AUDIE CORNISH, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
We're going to Atlanta now for the latest in our series on pop-music hit-makers of popular music. The power brokers in Atlanta's hip-hop scene are no different from those in Nashville's country scene or anywhere else. They want to get their records on the radio.
But there is one big difference in Atlanta. As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports, the struggle to turn a new song into the next bit rap single begins in the strip club.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: Consider this...
(Soundbite of music)
BLAIR: On their way to the top of the charts, most of the major hip-hop hits of the last 10 years spent time in Atlanta strip clubs. Lil Jon's Get Low.
(Soundbite of song, "Get Low")
Mr. LIL JON (Rapper): (Rapping) (Unintelligible).
BLAIR: Songs by Ludacris, Young Jeezy and Usher.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. USHER (Musician): (Rapping) Yeah. (Unintelligible).
BLAIR: Strip clubs in Atlanta were their first focus groups. Wendy Day is founder of the Rap Coalition, which helps broker deals between artists and record labels.
Ms. WENDY DAY (Founder, Rap Coalition): They'll test the record literally right there, not mixed, not mastered, just in its rawest form, and they'll test it to see how the patrons react to it, how the girls react to it in terms of dancing, and it's a very inexpensive way to test a record.
Mr. NICK LOVE (Music Promoter): Atlanta strip clubs work for one big reason. You have everybody from all walks of life in the strip club.
BLAIR: Veteran promoter Nick Love says in Atlanta, nobody thinks twice about going to a strip club. He says, you want to get a bite to eat? Go to the strip club. A night out with friends? Go to the strip club.
Mr. LOVE: You've got the nine-to-fivers who might have snuck off from work, just got paid. You got the dope boys who hung out in the streets all week. You got record label executives in the strip club. You got DJs in strip club. You got other artists in the strip clubs. So if you're a nobody, and that song is working, everybody who you could possibly want to hear your music is probably in the building.
BLAIR: To get your music into that building, here's how it works. First, relationships. Wendy Day hooked me up with LuQman, the founder of Pure Pain Records. He says his first stop is with the dancers.
Mr. LUQMAN (Founder, Pain Record): You know, I don't like to say stripper. I say dancers. And just be cordial with them, spend a little money and then let them know what you're trying to do.
BLAIR: LuQman convinces the dancers to get the strip club DJs to play the song he's currently trying to promote.
Unidentified Announcer: Hey, (Unintelligible).
BLAIR: The strip club to go to on Monday nights in Atlanta is Magic City. LuQman invited me to go with him. The crowd is what you might find in any club except for the dozens of nearly naked women.
The patrons include older professionals and younger, college-age kids, mostly men but also some women. LuQman takes me to Sweet Pea, one of the club's main dancers. Petite and charming, and wearing nothing but heels, jewelry and a thong, Sweet Pea is very enthusiastic about her place in the hit-making process.
Ms. SWEET PEA (Exotic Dancer): The guys have to come up with, like, a hot song at first, and once they come up with that song, we just ask the DJs to play it on our stage set. We just request a song, and we just start it from there.
BLAIR: So later that evening, Sweet Pea and the Snack Pack, four other dancers, perform to LuQman's record by rapper Roam Bad Daddy.
(Soundbite of music)
BLAIR: And then, while the dancers are doing some pretty amazing tricks on the poles, one of the employees of LuQman's record label comes to the edge of the stage with a big wad of bills and starts making it rain by throwing the bills on the stage during the entire song.
As the performance wraps up, the dancers pick up the bills. They're getting paid for requesting the song. Making it rain is also an important part of the show, to get the attention of the influential people in the club, mostly the radio DJs, says Kwam Vander, better known as DJ Scream.
He says sometimes it works because even a mediocre song can be a turn-on when a woman's dancing to it.
Mr. DJ SCREAM: There's nothing like seeing women dance to a record. There's records I hear that I hate, and then I see women dancing to them - oh, it's not that bad.
BLAIR: Strip clubs are now hip-hop's second skin. Videos are shot in strip clubs. Songs by big name rappers like T.I. and Ludacris are devoted to strip clubs.
Mr. JELANI COBB (Author, "To The Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic"): Strip culture has bled over to popular culture in general.
BLAIR: Jelani Cobb is the author of "To The Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic." He says the strip club aesthetic is now showing up all over the place, including at a half-time show at a basketball game at Morehouse College.
Mr. COBB It was very strip-club influenced. It involved like a kind of mock lap-dancing and overtly erotic, you know, performance. And it was a family event. And so people really did not take lightly to it. But I thought it was the perfect example of how that culture has, you know, made this connection.
BLAIR: The strip club system in Atlanta is working well for LuQman. His record by Roam Bad Daddy is moving up the chain from the strip club to local radio.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
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