Mar 1, 2024 - Politics

Mary Sheffield isn't shy about her embrace of local hip-hop

Council President Mary Sheffield with a cut out of rapper Skilla Baby at her gun buyback and job fair event at The Icon.

City Council President Mary Sheffield with a cutout of rapper Skilla Baby at her gun buyback and job fair event at the Icon. Photo: Courtesy of the city of Detroit via Flickr

Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield doesn't think she should have to defend her relationship with the city's rap scene.

Why it matters: Sheffield's deep connection to the community means she's just as comfortable on stage with rappers as she is introducing policy or preaching.

Driving the news: Sheffield faced criticism from conservative activists on social media last week over not only the effectiveness of gun buyback programs, but her decision to add rapper Skilla Baby to sponsor a Feb. 24 event.

  • She tells Axios she uses hip-hop as an instrument "to bridge the gap" and get more civic engagement.
  • While critics are quick to point out vulgar lyrics depicting violence, Sheffield says nobody is promoting negativity.

What they're saying: "I actually got pushback when I first got in office because I associated with so many artists in the hip-hop community," Sheffield told Axios last weekend at the gun buyback and job fair her office hosted at the Icon.

  • "I was also 26 when I first got elected — it's just part of who I am. It's part of our culture, it's who we are."

Catch up quick: Skilla, who didn't reply to our request for comment, was a no-show at the event, but his $50,000 donation helped purchase more than a hundred guns. He got a shoutout from Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist for his involvement.

  • "For him to drive the message of, 'Turn your guns in, let's keep our city safe,' I think sends a clear message to our young people," Sheffield says.
  • Skilla isn't new to community outreach. In 2022, the rapper said that seeing kids smile upon visits to several Detroit schools was the "best thing that happened to me."

Between the lines: Sheffield's fandom is authentic. While skeptics have prompted former President Obama to clear up whether he actually listens to the music that makes his yearly playlists, no such doubt exists with Sheffield.

The intrigue: Sheffield, 36, hasn't publicly declared her candidacy, but her six-figure campaign fund has her as the front-runner to be Detroit's next mayor should Mayor Mike Duggan decide not to seek re-election.

Flashback: Kwame Kilpatrick, 31 when elected mayor in 2001, was dubbed the city's "hip-hop mayor."

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