By Jacob Katel
By Karli Evans
By Jose D. Duran
By Pablo Chacon Alvarez
By Kat Bein
By Abel Folgar
By Laurie Charles
Gerry Kelly has made a habit of throwing parties for big names inside his nightclub, Level. Tonight the streets outside the adult playground are lined with news trucks. Their long antennas gobble up the evening skyline. Police cars close off side streets and line up along the medians while patrolmen stand alert and prepared for any unruly groupies. There is going to be a big celebrity dance party tonight. No, it's not for P. Diddy. And you guessed wrong if you thought it was for Jay-Z. You are getting warmer if you stumbled onto J. Lo, though. Yes, you got it: It's J. Ren.
J. Ren, a.k.a Janet Reno to those who (unlike Clubbed) follow politics and the Florida gubernatorial race, is having a CD release party -- oops --fundraiser, affectionately called the Janet Reno Dance Party after the Saturday Night Live skit that lampooned the former U.S. Attorney General. Since her last album -- damn it -- elected gig, she had resigned herself to the role of sidekick to her labelmate, MC Billy C., throughout his eight-year project straight outta D.C. Now she has decided to drop her own full-length -- sheesh -- to run for the top office in her home state.
Nicole Harburger, Ren's road manager -- whoa -- press secretary, goes over the media show in further detail. "From here you will be able to get a clear look at Janet," she promises, "Yes, Janet will be dancing tonight. She is going to be getting jiggy with it." During her fifteen years as a solo recording artist -- um -- State Attorney for Miami-Dade County -- she was not known as a party girl. But tonight J. Ren is changing that image to become more contemporary and to sell more units -- sorry -- reach a wider and perhaps disenchanted voter group.
At 9:00 p.m. the music starts to thump. The doors open and the waiting fans flood in. Outside there is a loosely assembled group of playa haters trying to throw salt on J. Ren's game, holding picket signs designed to take some of the shine off her big moment. Inside, though, supporters pay the detractors no mind, reassuring fans that, like P. Diddy said, "We ain't goin' nowhere."
Natalie, from a posse known as the Young Democrats, has finally met up with her friends who were waiting in line to get in. "Did you guys have to get stamped?" she asks. One of her friends scoffs, "We aren't VIP like you." Kevin, volunteer promoter who has worked with J. Ren since well before her multiplatinum status, is taking tickets and checking to see if any of J. Ren's crew are in attendance. He grants a hasty entry to faces he recognizes as he knows how J. Ren gets if she hears that any of her crew got dissed while waiting in line.
As the DJ plays a house remix of the Phil Collins song "In the Air Tonight," an amazing energy fills the room. This is the moment J. Ren fans have been waiting for. Around the dance floor and all over the stairwells are supporters holding red and blue signs, showing love for their favorite homegirl. When the signs begin to wave and rattle, the crowd reacts as though Fat Man Scoop just shouted, "Put your hands up!" The tension is bubbling. For the moment the crowd is pacified by old J. Ren video clips -- a gubernatorial Behind The Music, if you will.
But J. Ren's greatest hits aren't enough to hold the fans' appetite for long. It's time to bring out the star. In true gangsta form, J. Ren enters the stage with a posse in tow: O.G. Bob Butterworth (Florida Attorney General), new pal Ray Zeller (chairman of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party), and hot producers Gerry Kelly and Noah Lazes (club owners and hosts for the evening). Kelly steps to the mike and tells the crowd, by now completely euphoric, that J. Ren is his "idol." Hearing these words from Kelly is like listening to Sean Combs describe his adoration for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Maybe Kelly, like Combs, plans to one day follow in his idol's footsteps. The party pitchman concludes, "Vote Reno in November!"
When J. Ren steps up, flashes pop at blinding speed. J. Ren hugs Kelly tightly, perhaps hoping the moment will make the cover of Source Maga -- doh -- Time Magazine or the Miami Herald. Refraining from any "shout outs" or dissing the rival crews in the house, Ren is quick to the point. She shares a simple message, vowing once and for all to unify the divided forces in the hip-hop nation -- damn it -- Florida political scene.
When she finishes, the crowd roars. Red, white, and blue balloons along with confetti rain down from the rafters. Ren's theme song by Van Halen incites the crowd. "Right Now!" shrieks Sammy Hagar, signifying that J. Ren plans to take over in the 2Ks. She ain't having it no more.
Then she exits the stage. The media flock to her in search of magical quotes regarding her new release -- er -- gubernatorial bid. Ren fans rush the barricades. The DJ announces: "Janet Reno is on the dance floor!" It is all that security can do to keep groupies away. Television cameras get tangled in the surge of Ren fans trying to get close enough to get a glimpse of -- or even touch -- their champion.