Strip clubs – quite depressing places where men watch women take their clothes off – are also key to the hip hop of Atlanta in recent years. One of rap’s capitals, Jon Caramanica of the New York Times visited the city’s establishments for a look at the payola and business of pumping music through places where only the girls dance.
Magic City, Blue Flame, Cheetah, Diamonds of Atlanta, Follies: the way some cities are known for their restaurants or their museums or their turn-of-the-century architecture, Atlanta’s landmarks are strip clubs. In the way that people in Los Angeles or Miami might ask you if you’ve visited the beach, in Atlanta, you’re asked if you’ve seen any strippers. And in Atlanta more than in any other city, hip-hop culture overlaps heavily with this world. The strip club is where new music is tested out, where stars go to be seen or to relax, where the value of a song can be measured by the number of dollars that fly skyward when it plays.
But for rappers seeking to make names for themselves beyond the city limits, this venerable strip club scene has turned into something of an albatross. Atlanta’s newest club champions — acts like Travis Porter, Future and Cash Out — all made their bones in places like Follies but have been fighting for the mainstream with more tenacity than their predecessors. In a way, they are running away from history.
From the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, Atlanta had a worthy bass music scene that rivaled the bigger and better-known one in Miami, with local stars like Kilo Ali, DJ Smurf and MC Shy-D making music for, and about, the strip club. The club’s centrality receded, somewhat, as the city moved away from that sound to the earthier, eccentric post-funk of groups like Outkast and Goodie Mob.
In the mid-2000s, though, the clubs rose to renewed prominence at the intersection of several emergent movements in the city — there was the city’s arrival as the center of hip-hop innovation, its rising black celebrity class and the pernicious influence of the crime syndicate BMF, which was known for its flamboyant and extravagant strip club outings. These were huge transactional scrums — rappers, dancers, criminals, bottles of alcohol, tens of thousands of dollars in the air.