Rapper. Costumed subway entertainer. Congressional candidate.
Rapper. Costumed subway entertainer. Congressional candidate.
A superhero steps on the J train, and loudly announces themself as “Metro Man.” The late-night riders laugh along at the scene. Wearing a red cape and glittery shorts, Metro Man confronts an adversary dressed in a black robe: Delay Woman. It’s all caught on Instagram, and shared with a caption: “#Paperboy2020 for Congress!”
Yes, the performance artist and music known as Paperboy Prince of the Suburbs is running for Congress, launching a longshot campaign against Rep. Nydia Velázquez in what is probably the city’s most artist-heavy district, stretching from Red Hook to Bushwick, through Williamsburg and the Lower East Side.
Born David Porter Jr., they legally changed their name to Paperboy Love Prince in October, and would appear on the ballot as such if Prince can qualify for the Democratic primary in June 2020. Prince identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, but admittedly isn’t very strict about it. “I understand it's all a learning process,” they said.
The 26-year-old Prince was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, and is, in many ways, a stereotypical Bushwick artist. Their music videos are carefully cultivated to look amateurish. Their art is neo-vaporwave, with trippy, multi-colored visuals playing off his audience’s nostalgia for the early 2000s. They wear outlandish costumes influenced by royal fashion, and a Nintendo Gameboy around their neck. “It’s a reminder that if you work hard and you stay focused, you can beat the game and the system,” they told City & State.
Lately, Prince’s art has gotten more political, as they have released a series of videos supporting presidential candidate Andrew Yang and his universal basic income policy proposal – making Prince at least the second New York congressional candidate inspired by Yang, following former Yang staffer Jonathan Herzog, who’s challenging Rep. Jerry Nadler.
Prince talked to City & State about the left-leaning campaign and the meaning of the name “Paperboy Prince” – and argued that if they’re a gentrifier, than so is Velázquez, because “she's not native to this land.”
Why are you running for Congress against Rep. Nydia Velázquez?
Well, first off, I want to say I really appreciate you. And I love you, and I care about you, and I believe in you and everything that you're doing. And that goes for all of the citizens here. I care about them and I'm passionate about them. I wake up every morning, passionate, thinking of ways that I can help people have a better life and help them be more happy.
The district that I aim to represent is a lot more radical than our current representation looks like. Our current representation is out of touch with technology, out of touch with the people, out of touch with real life. What I've noticed, especially since I started this campaign, is a lot of these establishment Democrats spend more time with wealthy donors to help ensure that they get re-election and to help ensure that they're working for corporate interests instead of spending time with real people.
So I'm running for Congress because I believe that the thing that can most help the average person and really help the ones who need it most is a universal basic income of $1,000 a month.
I see you're a big supporter of Andrew Yang. Do you actually work for the campaign?
I was an early adopter. I was talking about him to my friends in February, and people weren't really responding, so that's when I started dropping songs accompanied with music videos, all shot, directed and edited by me.
So initially, I was just a passionate supporter. And then after I dropped my third song – which he also tweeted that out and shared it with his supporters – his campaign reached out and asked me to be an influencer. Which is an unpaid position.
How do you make a living?
Like a lot of people in this district, I'm an entrepreneur, a small business owner, as well as an artist. The largest part is probably from my art and music – and when I say art that's all-encompassing, including my performances. I'm probably one of the most-known street performers and street artists in the New York City area. As well as web development. One of the reasons I like being out in the streets is I spend a lot of time inside, on the computer coding, editing, consulting and things of that nature.
You’re originally from Maryland, right? How long have you lived in New York?
I was actually born in D.C. And my family has been in Brooklyn for over 70 years. My grandparents started a church on Chauncey Street in the early ‘60s and were a part of the movement to spread love in the community, all the way back then (Prince’s grandfather, the late Bishop Wilbert S. McKinley, founded the Elim International Fellowship Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant.) So I've actually bounced back and forth between the D.C. area and New York all of my life. Since I've been an adult, I've been living in the Bushwick area as well as a brief time in Flatbush and in Bed-Stuy. I also lived overseas in Spain for two years. Had the opportunity to study abroad while I was in college, and then I went back to teach English and do some translation at a television station as well as – that's when I started to become an artist.
So what year did you move to Brooklyn full time?
Um. So like 2013, 2014. (Prince later followed up over email: “Im an alien, my spirit my energy, my legacy has always been in Brooklyn, I never left. I have traveled so much as an artist; between tours across country and abroad there have been some years I spend more time on the road than at home. I've been coming here and living here since before I can remember. I got my own place for the first time in 2014.”)
Like a lot of people in this district, I'm an entrepreneur, a small business owner, as well as an artist.
Do you live in the district, currently? The address on your filing is outside the district, in Bed-Stuy.
I do currently live in the district. But like I mentioned, I have multiple residences. So my address that actually is in the district doesn't get mail very good. Mail always seems to get lost. That's just like a New York thing. So it's kind of easier for me to get mail at this other spot. But, I do spend all of my time in the district.
The district includes the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Bushwick – you have a lot of artist-heavy, gentrifying neighborhoods that would probably be more open to an artist candidate like yourself, right?
Yeah, the district is great for me, but I'm talking about for the American people. It should be illegal, how they do the districts. It shouldn't be just random little squiggly lines. It should be actual, whole neighborhoods. … They separate districts arbitrarily based on racial lines, based on income lines, and that's one of the things I'm fighting against.
Now, you're right. This works in my favor, hopefully. But this isn't about me. This is about the people. This is about actually changing the country. This is about a movement, because a part of my goal is to inspire everyone to run for office.
Why are you running against Velázquez specifically? Is this about generational change?
So where do I begin? The lion's share of the most rapid gentrification in United States history happened under her watch over the last 15 to 20 years. So the reason that I had to even move back and forth between Maryland, D.C. and New York is because of the gentrification that helped to displace me and my family.
Wouldn't you consider yourself a part of that gentrification, being an artist from out of state that moved to Bushwick?
No, I'm not a part of this gentrification. My family has been here for over 70 years. My roots are native to this land. That's like saying (Velázquez) is a part of the gentrification because she moved here from Puerto Rico. Like she’s not native to this land either.
(A spokesman for Velázquez, Alex Haurek, responded: “Nydia is proud of her deep roots in New York City and Brooklyn, having lived in the community almost her entire life.”)
Did you legally change your name to Paperboy Love Prince?
Yeah, I did.
And I want to answer your question before about my issues with Velázquez. During her tenure in Congress, her vote to repeal the Glass-Steagall legislation, to make it easier for these banks to make more money, then take more advantage of people, because it's so much jargon, a lot of people aren't aware of how this really ripped apart our economy, and kept us in a depression that a lot of us are still in. Someone like Donald Trump points to the unemployment being low. And that because a lot of us in this age, specifically in New York in this district, we're doing two, three, four jobs in the gig economy.
Her repealing the Glass-Steagall legislation while also taking millions of dollars from the biggest banks of all time, that was a major red flag. And claiming to be a champion of the little guy, the average person, the small business – it's really a slap in the face.
I saw you’ve retweeted the Democratic Socialists of America a few times. Are you a member of DSA or do you consider yourself a democratic socialist?
I consider myself a democratic socialist. Yeah, for sure. And I am a member of DSA. I haven't reached out to them for any support from my campaign. I'm a new member, since the summer.
I like what they're doing as far as educating a lot of people in the political process. They're doing a lot of work on the ground. Which is inspiring to me. Every single platform they have, I don't necessarily agree with. For example, they support Senator Bernie Sanders. I supported him a lot more in 2016. This time around, I have more support for Andrew Yang, who is more capitalist than Sanders. I think that capitalism does provide us with certain luxuries. But I think that if that capitalism isn't democratic, then we have an issue.
Speaking of which, I assumed that that Paperboy referred to cash and "getting paper," but then I saw in an article that you were actually a paper delivery boy? Where does the name come from?
There's so many layers to what we're doing. I do a thing where we keep it simple for the average person. But there's also a lot of complexity where the intellectuals are very intrigued and entertained. I actually was a paperboy. I was a paperboy here in New York for a while. I delivered The Wall Street Journal. Early, early in the morning.
My name is Paperboy Prince. So, it's also about bringing the news to the people. You know, a part of this campaign is an educational campaign to inform people that are disinterested in the political process of what's really going on.
And Prince – you see how I dress and everything. Some of it is a political commentary on how our politicians have turned into kings and queens instead of representatives in the democratic process. If you've been in 28 years, if you've been in office for 35 years, that's longer than a lot of kings and queens actually rule. So now it feels like it's time for the prince to come and give this country back to the people.
Your stage name is Paperboy Prince of the Suburbs, but this congressional district is entirely urban. Are you going to change your name to Prince of the City? Prince of the Urban Area?
In music and hip-hop, we use a lot of metaphors. That was a metaphor. I'm from the city. And to me, when you're in the city, when you're actually in the hood, a lot of times the goal is to get out of the hood, to get to the suburbs. And it's not saying the suburbs is a better place. My idea for New York is more trees, more greenery, more fresh air that you can breathe, more clean streets.
I saw you were signed by New York artist Azealia Banks a couple years ago. Are you still on her label? Do you still have a contract?
We are still working together. And we have a song coming soon that I'm hoping to drop during the campaign that's very political and fired up. She’s a New York native who's embraced this campaign. I also have (actor and artist) Shia LeBeouf, another New York native who has embraced me and my work. We have a song together that's coming as well.
And in the next few weeks, I'm going to be dropping a new video and song called “Hop the Train,” which is encouraging riders to hop the train as a protest of the MTA and NYPD practices. “Hop the Train” is a pretty direct message that's like, “We're tired of this. It's time to protest. We deserve transportation for all. Stop locking people up because they don't have $2.75.”
Are you aware of the efforts to rezone Bushwick? And do you have an opinion on it?
I'm not fully up to date on everything regarding that.
Are you planning to crowdfund your campaign online? Are you expecting any larger, institutional donors?
We're going to fund it with love. It's going to be funded with love, and love always wins.