Over the last few years, a huge number of urban music’s biggest hits have been chosen by a very small group of tastemakers, all of whom operate in a world of hard-to-parse relationships and big money cash-only spending sprees. The tastemakers are the dancers and DJs at Atlanta’s Magic City strip club, the place that was largely responsible for launching the careers of artists like Future and Migos. (Future’s tour DJ, DJ Esco, still works at Magic City when he’s not on tour.) In a recent article, GQ India took a look inside its cinder block walls, describing scenes like this:
It was midnight, and the club was filling up quickly now. Men came in groups. Two or three together in denim and baseball hats. Ten men in hooded sweatshirts. One by one the dancers extinguished their blunts and came from their corner, down onto the main floor like crows dropping off a wire to check out some roadkill. DJ Outta Space was here. The producer Southside, who makes beats for Jay Z and Gucci Mane, and the producer TM88, who makes beats for Young Thug, and Coach Tek, who manages 2 Chainz, and the taciturn guys who travel with the rap group Migos—the eccentric insular little band of rappers out of Gwinnett County, Georgia, who live in a McMansion in exurban Atlanta with their weapons cache and wall-to-wall carpeting. TI would make an appearance later; he’s known to bring his own backpack full of dollar bills to throw. Radio deejays would arrive as well, listening to which new songs are making the club move and who’s beefing with who. And: dope boys who want to be rappers; rappers who pretend to be dope boys; dope boys who just want to be dope boys; the married proprietor of a debt-collection agency, I think his name was Chuck (very nice guy), whose wife gives him a free pass once a month to come and look at naked ladies; a woman in a T-shirt that says “Turning Up Is My Cardio”.
It turns out that Magic City has $80,000 in singles in the basement, waiting for someone to order it up for throwing purposes, and that for a young artist’s record to break at Magic City, throwing said money is pretty much required. If you don’t have a few grand to toss when your song comes on, don’t worry, a sponsor will front you.
Once your song gets played, once people start to know who you are, you need to start throwing money at dancers whenever that song comes on. As Esco says, “I’m not going to let you up on that stage if you don’t have no money.” And you don’t need just the $3,000, $4,000, $10,000 to throw at Magic City on Monday. You need to do that again tomorrow night at Blue Flame, and Thursday at Strokers, and Saturday night at Onyx. So you’re going to need what I will call a sponsor.
(As a producer said to me, “Everyone in Magic City either is a sponsor or has one.”) A professional football player, the rapper TI, a drug dealer. I saw a rapper named SoSay throw $30,000 in 45 minutes at Magic like he was a busted ATM; his “sponsor” was some guy who hit the Powerball a few years ago. And the dancers—they’re a lot more likely to request your song if they know you’re going to throw $10,000 at them. That’s how you get noticed in the room. And that’s how the dancers start requesting your song.
While it may sound like everyone at Magic City is having a blast, networking, getting paid, partying, and single-tossing their way to rap stardom, there’s at least one guy who sounds like he’d rather go home and watch Netflix: Lil’ Magic, son of club owner Big Magic and scion to the Magic City empire, for whom this is very much just a job.
Lil Magic was born into this. He is 33 years old now and was four when Big Mag opened this club. He used to have to cover up his eyes when he walked past the dancers’ locker room on the way to his dad’s office. Magic City is in his blood, and yet at the same time he sees it from a distance of 4,000 miles. The world exhausts him. “I’m sick of being urban,” he told me. “There’s no room to be uncool in this world. There’s no room for weakness. You can’t be yourself. Everyone must be the same.” And yet here he is, managing the club almost everyday. The golden handcuffs of strip.
It turns out one man’s dream job is another’s begrudgingly inherited family business.