Weeks before finally opening here, the national convention, its red, white, and blue posters blanketing Manhattan, had heads talking. Whose speech would mean "bounce" for the party? What would the candidate say to supporters?
Answers came Thursday night, as delegates filed into Manhattan's Roseland Ballroom. Before a sea of state banners, picket signs and American flags, the candidate delivered a public campaign promise: Though his cabinet "is a bit shady at times," he would, if elected, "throw a party, in a club, with my homies."
The "candidate" was Eminem, the "delegates" were select fans and the caucus was "shady" indeed: Eminem's Shady National Convention was media event, concert and much-needed comic relief from pre-election gravitas.
Publicity-wise, it killed two birds with one stone. The official launch of "Shade 45," Eminem's "uncut" 24-hour hip-hop music channel on Sirius Satellite Radio, the Shady National Convention was broadcast live on the new station. Sirius reaches 700,000 subscribers and recently signed an exclusive deal with Howard Stern.
The convention was also promotion for the rapper's fourth album, "Encore," due out Nov. 16 through Interscope Records, which plans an initial shipment of between 2 million and 3 million copies. It's one of the year's most anticipated releases and a potential blockbuster, given Eminem's history.
His second album, "The Marshall Mathers LP," sold close to 2 million copies in its first week of release and became the fastest-selling rap album of all time. 2002's "The Eminem Show" won two Grammys and sold more than 19 million copies worldwide, while the soundtrack to the film "8 Mile," in which Eminem starred, sold 9 million copies and earned Eminem two more Grammys and an Oscar for best song. Eminem was last heard, with his group D12, on the triple-platinum album "D12 World."
That the 32-year-old rapper elected to promote his new projects via a mock convention is not surprising: Political spoofs, a la Jon Stewart and "Saturday Night Live," are popular with the MTV generation. P. Diddy's Citizen Change movement and Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network have made election-speak hot among the hip-hop set.
Yet Eminem's "convention" -- at once satirical and sincere -- featured a rousing new brand of hip-hop politics.
For one, it was unabashedly partisan. Eminem, who said he has registered to vote for the first time, has not officially endorsed a candidate, but the lyrics to his incendiary new single, "Mosh," leave no doubt as to whom the rapper will not vote for: President Bush, about whom Eminem raps, "Strap him with an AK-47, let him go fight his own war / Let him impress daddy that way / ... No more blood for oil."
The video for "Mosh," an animated antiwar manifesto whose crescendo is a call to the polls, debuted on MTV the day before the Shady National Convention and was a buzzed-about topic that night.
"Eminem speaks truth. His kind of politics is another thing that rap added to the game," said one "delegate" in the crowd, Ondre Nelson. Wearing a faux-straw campaign hat over his Yankees cap, Nelson, 39, carried a "Vote Yes on E" sign and the state banner for New Hampshire (though he admitted to being from the South Bronx).
Nearly 2,000 fans served as a human backdrop for the night, which was filmed by MTV and will air on the network on Nov. 13. Endorsers took the stage first. Donald Trump declared that Eminem "has got brains, he's got guts, and he's got Donald Trump's vote." Ed, a puppet from Comedy Central's "Crank Yankers" program, praised Eminem, as did rappers Busta Rhymes and Method Man. P. Diddy appeared via satellite to bolster "the first candidate to speak his mind 100% of the time." Finally, Eminem himself, sporting a suit and glasses, took the stage before a "United States of Emerica" banner.
"Ever since I can remember," he began, "well, at least until a couple of years ago -- a couple of hours ago -- I've dreamt about this night. Americans like you, and like me, like me," he said, straight-faced.
In an uproarious spoof of inflated campaign rhetoric, the rapper went on to speak of hills to climb and valleys to reach. "What is in that valley, you ask? I don't know. But nothing can stop us from getting there." Finally, the rapper accepted his nomination as the candidate for "the shady party and stuff."
Eminem's brief "campaign speech" was followed by a "response" from President Bush that made the crowd roar: An impish edit job on the president's speeches had him "declaring" himself a member of Al Qaeda and heralding "tyranny and death" for the world.
As the lights dimmed, Eminem bounded onstage to perform, and the tone shifted dramatically: A chill-inducing rendition of "Mosh" nearly transformed his convention from a mock political rally to a genuine one. Charging across the stage, delivering some of the most heated political lyrics in pop, Eminem traded his ironic detachment for sincere indignation. He had harnessed the energy of an adoring throng and channeled it into a rush of antiwar -- and pro-American -- sentiment, and for a moment it seemed as if he had made protest go mainstream.
But only for a moment. After "Mosh," Eminem served up a status-quo hip-hop concert, presided over by DJ Green Lantern and chock-full of guests, including D12, Obie Trice, Busta Rhymes and 50 Cent.
The evening ended with "Just Lose It," the first single from "Encore" and a reminder that the rapper's controversies usually involve less serious issues: BET dropped the "Just Lose It" video because it poked fun at Michael Jackson. In the end, Eminem's "convention" raised one question: Will his "Encore" lean toward the juvenile party music of "Just Lose It" -- or the passionate political intensity of "Mosh"?