Magic City, Uncut, & How 'Take Back the Music' Took Our Agency
It's 2014, a year before Rae Sremmurd drops their debut album Sremmlife; the duo has found mainstream success through their first single "No Flex Zone." "No Type" hasn't quite made it's way to the radio yet, however, every dancer seems to know the song line for line. Bad b*tches are the only thing that I like blares through the speakers. As the pair croons about liking women of all kinds, a variety of women— light, dark, caramel, those with 30" blonde extensions, and those with pixied tapers— can be seen in their own world. There are a plethora of men in the establishment as well: athletes, consultants from Bain and BCG, EVPs, those that came with their girls, and those that just came for the chicken and good music— defying the sleezeball "Myron" aesthetic often portrayed in the media. Whether performing acrobatic stunts, giving table dances, or twerking and rapping words in their respective group of comrades; dancing often goes beyond appeasing men for those employed by the majors like Stadium, Magic City, and KOD. Songs like "No Type" make these women feel good, inspiring them to give their best performances and to make money in the ways that they choose to.
It's no secret that the U.S. vilifies both voluntary and involuntary sex workers. Prostitution is illegal, however, victims of the system are oftentimes shamed with little regard. What's most perplexing is that America loves strip culture, just not actual strippers. Think about it, Blac Chyna was adored until the Kardashians shamed her for being an ex-dancer. Strip culture in hip hop is something that has been demonized in media but has found mainstream success through the watered down 'pole fitness' craze and films like Magic Mike— accelerating Ginuwine's beloved "Pony" from a gem heralded by 90s hip hop and R&B enthusiasts to bubblegum shows like Lip Sync Battle.
"Music is generated first through the strip club. It's underground and that's where it comes first. It grows from the strip clubs and then goes to the dance club. Once it graduates from the commercial club it usually goes to the radio," says DJ Esco. Though Seattle has the largest number of strip clubs by population in the country, it's perhaps Atlanta that contributes most to strip culture— followed by Houston and Miami.
Former New Edition and BBD member, Mike Bivins, stated in a Breakfast Club interview that with the use of the internet, A&Rs no longer exist (or do their jobs). It's true that for many mainstream artists like Justin Beiber and Soulja Boy (who illegally hid his music titles behind favorite songs on Lime Wire), getting the most engagement online can absolutely propel your career. However, this doesn't always mean that you have the most talent (i.e. Rebecca Black's "Friday"). When it comes to rap, talent is found at the heart of underground music. "The DJ's and dancers are more like A&Rs," says Diamond from Magic City. In fact, Future attributes his mainstream success to the infamous night club. DJ Esco, king of Magic City Mondays (their most popular night), spoke to The Scene about his ploy to accelerate Future's career. According to the DJ, no one knew he and Future were best friends. Because strip clubs serve as a pipeline for rap music, DJ Esco would keep Future songs on rotation and, by the time people realized the pair were friends, it was too late. Future had already garnered mainstream success with songs like "Same Damn Time" and "Turn On the Lights."
As explained by Snack Pack's Gigi Maguire, strippers and entertainers are different in that entertainers can give you a show and by the end, customers are so engaged that they fail to realize the dancer never shed an ounce of clothing. Snack Pack is a team of Magic City's best performers who would perform as a group onstage. These women would hold practice in Gigi Maguire's pole fitness studio and come up with choreo like the bicycle and surf board tricks performed in 2 Chainz' "Luv Dem Strippers" video. What these women are doing isn't an easy feat. They are performers, who deserve the same amount of respect as the 150 men and women competing in the Pole World Cup for a £20,000 prize. Every day they are concocting innovative ways to defy gravity, and have built the foundation for those now pushing for Olympic inclusion.
Strip culture being shunned in urban areas and commercialized elsewhere is not a new age phenomenon. As stated by the New York Times in 1990, "The music of the 2 Live Crew, released on a small, independent label, advertises itself as an expression of the black ghetto, not necessarily accessible to critics or other outsiders." As misogynistic as rap music seems to most, we never question whether the women who appear in the videos and who dance to the music want to be there. Agency.
As Nasty as THEY Wanna Be.
Girl you look good, WON'T YOU back that ass up?
Webbie's "Like That" is perhaps one of the sexiest songs ever written. Though written from a male gaze, women comparing themselves to Beyoncé with one man vying for their attention is a song that Twitter sings daily. However, while the rawness of what Webbie says is frowned upon, the tables are turned when put out by publications that are not of color— which is why Cardi B. telling Elle magazine that the first time she felt beautiful was in high school when men were "on [her] body" is more acceptable. Cardi B. is welcomed largely because she's a caricature to those that don't know people like her. Society views her as a personality more than a former sex worker. However, she's both. A beautifully funny and highly intelligent young woman who used dancing as a platform to get what she needed.
Cardi B. is a face that women and femmes are rooting for, no matter what side of the fence you grew up on. However, institutions like Spelman College, who turned their backs on Jacqueline Donahue because they didn't agree with the actions of her brother, don't necessarily uphold my standards of feminism. For those not familiar, Spelman planned to host a bone marrow drive for Nelly's sister, Jackie, who suffered from leukemia in 2004. After the Tip Drill video aired on BET's Uncut, Spelman planned to boycott and the entire charity event was called off. Jackie died a year later. This is a blaring form of misogyny that is constantly swept under the rug— a contempt for women because of a "holier than thou" mentality, or because they may not engage with sex in the same manner. The boycott led to the January 2005 launch of the "Take Back the Music" campaign, an initiative spearheaded by Essence in collaboration with Spelman. This campaign claimed that negative and "stripper-like" imagery clouted the media and that there were not enough positive images of Black women for young girls to make informed decisions of who they should aspire to be. To give an overview of the climate of this era, the following songs reached #1 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip Hop chart in 2005: Mario "Let Me Love You" (11 weeks), 50 Cent "Candy shop" (4 weeks), Bobby Valentino "Slow Down" (4 weeks), Mariah Carey "We Belong Together" (14 weeks). Not to mention, Tipdrill was only televised after hours on a show rated TV-MA, meaning that the content was only intended for audiences over the age of 17. A subsequent cancellation of Uncut followed the campaign— a slot that gave female artists like Jacki-O and Khia a platform to compete with the biggest boys out: Nelly, Ludacris, and 50 Cent.
Protecting women means that we let them live by their own standards, even if it doesn't align with our own. It means not projecting our insecurities on women who are comfortable with their own sexuality. It means educating women on their sexual rights and allowing (and trusting) them to make informed decisions. It means recognizing their contributions to the arts that we choose to engage with.