MOSCOW (AP) — Just over a week before Russia’s presidential election, billionaire candidate Mikhail Prokhorov’s rapping skills have made him an Internet star.
Prokhorov, who shares ownership of the New Jersey Nets basketball team with U.S. rapper Jay-Z, took to the microphone on a Russian television show two weeks ago.
On Thursday, a YouTube video of his performance was widely circulated on Twitter by rap fans, sports writers and young Russians charmed by somber-faced Prokhorov’s rare moment of silliness.
His performance was a marked contrast to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s campaign rally the same day, at which he delivered a patriotic address to tens of thousands of people in a football stadium.
Putin is all but certain to win the March 4 election as four other contenders, including Prokhorov, are trailing far behind. Only 6 percent of respondents said they would vote for Prokhorov, according to polling results released Friday by Russia’s leading independent polling company.
Prokhorov is a newcomer to the political stage and the only challenger who is not a veteran party leader. For many Russians, the 46-year-old bachelor businessman with an estimated fortune of $18 billion is an intriguing fresh face in the race.
His candidacy has been viewed as a Kremlin-approved effort to add legitimacy to the election and channel public discontent highlighted by massive protest rallies. Prokhorov denies the suggestion, saying he’s out for a real fight.
“I am a project of my parents,” he told reporters who asked if he was a Kremlin proxy at a campaign event Thursday.
At the event, a meeting with veterans to commemorate Russia’s Defenders of the Fatherland holiday, Prokhorov showed the soft-spoken composure that has characterized his campaign. Since registering as a presidential candidate in late January, he has refrained from criticizing Putin directly and has said he would consider serving as Putin’s prime minister.
Meanwhile, Internet audiences were abuzz about Prokhorov’s more playful image, which came out during a guest appearance on “Projector Paris Hilton,” a comedy show on Russia’s state-run Channel One.
Hosts of the show invited Prokhorov to join them in a brief rap in English and Russian about his own business venture, yo-Mobile.
They introduce Prokhorov as Russia’s new rapping billionaire as they sit at a large, boardroom-style table, surrounded by large garishly decorated lamps and mirrors.
“Mr. Jay Z this is a first presentation of real rap music from Russian Federation,” one host raps.
“Mr. Jay Z, I am not alone,” he continues, with Prokhorov rapping back “Mikhail Prokhorov on the microphone!”
Reading his lines from a sheet of paper, Prokhorov taps his foot and awkwardly pumps his fist to the beat as all four men bob their heads in attempted unison.
Prokhorov, whose 6-foot 8-inch frame towers over the others even while seated, continues with a fist in the air and the declaration “I am real Russian Eminem.”
The video circulated on Twitter and was reposted on several sports websites. Commentators acknowledged Prokhorov’s performance as both horrible and charming.