COLUMBIA, S.C. With Andrew Yang out of the presidential race, theres been a dire shortage of chaotic energy on the campaign trail, but Friday night Tom Steyer might have backed that ass up right into that role and into history.
Ive seen Yang staff throw fake $1,000 bills to the crowd as the candidate joined Weezers Rivers Cuomo for a rendition of Say It Aint So. Ive seen the Strokes Julian Casablancas sing New York City cops, but they aint too smart, directly into the face of a police officer at a rally for Sen. Bernie Sanders. But nothing could prepare me for this.
By now, youve probably seen the video of the billionaire businessman, who is polling third place in Saturdays South Carolina primary, twerking next to his wife and daughter with rapper Juvenile on stage in front of a historically black university crowd. In case you havent: Thank me later.
What you dont know is that this was just the cathartic climax of most bonkers political rally of the 2020 cycle, if not ever outdone only by the fact that minutes later Steyers staff corralled the press to watch Juvenile deliver his first ever presidential endorsement.
I just want to give a big shout-out to my dawg Tom Steyer.
I just want to give a big shout-out to my dawg Tom Steyer, Juvenile told reporters after the event. Hes been representing my people from day one. Ive been watching him and his philanthropy.
Im with you on your journey. Whatever you need from me, Im there for you, the Back That Azz Up rapper said. Tom Steyer for president! Go out there and vote! Back that thing up and vote!”
Steyers rally was just one of several campaign events candidates have been holding across the Palmetto State with high profile African-American surrogates to bring visibility to their campaigns in a state where more than 60% of all Democratic voters are black.
John Legend performed two gigs for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for instance. Actress Vivica A. Fox stumped for former Vice President Joe Biden. Sen. Bernie Sanders had rapper Killer Mike of Run the Jewels and actor Danny Glover at a rally that was opened by the Austin-based hip hop duo Blackillac. Miss Black America 2018 Ryann Richardson spoke on behalf of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The difference is, all of the above people have been long-time supporters of their candidate. Only Steyer pulled the unconventional move of hiring the hype.
Just to be clear: Yes, Steyer paid Juvenile to perform. But a campaign spokesman says the endorsement was unplanned up until the moment before it happened when, as press crowded around, a woman whispered in Juveniles ear the points he should hit in endorsing Steyer: his philanthropy, his environmental work, etc.
Its time for a big old change, Steyer responded. Coming here, what Ive found is theres the heart and the spirit to change South Carolina and the entire United States.
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In retrospect, it was probably a sign that things would be weird when two guys walking up to the rally were talking about how they could get 1,000 Twitter followers so they could get paid to promote former New York City Mayor Michael Bloombergs presidential campaign online.
If Bloomberg is buying clout with memes, Steyer is doing it the old fashioned way: Throwing music festivals. In Las Vegas ahead of the Nevada caucuses he had TLC and Iconapop. But the roughly 200 people who showed up to the rally at Columbias Allen University were really treated to something special.
The rally had everything: A twerking billionaire, a Cash Money Millionaires rapper, gospel singer Yolanda Adams, brisket, crippling technical problems, and Americas Next Top Model contestant, the Obama-era Fired Up, Ready To Go lady, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and a singing first lady hopeful.
Kicking off the night, Greenwood County, South Carolina, Councilwoman Edith S. Childs, better known as President Barack Obamas Fired Up, Ready To Go lady, led the crowd in a minutes-long song/chant. Shes endorsed Steyer now, and reprised her famous 2008 chant that came to define the Obama campaign to, Steyered Up, Trumps Gotta Go.
Then former Americas Next Top Model contestant Bianca Chardei, who was MCing the evening,introduced Juvenile. But the sound was way off so after plodding through a few songs and yelling at the increasingly frustrated sound guy a lot, Juvenile did an a cappella version of his 1998 hit HA and left the stage, promising to come back later when the sound issues were worked out.
Following him, gospel singer Yolanda Adams performed. The crowd was imploring her to play some of the hits, but she said shed only sing the two songs she was asked to sing: The Star Spangled Banner & 2001s Never Give Up. Gospel, a Steyer staffer relayed, is pretty much all the candidate listens to.
Next up, on a stage across the room, Steyers daughter Evi introduced her mother, Kat Taylor, who has moved to South Carolina to promote the campaign. Taylor regaled the crowd with what she called a small act of bravery, vulnerability and joy: a little ditty read from her iPhone about how, oooh oooh, oooh oooh, you deserve a guy like this.
Steyer spoke next, which was pretty uneventful except for the time the flustered sound guy cut him off by randomly playing his walk on music a few seconds into his speech. As Steyer finished up and took selfies with concert-goers on one side of the room, DJ Jazzy Jeff performed a scorching set, including everything from Cardi Bs I Like It to his own The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Finally, Juvenile triumphantly returned and Steyer performed the twerk heard round the world.
Was that fun or what? Steyer yelled to the crowd before leaving the stage.
Yes, Tom Steyer. It was. It sure was.
Cover: Billionaire Tom Steyer confirming his bro status with rapper Juvenile before a paid performance (and endorsement!) in Columbia, South Carolina, Feb. 28, 2020. (Photo: Daniel Newhauser/VICE News)