Strip clubs, at best (Atlanta strip clubs), are doorways to a warped reality. There is no name more appropriate than Magic City for an establishment that sells such a surrealistic experience. It’s not simply sex or the idea of sex; strip clubs provide a neon-lit atmosphere of money, alcohol, nudist acrobatics, and the beautiful illusion of intimacy. Time ticks slower, dollars rain from ceilings, dancers become daredevils, and eye contact begins a conversation without a word. On the right night, in the right club, you are certain to see the kind of magic that can't be found at Walt Disney World.
Daniel Caesar experienced such a night during last year’s Freudian, a World Tour. On a Tuesday, he entered Follies, the acclaimed Atlanta strip club that has become a famous name-drop for rappers. It’s where Drake considered taking Quentin Miller on “Digital Dash” and was championed as “the realest” on Childish Gambino’s cover of the Usher classic, “U Don’t Have to Call.” Daniel, who hails from Oshawa, Canada, fell under the spell of a dancer named Priscilla, only known because the golden vocalist released an infectious new single, “Who Hurt You?” in honor of their unforgettable encounter.
The beauty of “Who Hurt You?” is in the sincere, innocent interaction between dancer and artist. Daniel isn’t the famous rapper type who turned the strip club into a personal playhouse of exaggerated spending and filled a section with bodacious beauties. No, this was a new world, where the fear of doing too much still lingered as he adjusted to Rome and doing as the Romans do. Mesmerized by a dancer in a city famous for adult entertainment inspired a slow-burning song that puts into perspective how an intimate moment between strangers can become a lasting memory.
Daniel captures the magical infatuation that could only occur in a place like Follies, where the hunger of lust, the hope for love, and all the fantasies in-between intersect. Throughout his excellent 2017 debut album, Freudian, the famed vocalist peels back love’s skeleton and gets to the bone marrow of a relationship and the many stages of monogamy. “Who Hurt You?” is written with the same surgeon's scalpel, except this experience is based in a setting where being smitten doesn’t come cheap.
It’s fitting to hear T-Pain’s vocals loom in the background of a song professing fondness for a dancer. The release of “Who Hurt You?” comes 13 years after “I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper),” Pain's popular 2005 single that featured Mike Jones. I can’t recall hearing an artist sing of strippers with such affection and admiration before the Tallahassee-born rapper-turned-singer arrived on airwaves. On the song, T-Pain, much like Daniel Caesar, is captivated by a goddess who pole-dances. He doesn’t make her profession taboo but highlights her place of business as one of worship. He’s stuck on her, eyes glued and heart racing; “I'm N Luv (Wit a Stripper)” is an unabashed ode to that spark of love at first dance.
In 2012, 2 Chainz, with an assist by Nicki Minaj, released his own tribute to dancers with the bombastic single “I Luv Dem Strippers.” With Chainz, like most rappers, the strip club is framed as an extravaganza; the cinematic thrill of attending a naked carnival. Yet, love is the common denominator between all of these perspectives. That’s why Wale’s “The One Time In Houston,” from 2015's The Album About Nothing, is an interesting contrast to the usual strip club experience. The MMG wordsmith speaks of his favorite dancers in Houston, Texas who understand their appeal, what it means to capture a man’s heart through his eyes, and the power of love as an illusion.
Over a sample of New Edition’s “If It Isn’t Love,” Wale never allows his proximity to a dancer jade the fact that their time together is a transaction. “The One Time In Houston” strips away the magic and views the exchange of compensation for companionship through a lens of realism. Yet, by the end, Wale is giving his number to a woman who appears to drop the act.
Despite not being a native of the states, Drake’s interest in American strip clubs was first exhibited on the So Far Gone classic “Houstatlantavegas.” He raps from the general outlook of a dancer who lives a lifestyle that could exist in any of the three major cities. Without going into much depth, the Toronto-born rap star delivered an anthem for the girls who live in the cycle of green cyclones and are confident being the center of naked affection.
It wouldn’t be Drake’s last ode to women who strip. “Plastic Bag,” from What a Time To Be Alive, his collaboration mixtape with Future, is a smooth record that displays the two famous friends enjoying a Monday night of overzealous spending at Magic City. This is the strip club as a place of celebration, where the luxury of wealth rewards the hard-working employees to the point plastic bags are required to scoop all the dollar bills.
Anthems for the strip club, especially from Southern rappers, will always exist as an important theme in the lexicon of rap songs. Like Daniel Caesar's "Who Hurt You?" it’s different when an R&B singer decides to draw influence from the den of adult fun. Usher, another talent groomed in Atlanta’s nightlife, paid homage in 2014 with the single “I Don't Mind.” He’s not singing from the perspective of a bachelor searching for a brief fling but as the supportive partner of a woman who dances. Usher delivers a mature image of a healthy relationship that can be had when love in the club goes beyond the last dance.
In an interview with DJBooth earlier this year, DJ Burn One discussed “Zoe Kravitz,” a song he produced for 6LACK that he swears "sounds like the song you wanna get a dance to at Magic City.” Sadly, the record is currently unreleased with no guarantee to ever surface. Hopefully, East Atlanta’s mood-setting songbird will be the next R&B singer to share a record for the dancers and put his own spin on the strip club song.
Women of all creeds, colors, and professions will influence music until the end of time. But there’s something unique about what the strip club can summon. “Who Hurt You?” is as enchanting as the woman that motivated its creation.
After all these years, I still think back on Valentine's Day, 2015, and the stripper with the lime green stilettos who had a basketball wife’s body and the acrobatics that killed Dick Grayson’s parents. Sigh, a true artist.
By Yoh, aka Who Hurt Yoh? aka @Yoh31
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