In the 2015 documentary Inside the Atlanta Strip Club that Runs Hip Hop, viewers are transported inside Magic City, the most famous strip club in all of Georgia, learning about the DJs and the talented women carrying the club on their backs.
“The DJs and the dancers are more like A&Rs,” says Diamond, a dancer at the club. “We know what we like to dance to, and we know a hit when we hear it.”
The documentary recounts the stories and experiences of numerous Magic City employees and attendees—Lil Magic, the manager of Magic City; DJ Esco, a DJ and the long-time collaborator of the rapper Future; dancers Diamond, Secret, Virgo, and Simone aka the Snack Pack.
“Music is generated first through the strip club,” DJ Esco says. “It’s underground, and that’s where it comes first. It grows. It’s like roots of a tree. It grows from the strip club, and then it goes to the dance club. And when it graduates from the commercial club, it usually goes to the radio.”
If it wasn’t obvious, strip clubs have evolved beyond wide eyes and lap dances. Birthing a culture celebrating tricks like surfboarding, created by legendary performers Spyda and Magic, the strip club has given various hip-hop artists their big break.
For the past three decades, male rappers have continuously utilized stripper culture to their advantage. In 1992, Uncle Luke and the 2 Live Crew released the hit single “I Wanna Rock (Doo Doo Brown),” flooding airways and promoting strip club culture: “Shake them titties / Show that coochie / Take it off.” Luke, who is known for his explicit content, created a sound exclusive to the South, one which lacked a mainstream music industry presence at the time.
“A lot of music was discovered in strip clubs,” explains Dart Adams, a hip-hop historian and fellow DJBooth contributor. “DJs would break new music and see how much money was made while it played. In the 90s, people not familiar with the regional culture of Atlanta, Miami, and Houston started talking about the strip clubs and touring artists couldn’t wait to visit. This led artists to create music that would sound good in strip clubs and not traditional clubs.”
In an interview with Atlanta Magazine, Cecil Glenn, aka “DC the Brain Supreme,” recalls his days breaking records as a DJ during the early days of Magic City:
“‘Whoomp, there it is’ was a saying people had in the clubs,” Glenn said. “This was our first attempt at a booty shake record. We recorded ‘Whoomp! (There It Is)’; I had it on cassette. It was the first record I played at the club that night. Before the song was over, at least eight people came to the DJ booth like, ‘Hey man, what the hell is that?’” —Cecil Glenn
“Whoomp! (There It Is),” released in 1993 on Life Records by Miami bass group Tag Team, spread like wildfire. The single sold more than one million copies nationwide and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s success set a precedent for material with the potential to transition from underground strip club anthems to the mainstream. Suddenly, famous Atlanta strip clubs like Magic City and Onyx could serve as a launchpad for countless rap acts, the majority of them male.
In a 2019 interview with People TV, Jermaine Dupri, a staple of the Atlanta music scene, spoke critically of women who rap about stripping and their sexual prowess. “I’m getting like, ‘Oh, you got a story about you dancing in the club. You got a story about you dancing in the club. You got a story about you dancing in the club’…OK, all right, who’s gonna be the rapper?” Dupri said.
For obvious reasons, Durpi’s comments were disheartening. They sparked a backlash online from both fans and thriving women in hip-hop, like Cardi B (a former stripper) and Rapsody, and pushed publications to compile lists of women whose rapper resumes aren’t littered with stripper-inspired lyrics. And that is to say nothing of the women who transcended their strip club pasts, such as the Diamond Princess, Trina, and Ruff Ryder’s First Lady, Eve, who entered the rap game and immediately competed for a share of the spotlight with their male counterparts.
For all Dupri’s talk of women leveraging strip club culture to their detriment, it is male rappers, by and large, who have been the beneficiaries of strip club culture. “Labels would lie about budgets for upkeep and clothing, so they didn’t have to sign women, but look at men’s videos—they didn’t consider those as an expense,” Adams says.
From highlighting their physical abilities to throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars at them to “support their dreams,” to using them as a backdrop in music videos, strippers have directly influenced every era of rap. On his 2003 single, “P-Poppin,” Ludacris raps, “Head down pussy poppin’ on a handstand.” He follows the bar with “Somersaults cartwheels bitch just keep on dancing / Chinese splits-splits slide on down that pole-pole.”
In 2010, Atlanta-based hip-hop group Travis Porter, who literally held their first concert at a strip club, arrived on the scene with their debut single, “Make It Rain,” an ode to throwing bills and letting them fall aimlessly over strippers and flooding the ground. “You wanna see some ass / I wanna see some cash / Keep them dollars coming / And that’s gon’ make me dance,” Coco Kiss sings on the song’s hook, encouraging the group to throw money if they wanted her to perform.
In September 2012, Three 6 Mafia alum Juicy J released his hit single, “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” accompanied by a visual set in a smoke-filled strip club with a surplus of strippers, stacks of money, and an entourage of people enjoying themselves. The single, which peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is Platinum-certified by the RIAA, features Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, both advent promoters of strip club culture. Just one month earlier, 2 Chainz reminded everyone just how much he loves dem strippers.
Drake loves to brag about bringing suitcases of money to strip clubs and, throughout his career, has name-dropped his favorite exotic dancers. He even concocted a song dedicated to dancers from the Southern region of the United States with “Houstalantavegas.” But Drake’s very public admiration for strippers hasn’t always been well though-out. At 2017’s Houston Appreciation Weekend, Drake “retired” the jerseys of three famous strippers—Lira Galore, Miracle Watts, and Maliah Michel—a move that ultimately hurt Maliah’s career.
Maliah addressed the so-called retirement with a string of tweets and a now-deleted Instagram post: “Contrary to ‘social media news,’ no man can retire me,” she wrote. “I’m shaking this azz into a wheelchair. Maliah will retire Maliah.”
Twenty-eight years after Uncle Luke expressed his desire to be rocked, the creation of stripper-motivated theme songs continues. In 2019, we got Lil Pump’s “Stripper Name” and “Stripper Bowl” by the Migos, accompanied by an actual Stripper Bowl put on by record label QC during Super Bowl weekend. As the decade came to a close, rappers made clear the relationship between strip club culture and hip-hop was here to stay.
Dupri insists there must be at least one female rapper to “break the mold” of stripper culture in hip-hop, but there’s no merit to his position. Why must women rappers cleanse their material of stripper culture while the male rappers continue to profit from it? The short and sweet answer is: They don’t.
“The [record] industry used women as fuel to push [album] sales,” Adams says. “These women figured out how to use [the exposure] to empower themselves without being under the male gaze.”
So, to all the Maliah Michels, Lira Galores, Porsche from Treasures, and the Snack Packs of the world—thank you. Thank you for carrying hip-hop, and male rappers, on your back. Hip-hop culture can’t thrive without women, which is why stripper culture will continue to receive its praise—on and off the stage.