IF New York is the spiritual home of hip-hop, then Atlanta has become the modern embodiment of the genre over the past decade. Rising to prominence during the early-to-mid 2000s, trap music’s success is as much down to the artists and producers involved, as it is to the association the scene has with local strip clubs. Since the 80s, hip-hop has been the regular soundtrack to Atlanta, with strip clubs playing a pivotal role in pushing hip-hop forward. Rap group Tag Team were one of the first to use the connection to get their music in the public’s eye. A member of the group, DC the Brain Supreme, worked as a DJ at the infamous Magic City strip club and often played his group’s own tracks, helping their 90s breakout hit, ‘Whoop! (There It Is)’, hit the top of the charts. But unlike the early days when it was all about aspiring artists getting their music heard, today there’s a unique hierarchy that exists between the DJs, strippers and artist sponsors that influence what music makes the cut in Atlanta’s strip clubs.
The DJ has always been the central cog in the wheel, but the music is now dictated by what the dancers want to hear. Historically speaking, DJs have been happy to accept new music (along with a couple of grand in payment), but in today’s environment, there is no guarantee the music will get airplay unless the dancers are into it. If the music doesn’t get them in the mood to twerk, then there’ll be no money flowing, and nobody makes bank. DJs have essentially become PR guys while strippers are the A&R tastemakers, quick to decide if a song has the right energy to get punters parting with their hard earned cash. The third element to this ménage-a-trois is the sponsors who back the artists trying to get their music heard. From rich businessmen to local drug dealers trying to get in on the action, sponsors provide money for the artists to throw when their song is played, hoping the exposure will result in their chosen rapper rocketing to stardom.
For some, like Future, who spent years standing by the DJ booth at Magic City trying to get his music played, this new system of music promotion has been a success. But for every Future, there are a hundred failures. Still – no music community has produced as many homegrown hip-hop stars at a grass-roots level as Atlanta over the past five years. There’s a strong sense of hope amongst all concerned that the next big hit is only one lap dance away. It’s an unorthodox business model but one appearing to benefit all involved, and as long as there’s money to made, the odd coupling of hip-hop and strip clubs is sure to continue.