hip-hop.
Tyler: Yeah. That makes sense, because culturally, they’re coming out of the Black Arts Movement, right?
DoItAll: That’s right.
Tyler: Versus hip-hop, I guess… Yeah, because a lot of people break those up historically as well, that Black Arts ended towards when the Last Poets were performing, and then it transitions.
DoItAll: That’s all it is, it’s just culture.
Tyler: So, for you as a writer, do you still write pen and paper, or do you write digitally at all? Like, when you’re trying to compose rhymes, do you have a preferred mode of how to do it?
DoItAll: My mode is… I mean, you can’t beat pen and paper, but, you know…
Tyler: Okay. Why is that?
DoItAll: It’s just something about having something tangible in your hand and writing your thoughts, seeing them come to life. When you think of something, it’s just that, it’s just a thought. But when you actually put it down on paper, now you have created something, you have made it tangible, you have made it real. You can at least see it, you know? And now it’s another process after that. So, I think that’s just one of the process of making it tangible, making it, being able to touch it and feel it, because if you ain’t feel it, you ain’t touch it, right?
Tyler: Right. So, putting it down, pen and paper, for you changes the way, the quality of the way you interact with it? Is that kind of…
DoItAll: I think it does, however you do it. If you don’t write at all, it changes the way that you interact.
Tyler: Right, yeah.
DoItAll: I preferably now do it on my iPhone, because it’s just faster for me. I don’t have to look for a pen and pad, you know, save forever, spellcheck. [0:10:00] No, just being silly, but it’s a bunch of different things, you know? For me, I think I write faster on the phone, because you get your thoughts off quicker. Creativity, there’s no wrong way to do it. It’s explorative, you can explore, and it’s play time, you know what I mean? You can play with it, and if it doesn’t come out how you wanted at the end, then you can toss it, or you can come back to it later. So, I think that the quicker I can get out my thoughts, even if I just go into the booth and just turn the mic on, and then write that way, that’s a quick way too.
Tyler: So, for you, when you are… it’s just like oral… Like, you’re freestyling in the booth to try to come up with a verse or something, and it inspires you in a different way. You consider that as much writing as taking a pen to paper.
DoItAll: Oh, most definitely. Yeah, I mean—
Tyler: Okay. Because that’s where some academics really start to get caught up, is there’s this, “Well, how could that be writing if there’s no pen to paper?” Because a lot of people would say you get a different product out of it when you’re writing something down, versus when you are verbally going off the top. So, for you, do you feel like it actually provides different kinds of artistic products, or is it just whatever you feel in the moment?
DoItAll: I think that it’s just a different way. It’s a different way to get the same result that you’re trying to get, you know? If you just go into the booth, and you just freestyle, you still are putting your thoughts onto something; it’s just digital now. I think it’s just a new way of… It’s just an adaption to how everything is now. Everything is the cloud, everything is streaming. There’s no record anymore. When you physically have a record, there’s no… I mean, the songs are… You’re paying a service for something that’s invisible, when you used to go to the store and pay for something that was physically tangible. You know what I mean? You can get a CD, you can get a cassette, you can get some vinyl. You can’t… I mean, there’s places you could still do that, but when you pay for these services nowadays, you just have a stream. You press a button and you hear it. So it’s nothing there anymore, and I think that coincides with how people are writing too. If you asked Lil Wayne to show you his rap notebook, he doesn’t have one.
DoItAll: You know? And now, what happens is, it records the art differently. For me, it shortstops the artist.
Tyler: Okay, what do you mean by that?
DoItAll: Because if Lil Wayne had all of his actual rhymes written down in his signature on that day, it just adds value to it. So now, I mean, he’s rich as I -don’t-know-what now, but just look at all of the millions he could be catching up on if he was to sell his rhyme books from 400 [sic] Degreez or whatever the album was. You see what I’m saying? [500 degreez]
Tyler: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DoItAll: What if he had a notebook of those rhymes that he’d written for that project at that particular time? It adds value to it, you know? So now, he doesn’t have that, so he doesn’t have that option. I mean, yeah, he can go back and write it now, but it’s not the same.
Tyler: Right, obviously, yeah.
DoItAll: You know what I mean? You can have somebody type it, and it’s not the same. So now you lost out on a moment. You lost out on etching something down and creating a piece. You know, creativity happens in moments. It has a time limit to it.
Tyler: Interesting. So for you, it’s almost like a snapshot, too, like writing kind of captures how you were thinking in that moment—
DoItAll: Most definitely.
Tyler: … so that even if you’re doing other things with it, you can always return and kind of revisit parts of that moment through the record or whatever?
DoItAll: Definitely. You definitely store your moments.
DoItAll: And it happens in different ways; people have different processes. Some people take longer to store their moments, because just their technique is a little different. Some people just want to do it right then when they have it; some people want to take it home. Some people need certain things to make them get into the moment. So, everybody’s creative process is different.
Tyler: Right. Do you think… Because you were gesturing towards that this is the way that people are writing now, is essentially through recording of voice instead of taking pen to paper. But that also, a lot of, at least, old heads in the community, right, really dislike popular rap right now. Right? But, I mean, I think there’s an argument to be made that all old heads have always disliked popular rap at every period, right?=
Old hip-hop heads have routinely dismissed younger generations. So much so that Uproxx claims that it is related to scientific evidence of older people's musical tastes coalescing as they age and Rap Genius made a video about it.
DoItAll: Every period.
Tyler: But is there… Do you see a declining quality in rap? Is there a declining quality in popular rap, and then also, is that due to the way that people are not really paying as much attention to the writing process?
DoItAll: I think there’s a give and take, right? As time goes on, you gain some things and you lose some things; it’s called building and destroying. So when you build, something has to be destroyed, right? And now that we’ve built all of these entrance pathways to become an artist, those entrances have become so wide that they crush some of the techniques and the gatekeepers, or the gates that kind of force people to have a certain training to get to a certain level, they crush those. While expanding the culture, while expanding the music, it crushed some of the little techniques that made it special.
Tyler: Yeah, that makes sense.
DoItAll: And that’s the problem. But like I say, in order to build, you must destroy, so we can always have… It can always be an argument there. When you destroy something that people were clinging on to, they have the argument of, “This is not right.” When it builds something that was never there and creates a new thing, they say, “We’ve never had this. You’ve never done it and took it to this level.” So it creates an argument there. We’re human beings, so there’s going to always be a yin and yang.
Tyler: Right, yeah, makes sense. I kind of want to dig in a little bit to your artistic process, if that’s all right, just trying to think through… When you want to write, do you tend to… And, I mean, it’s not necessarily an either/or, but do beats come first for you? Like, do you listen to a beat CD or a beat pack and then start to think, “Oh, that reminds me of this mood, and I want to write a song through it,” or do you kind of write first and then try to match production to the writing? What’s your process in terms of creating an overall track?
DoItAll: I have no one specific process. Early in the days, we didn’t have beats; we had no producers to go to.
DoItAll: But we had these words in our head, and we would use the last ten seconds or the last little seconds, thirty seconds of a record that went off, and we would tape it, and we would loop it back and forth so we could have a beat to rap to.
Tyler: Like a punch tape kind of thing?
A "punch tape" or "pause tape" refers to the DIY production process of taking a tape deck and repeatedly recording and pausing small snippets of a tape to build a sonic collage. Early hip-hop producers and emcees without access to the then-new (and thus expensive) MPC samplers would often make early hip-hop compositions using this method. You can read more about the punch tape and listen to some famous beats that started off as punch tapes here.
DoItAll: Yeah, like a punch tape, put the little piece of tissue in the little hole. And we would utilize these techniques to have a beat to rhyme over, because we didn’t have… We couldn’t afford the machineries and the equipment. Hopefully you had a DJ that lived in your neighborhood or whatever; he was the closest thing from spinning it back. But usually, you would just catch the little part of a record, and you would loop it, and you would rhyme over that. So when you got your own beat, now you had to fix those rhymes into a new beat, and you had to match it, so it would give it this… It would actually teach you flow. It would teach you the cadence, because the cadence that you wrote it on to this beat, tempo-wise might go with this beat, but you have to just frame it a little differently, which would actually kind of be unique and dope in some instances. So, early on, for us, that would teach us, like, “Oh, okay, I can go like this on these type of beats, or I can do this.” That’s one technique, and then it’s just taking that similar technique and just writing, no beat, and then putting it to a beat. And then there’s other times, as you get… For me, like I said, it’s stages, so as I progressed in hip-hop, I would come to a studio, and then I would just put on the beats and I would vibe one on one, like battling with the beat and figuring out, what am I rapping to? Am I inspired by the bassline, am I inspired by the hi-hats, the drums? Is it the bassline? So the beat actually, when the producers start a beat, started really demonstrating their artistry, it makes you want to be better too. So, I think that is the thing that I like now. That’s my process now, is I listen to the beat and I just zone out, and just think, and then I’ll just start just playing around in my head, playing around in my head with flows, probably not even words. So it’s many different ways.
Tyler: I’ve heard a lot of people who will also kind of mumble over a track or something, like try to get that flow, and the flow comes first, and then you kind of… [0:20:00] I was actually talking to an artist earlier today who would tick out boxes that he wanted his flow to hit in these certain places, and then try to fit all of his syllables into those boxes, so it was all predetermined. Anyways, it’s just an interesting way to think about how to create something… You know, because hip-hop’s so multifaceted, so multimodal, there’s always so many things going on.
DoItAll: Yeah, there’s no particular one way. There’s no just one way; you can do it however, you know?
Tyler: With you, I think one thing about the Lords of the Underground records is there’s always so much energy, like every… And I think it’s like, to me, that is part of… It’s like listening to a Busta record, almost. You don’t even really need to know what’s going on, you’re just like, “I like that I’m a part of this, that something’s happening.” How, in the studio, which is kind of like, can be… I mean, you can get that energy in a crowd, right, because you’re feeding back and forth, and in a studio, you’re kind of cut off. So how can you get that energy in a booth? What does it feel like to try to bring that on a record?
Busta Rhymes is of course famous for bringing the noise on any record he jumps on. Juxtapose his energy with that of his other rap superstar compatriots on this "Flava in Ya Ear" remix in 1994.
Check out LOTUG's notable stage presence on "Tic Toc" or "Chief Rocka" (above).
DoItAll: Well, I mean, first of all, for us, we learned that from Marley Marl.
DoItAll: So we were just students of a teacher who knew what basslines and rhythms sound right, and he knew how to match those up with voices. So he would match, being that my voice and Mr. Funke voice were so distinctly different but unique at the same time, he would mix heavy basslines with uptempo beats with us, because on stage, when he’d see us perform, we’re animated, so he would match that up. We didn’t know what he was doing; we were just happy to be in a studio with Marley Marl.
Tyler: Right, yeah, of course.
DoItAll: But as we got older, we learned that that’s what we was doing, and the way we learned by was to not do that process. That’s how we learned.
DoItAll: Yeah, by doing it and not getting the same response from fans. So when you don’t get the same response, you say, “Well, what did we do different? Oh, wow, they’re used to us now being at those heavy basslines or energetic type of flows.” So we understood that that’s what our fans wanted. But it’s hard for an artist, when an artist is creative, it’s almost getting pigeonholed and locked into a certain way, because once you build a certain fanbase with that, they don’t want you to do anything else. And then when you do something else, it’s like, “Oh, this is corny, this is wack. I thought…” You know?
Tyler: Yeah, absolutely.
DoItAll: So you have to… I think the thing that helps artists today with battling against that is social media, being able to control the narrative of your story. So if I just come on and do videos and telling you this is what I’m going through, and then if I put a song out that matches that, you’ll be more receptive to it. You know what I’m saying? We couldn’t do that before; you had to wait three to four months just for a magazine to come out, and hopefully you in that magazine, you got in that magazine during the three-month breaks, or hopefully you are on some TV show or video show. So, it was few far and between before, and you would hope that your marketing and promotion part of your company was in on it, or you would miss the boat.
Tyler: Yeah, absolutely. So, social media… Because, you know, I think it’s just interesting the way that hip-hop is narrated in all these different way of, you know, there’s the golden age, and then… But people also point to different golden ages, and… I mean, I think there’s a lot of detraction that comes from today’s artists, like a lot of people are like, “Oh, hip-hop’s just kind of… It’s lost what it was.” Which I think in some instances could be the case, but… I think it’s interesting that you’re pointing to social media as a way that hip-hop artists—and all artists, really—can have more creative control over their work. Is that right?
DoItAll: Most definitely.
DoItAll: Most definitely. But it’s just that. See, people, they don’t… You know, they beg to be out of their nine-to-fives, right? They don’t want to go to their nine-to-fives. They want to be their own boss, they want to own their own things. But they don’t realize a nine-to-five is just that, it’s from nine to five, but your own business is 24 hours, 365 days. It’s a hundred percent of the problems, it’s a hundred percent of everything. It’s more work, right? So if it’s more work, then yes, social media, it levels the playing ground, but now you have to do all of the work. And then a lot of people, they’re not built to do all of the work, and some people can’t formulate a team, they don’t know how to put together a team. They don’t know what it takes just to get the packaging right, or just to get the marketing done or the promotion. So, you wished and hoped yourself out of one thing to get into your own thing, and didn’t realize that you’re not even equipped or ready to handle it. [0:25:00] So, that’s what the social media is. Everybody feel like, “Oh, I can drop a record tomorrow. I can put out a single tomorrow.” And then what?
Tyler: Right. And that also gets back to the gatekeeping thing that you were talking about too, right? Because record companies, for better or for worse, did act as gatekeepers, and self-publishing allows people… I mean, people feel anxiety over authenticity in hip-hop now, like if Post Malone can go out and start claiming hip-hop, what does that mean for hip-hop, you know? Because back in, I guess, the ’90s, especially in New York, hip-hop authenticity came from being from New York and participating in the scene. If people knew you, you were good, you were in; if people didn’t know you, it’s like, “Who are you?” Right? Which made something like “Rapper’s Delight” in ’79 not authentic, right, because it’s not coming from the community.
DoItAll: The thing that made… See, that’s the build and destroy thing that we was talking about earlier, when you talk about “Rapper’s Delight.” Forefathers of hip-hop hate “Rapper’s Delight.”
Forefathers hate "Rapper's Delight" likely because it is one of the most prodigious musical rip-offs in music industry history. Big Bank Hank stole much of his lyrical content from the battle-tested Grandmaster Caz, perhaps hip-hop's first great lyricist.
Tyler: Yeah. Right.
DoItAll: People who love hip-hop love “Rapper’s Delight.”
DoItAll: So that’s the build and destroy thing. Here, real, authentic hip-hoppers and MCs, they don’t respect “Rapper’s Delight” because they were thieves. They took from another artist who was underground, took his entire verse and put it out mainstream, and blew up. So now, you have them putting light on the culture, making the masses recognize this new art form, but the people who did it actually stole from the culture instead of using the authentic people who created it to do it. So, it’s the build and destroy. The culture built it up to the masses and made it recognizable to the world, but it crushed the guy who actually… whose, literally, words it was. You know what I mean?
Tyler: Yeah, absolutely.
DoItAll: So, it’s build and destroy.
Tyler: Do you think that now… What makes something authentically hip-hop now, where even space or, you know, coming from New York, coming from Atlanta or LA or Oakland or whatever, that that’s less important now because of SoundCloud and stuff like that? And I think place was a way that you could be authentic, like, “Oh, I’m from Oakland, this is how I represent that,” or “I’m from Seattle, this is how I represent that.” So, how do you measure or think about authenticity now, versus how it used to be, I guess?
DoItAll: Well, I think that it should be measured the same way.
DoItAll: If you’re authentic, you’re authentic. You’re authentic then, you’re authentic now. Should be, you know what I mean?
Tyler: So, what do you mean by authentic?
DoItAll: So, the way that I was taught to hip-hop was that you never lie when you spoke about your hip-hop. Don’t get me wrong, you can exaggerate, you can talk about things that your man on your right-hand side was living and eating, touching, tasting, or the person on your left-hand side, or the person in front of you, in back of you. You know, your circle. But don’t just lie. If you didn’t sell 400 pounds of cocaine, don’t rap about it. If you didn’t kill twenty dudes in the projects, don’t rap about it. And then, you know, we came from an era that, if we didn’t live it, we didn’t talk about it. That’s how I was taught to hip-hop. So now, what I’m saying is, if you’re authentic then, be authentic now. Talk about your experiences, talk about the people around you experiences, talk about current event experiences. But don’t lie. If you talk about your true realities, then it’s hip-hop. I don’t care if it’s new music with the mumble rap, if you talking about how… See, what a person can’t do is, they can tell you that, “I don’t really like that, I don’t really like the beat,” but they can’t tell you you not being truthful, you know what I’m saying?
Tyler: Yeah, absolutely.
DoItAll: Nobody can tell you that these are not your truths, so live your truths and be authentic. If hip-hop is built on authenticity, then be that.
Tyler: Interesting. No, it makes a lot of sense. And I think that authenticity’s wielded in ways… You know, like, “Oh, they’re not authentic, so we can push them out of the culture or disregard them, because they’re not…” And I think New York did that to the South a little bit at first, right?
New Yorkers were very skeptical of Southern hip-hop, especially the Atlanta scene, which they saw as simple at best and derivative at worst. This is a well-documented phenomenon especially in regard to OutKast's icy reception at the 1995 Source Awards, and it sure as hell isn't over today.
Tyler: Like, “We are authentic hip-hop, this is where it comes from. Who do you really think you are?” Right? And then the South kind of, in André’s words, right, had something to say about it, and did their thing.
DoItAll: Build and destroy.
Tyler: Right, exactly.
DoItAll: We pushed them away, and they said… I literally remember being at a show, because OutKast used to open up for us.
Tyler: Oh, really?
Tyler: Shit, yeah.
DoItAll: So, they used to call OutKast “the Down South Lords,” because they felt like they were the southern version of Lords of the Underground, with that energy and everything. [0:30:00] But what happened is, I remember being at a show, and Keith Murray was at the show, and somebody said something to Big Boi about, like, the South not really being it, and Big Boi didn’t like it. You know? He defended the South.
DoItAll: And, you know, just long story short, I feel like all of that, telling them that they were corny, telling them that they were wack, that they weren’t authentic, made them say, “Okay, we gonna show you how we live and how we do it.” Build and destroy. So they created it and didn’t cater to the older heads, and actually built a wall up that said, “Well, you do your hip-hop, and we gonna do our hip-hop.” And that hip-hop started to become successful, and with success a lot of times comes power. So now that they have the power, now they looking at the people who talk down about it like, “Ha.” You know? So you have to be careful what you push away, because if you don’t allow them to help you build it, they’ll be the ones that tear it down.
Tyler: Yeah. Yeah, makes sense. So, with this, with the repeated idea of the underground, and at one point, you also… I forget exactly which song it was, but you talked about… Let’s see. Yeah, I can’t remember, I don’t think I wrote down exactly what song it was, but it was like, the underground is not… It’s not just like a way of life, but it’s also a sound, like, “I sound underground, I walk underground, I look underground, and I talk underground. I am underground.” Right?
I got this mixed up, and the lyrics actually refer to sounding and walking with the funk in "Chief Rocka." The underground motif persists through their music, regardless.
Tyler: I guess, first of all, what did it mean when you were saying that? I think that was off the first album, so ’91, I think.
Tyler: So what did that mean in ’91, and how does the underground persist in hip-hop? Because I think hip-hop looks so different, you could argue that in ’91, independence from labels was part of being underground, right? But now, again, with the way that music is being distributed differently, you could argue that the movement away from labels means everything is underground. But I don’t think that that’s necessarily right, you know what I mean? So, how did it look then, and what’s different about that now?
DoItAll: Well, I mean, underground is a movement, it’s a vibe, it’s an energy. It’s that funk. You know, like that funk was that energy, underground is the energy. But when Lords of the Underground talk about the underground, we talk about roots of anything grow in the underground, right? So we talking about grabbing from the root of this energy, this core of hip-hop. We come from that, so we are underground. We’re the roots that grew up out of our city, that managed to make it out of the vices. If you look at the Lords of the Underground logo, it’s an arrow almost, with the pyramid head at the bottom of it, and project buildings on top of it. And we’re just saying, through this city, we got to go through the vices, all of the vices that we have to go through, ups and downs, just to get to our promised land, which is right, actually, in the core. You know, everybody’s wanting to go up, and it’s right there. Like, all of the nutrients are in the root, all of the… The vines and all of that type of stuff, it’s cool, but we want to get it right from the core, and that’s what we meant by “underground.”
Tyler: So it’s like turning in, instead of… I mean, to a degree, it’s instead of looking outward for validation, it’s turning inwards.
DoItAll: Look inward exactly. That’s exactly what we meant.
Tyler: That’s dope.
DoItAll: Being the lord of us. You know, when you look inward, that’s where inspiration lies, right? And even in that word, “inspiration,” is to inspire. It’s in spirit, you know what I mean? So, that’s what Lords of the Underground, if you was to translate what “Lords of Underground” meaning, it’s being in spirit with hip-hop.
Tyler: So it’s less of a, I mean, for lack of a better term, like a market thing. It’s less of like, “This is how I put out my music, I’m on Rawkus instead of Interscope,” or whatever. It’s more the philosophy behind your music. Is that right?
DoItAll: Right, yeah. That’s definitely with Lords of the Underground. But you might speak to some other artists who might have a different perception of what “underground” is. Some people might believe because I’m not on a mainstream label, I’m underground; because I put it out independently, I’m underground; because I have boom bap beats, I’m underground. No, but for me, it’s the inspiration of it, it’s being inspirited, in tune from the philosophical end, you know? That’s underground to me, because it’s the root of anything. [0:35:00] If you actually go back and get the nutrients from the root of anything, from the core of anything… I just saw a masterclass with Usher Raymond, and he was talking about the art of performing, being a performer, and he said that his favorites were Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, but he wouldn’t just study them, he would study the people that inspired them.
So that means it’s going back to the root. You see what I’m saying? It’s not… Don’t look at it just for the surface. The surface for me might be Run-DMC, Slick Rick and Rakim and LL Cool J. That might be the surface, but who inspired them? You know what I mean? So now, I go study all of the people who inspired them. And that’s with anything, even if you’re not talking hip-hop. If you want to be a plumber in your neighborhood, you want to find out who’s the best-selling plumber, or the most popular plumber in your community, and try to figure out, how did they get that way, and how can I add on and be better than them, or do it differently than them?
Tyler: Makes a lot of sense. Why, then, in the… Because you don’t really get claims about being underground… I mean, there was some stuff about hip-hop as an underground street culture, but really, that was like… It seemed that presses would talk about that more, like the New York Times would run something in 1982 about this underground culture, hip-hop, whatever. But hip-hop started kind of embracing that, it seemed, more in the late ’80s, early ’90s. Was that because hip-hop was getting more popular attention and it was important to kind of differentiate that return to the root, because there is a branching outward? Why the early ’90s, or why… What at that time made underground so salient and important to return?
Or ABC News in 1981...
DoItAll: Well, the culture of hip-hop actually wasn’t meant to be on the radio. It was never meant to be on the radio. This culture had mixtapes going around from borough to borough throughout New York City, leaking over into New Jersey.
It wasn’t meant for the radio. It actually was a middle finger to the radio, because when we made disco music as… When we tried to do your music, you know, the music that’s already on the radio and all of that, these are the groups who didn’t get accepted. So they said, “Okay, we’re going to create our own, and we’re going to just pass the tapes out to the people who… or sell the tapes to the people who support the culture.” The graffiti guys would send messages about who had the hottest mixtape or where a battle was going on, which neighborhood gangs were beefing with… They were the messengers. Then you had the DJs who mixed all of these good parts of the record together to create the sound for hip-hop. And then you had the b-boys and b-girls, who were actually just the dancers. You know, the dancers was always the fly, they was always dressed fly, because when they did they moves, they wanted to be the… You know what I mean? So, the b-boys and b-girls is actually the best dancers. But you had the MC, who would narrate the culture, who would tell you where to go, where not to go, who would tell you who was the DJ was the best. So, those are the people who narrated the culture, man, and they would tell you what was going on in hip-hop, so it wasn’t… The radio was faux pas, you know what I mean? So when you heard “Rapper’s Delight,” it was like… It was a double shock, because now you took this from us, and you gave it to the radio when that wasn’t our intent.
Tyler: Right. That makes a lot of sense. Well, and I think that kind of brings me to another question too, because you were inspired initially to MC through breakdancing, right?
Tyler: I think I listened to that in an interview.
Tyler: And so, I think… To me, I see that transfer so clearly, like when I watch old performances or music videos or whatever, both you and Mr. Funke take up so much space. In a good way, is what I’m saying, like there’s just this kind of fullness, even if you’re on the side of the street, or if you’re on a stage, or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. You command that presence. So, what from… How are you able to kind of transfer or transpose some of these things that we’d see as a non-verbal thing, right, dance culture being a way of understanding without ever saying any words, to what many would call the verbal art of MCing?
DoItAll: Well, for me, like you said, I thought I was going to be a graffiti artist at first; my penmanship was horrible. Then I thought I would be a breakdancer, and I was okay, but I was a better uprock cat, you know? So, people don’t realize “breakdancing” was actually a term that somebody who wasn’t really even hip-hop made up.
Uprocking is described here.
Tyler: Right, yeah.
DoItAll: Everything was called rocking. So, when you were rocking the mic; you were uprocking, meaning you were dancing up top; you were downrocking, that was breakdancing. You know what I mean? So I was a good uprocker, you know, decent uprocker. Let’s clarify. But with that, when I realized I was a better MC than anything, I still kept the moves of the uprocking, so now I’m just rapping now with it. So it’s really me just uprocking as I MC. You know what I mean? Because uprocking before was battling without no words, just to the music, and it was here anyway. So, now when I add the words to it, it’s still here.
Tyler: Interesting. Well, and doesn’t that… I mean, correct me, please, if I’m wrong, but it kind of… It almost creates a cypher between you and your audience, right? But instead of you battling with another dancer where you’re connecting to them and trying to kind of transfer energy or whatever…
DoItAll: Most definitely.
Tyler: Right, that then it kind of transfers that into a larger space so the audience can feel… Because it really does feel to me, like it’s not… I don’t know how else to describe it, but it’s almost like you connect individually with that person, because you’re so drawn into that energy. Is that kind of…
DoItAll: No, that’s pretty on point. See, what you… I’m not saying everybody, but for me, I would… There was times when we first performed in New York, people were just getting to know us at showcases with our record company, and we would come on stage and they would just look at us. Not booing or anything, but they would just look at us, because they didn’t know the music, they didn’t know who we were. So, the first time that happened to us, I said, “That’s never going to happen again, Funke.” I said, “Because if we give them energy and they don’t give it back, I think you’re a dope MC.” He’s like, “I think you dope too.” I said, “Then if that ever happens again, we gonna rap to each other, and we just gonna…”
Tyler: Oh, interesting.
DoItAll: So we did that the next show, and we’re just doing that, not paying attention to the audience, and now the crowd is feeling that energy, and now they start to go crazy. So now, what happens is, so now when I connect with somebody in a crowd, all it takes is one to multiply the energy. So now, I connect with that person, and I just give it to them. I’m really uprocking with rap to it, you know what I mean? And I just give it to what we exchange, and it gets contagious, so the person next to her feels it, person next to them, and then it’s like… All through the crowd.
Tyler: Do you think hip-hop… Because hip-hop is really intentional, like, you know, the microphone controller, the moving the crowd as part of MCing, or getting the audience involved, or having an audience that it knows all the lyrics and can fill in the gaps, like when you do a call-and-response type thing. Is that unique to hip-hop, or is that kind of a general performance thing?
DoItAll: I think it’s not unique, it’s a testament to the artist that’s in front of the crowd.
DoItAll: I just believe if I was doing country music, I’m going to have some country people, on horses, throwing cowboy hats up in the air, you know? I just believe that. I believe that when I get in front of a person to perform and to entertain, that there’s a certain connection that has to happen. And you have to go through your artistry within you to find out and figure out what that is. Is it a call and response? Is it being nice to the girl in the front row? Is it giving my man high-five right on the side by the speaker? What is that connection? Is it theatrics up on stage? You have to, one, realize where you are, who you are in front of, and who you are as a person.
Tyler: So then, I guess, everything with you as a performer has to come through knowing yourself.
DoItAll: Most definitely.
Tyler: Yeah, because it sounds like what you’re saying is that in order to create that strong performance bond, in order to multiply that energy, it’s kind of coming from you, and if you don’t have… I guess that’s why an identity or a name is so important in hip-hop, too, because it… I mean, aside from the social aspects of renaming yourself, that that also creates a performance, kind of like, “This is really who I am that people can gravitate towards.”
DoItAll: I think name denotes ownership. You know what I mean? So, your mother and your father give you a name at birth, so that’s the name that they denoted to you. So now, you feel like sometimes you have to live up to that. But when you become an artist of any sort, and you name yourself, you have to be careful of what you name yourself, because now you have to take ownership of that.
DoItAll: Me included. And a lot of times, we do things without really knowing; we just do it off of instinct, and then we realize that, “Wow, I’ve done this for twenty years, I didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing.” [0:45:00] And like with me, DoItAll, I feel like I’m so busy because of that name, because of that name that I chose to accept. Because that name was given to me by a friend of mine who actually just was watching me. They already know my real name is Dupré, they already call me Du, short for Dupré, and one day he just… I’m running, I’m coming out of, like, Computer Business Leaders of America meeting, running to baseball practice late, I drop my baseball glove out of my locker, and he was like, “This is my man.” So I ran past him and I didn’t give him a five, and he was just standing there like, “What, you can’t dap me up?” And I was just like, “I’m late! I’ve got you, I’m late!” And he’s like, “Where you going?” I was like, “Baseball practice!” He’s like, “Man, there you go, DoItAll Du. You do everything in this school. DoItAll Du.” And first, I didn’t like it, but I used to tear people out of the frame rapping by the cafeteria in the hallway; the next day, lunch time, I’m battling somebody, and he comes up again: “DoItAll Du! Get ’em, DoItAll Du!” At first, I didn’t like it. Then the whole school started calling me. “Yo, DoItAll, you battling today? DoItAll, you…” And I just kept it.
Tyler: Do you feel like… You know, because some people… Like, for example, I think MF Doom’s the most explicit example of how the name and the persona, it almost overtakes you. I mean, not to say that he… I’m saying, the way he does that thing where he won’t even show up and he’ll just put somebody else in a Doom mask, which I think is dope, but when he does something like that, it’s almost like the persona never ends, that it’s like this constant performance of something.
DoItAll: Yeah. He’s a smart guy, man.
Tyler: Yeah. There are other people, though, who are like, “I don’t really… I have a name, but that name is who I am, it’s not really a persona or performance.” Do you feel like DoItAll is different than Du, it’s different than Dupré? Are those different things, or are the all kind of one and the same? Does that make sense, what I’m asking?
DoItAll: I think that’s like asking the rapper, the MC, the poet.
DoItAll: I think it’s the same, the way I answered that is the same thing. They’re all one and the same, but they arrive at different places, like they’re different derivatives of one thing, you know? So DoItAll is one way. And actually, it’s crazy, because DoItAll has started to… DoItAll and Dupré have started to become even more alike than as they were different before.
DoItAll: You know, because DoItAll is the artist, and DoItAll went through different stages of my life, so if you listen to music when I first started, you can tell what I was drinking, what I was smoking, where I was living, how I was living, if it was chicken and broccoli or if it was steak and lobster, you know what I mean, if I had a girl, if I didn’t, what I was driving. You can hear all of that through my music. So, as time went on, now DoItAll has started to… DoItAll and Dupré have started to become more of one, because I’ve just gotten older. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve acquired more experiences, and those experiences have taught me to be more of who I really am, and who I really am is Dupré. So, now the artist is starting to morph, is starting to intertwine with who I really am as Dupré Kelly. Before, I didn’t really share Dupré Kelly with the fans, and now I’m starting to share Dupré Kelly with the fans.
Tyler: Interesting. Do you think you’d ever play with that at all, like not going by DoItAll anymore, or… Because there are some… You know, like Kendrick did that, right? He was K-Dot, and then wanted to kind of rebirth, or show people who Kendrick Lamar was, or Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, or whatever. Do you feel like that’s a… Is that transformation necessary for doing what you just said, or is it just like, “No, I want to kind of collapse them into one thing and keep them both”?
DoItAll: I think the fans will tell me.
DoItAll: And the reason why I say that is because I play with just calling myself Du Kelly, Dupré Kelly, all of that, but as I started to grow and started to do things as Dupré Kelly and Du Kelly, the fans always still refer me back to, “Oh, that’s DoItAll Dupré Kelly!” Now they add it on. Before, it used to just be DoItAll, now it’s DoItAll Dupré Kelly, you know? First it was DoItAll, then it went to DoItAll Du, now it’s DoItAll Dupré Kelly. [0:50:00] So the fans are choosing who to believe and who to support, and they’re believing now that DoItAll and Dupré Kelly is actually one and the same.
Tyler: I assume you do some mentorship or teaching, that kind of thing?
Tyler: How do you… Because, I mean, I could go pick up three books, “how to rap,” right? I don’t think that would necessarily make me a… It could help me with some techniques in my rapping, or with some techniques of writing, or establishing a process, but it doesn’t strike me that rapping is something you learn through book knowledge, that you can just, like, “Oh, this is a how-to manual kind of thing.”
Tyler: So, how do you approach teaching rap to either kids of people who just don’t know how to do it?
DoItAll: I mean, text is always good, it gives you something to always refer to, but text can never beat the actual talent, you know? And in order to exercise your talent, we have to do the work. You know, you got to be in the gym. Kobe wasn’t… His death didn’t affect the world just because he was a great basketball player; he was an extremely great athlete, and his work ethic is the only thing that allowed him to become that, right? So, you can have a textbook of anything, and you can acquire that knowledge, you can store that knowledge, but until you touch it, until you taste it, until you do the work, until you understand what flows and what doesn’t and things of that nature, it’s like, you’ll never truly have the experience. It’s like on-job training. It’s like, I can read a book about, you know, a few books about being an athletic coach—baseball team, basketball, football, or whatever—and I probably know all of the techniques. But if I’ve never played the game, how am I going to know to tell if the defense and tackle to… “Yo, watch it. Yo, put your leg back on the… because of…” You know what I mean? How am I going to be able to tell these little intricacies that you don’t write down? So, the text is always, should be a referring manual to go back and just kind of look at the techniques of what you already know, like, “Okay, all right.” It should just be a manual.
Tyler: Could you say that that also kind of transfers into rap as well? Meaning like, if I looked at one of your book of rhymes, I could read it out loud, but I couldn’t really get your flow, or… Like, I could see some of your technique and some of the wordplay that you’re doing, I could see that, but there’s a lot that I’m missing out on if I’m just looking at that text, right?
DoItAll: Most definitely.
Tyler: So, would you say it’s kind of the same thing, that it’s good to… Like, rap lyrics can be good to refer to on paper, but there’s a lot more to it, and if you only look at it on paper, you’re missing something?
DoItAll: You definitely miss the whole gamut if you just look at it on paper. I can give you a bunch of rhymes right now out of my iPhone, and you wouldn’t be able to say it until you hear me, until I show you how the cadence is, until I show you what the flow is, until I show you how to move in and out of the beat, or how I’m doing it. And then you’re either going to repeat it or not, you know? But if I just gave you the rhymes, it’s just like giving you a skeleton. It’s just like giving you a bunch of keys and a bunch of locks over there on the table; you don’t know which one they go to until you play with it.
Tyler: Right. That makes a lot of sense; that’s really important. All right, I got one final question for you. In House of Lords, you rapped about that your voice had changed. I think the line’s like, “My voice has changed, but you know it’s still me.” And the voice is such a key instrument for a lot of MCs, right? Like, I know I already mentioned Busta, but his voice is so unique, right? Q-Tip’s voice is so unique, Phife’s…And the voice and flow, of course, play together, but the quality… I think you said earlier, right, like, “You could be a great writer, but if your voice sounds like shit, I can’t listen to you,” right? So, with that vocal change, how did you… Did your approach to MCing change at all as your voice changed? Did you have to interact with the form different, did you have to interact with your cadence and your writing process different, or was it just kind of like something that slowly transitioned?
The lyric I was referencing here is actually "You don't recognize the voice but you know it's me" from "Hum It Out" on the 2007 release House of Lords.
DoItAll: I think it was slow in transition, but when my voice changed, my voice changed. You see what I’m saying?
Tyler: Yeah, I’m with you.
DoItAll: So when my voice as a person started to change, when my thoughts, my outlook on life started to change… See, we go back to me saying that hip-hop is an artform that you talk about your truth. So, like I said, from the beginning, you’re talking about a teenager into a young adult, to a grown man. Experiences change. I salute Soulja Boy, but I didn’t listen to “Superman that ho.”
DoItAll: That wasn’t my joint, you know? And it’s no disrespect to Soulja, it’s just saying, I was paying mortgages when he was supermanning a ho. So, we had different thought patterns, you know what I mean? We have different responsibilities, we have different experiences. So, when my voice changed, my voice changed.
Tyler: That’s fascinating. Thank you so much. I’m going to go ahead and cut it off.