Photos by Shaniqwa Jarvis
One of the best places to break a hip-hop record is the strip club. Rappers don't just like tossing bands at the club; there, they can get immediate, first-hand glimpses at how dancers and other big spenders respond to the music. If no one's dancing or throwing money, things aren't looking good. The pipeline of a track moving from studio to club to radio to everywhere is well documented—legend has it that Gucci Mane would even drop records in the strip club the same day he finished them. Or, as he says in the first line of "Club Hoppin": "Started in Magic City/Ended in Onyx"—e.g. two of America's most infamous strip joints.
Southern clubs like these two in Atlanta—as well as the DJs that drop tracks there, such as DJ Esco (Future's official DJ)—have attained near-mythical status in hip-hop, enshrined by innumerable name-drops in songs. According to one Epic Records executive, strip club DJs have been "instrumental in breaking every artist out of Atlanta over the past five years." In New York, too, clubs have been partially responsible for breaking acts like French Montana and Bobby Shmurda. The whole process gives the strip club DJ and the dancers a surprisingly influential tastemaker status in hip-hop.
Armed with this knowledge, I channeled my inner DJ Esco and headed over to Sugar Daddy's Gentlemen's Club, a strip club in Long Island City to get the opinions of some of hip-hop's most important critics. I played three songs: "Feel No Ways" from Drake's Views, "Formation" off Beyonce's Lemonade, and, to switch it up a bit and pay homage, "Purple Rain" by Prince (RIP). After each song, I asked the dancers to share their thoughts on how the music affected the club's vibe. Their opinions differed wildly and even contradicted one another's takes on what went down. We discussed why customers always respond to Drake, which Beyoncé tracks make men feel guilty about being there, and the awkward silence that ensued after we played Prince.
"FEEL NO WAYS" BY DRAKE
Lily Marie, Dancer
I felt like this wasn't something that Drake would normally write. To me, "One Dance" is more of a Drake rhythm. I'm a Drake fan. Usually, when I listen to his music, I could close my eyes and get into it, but ["Feel No Ways"] didn't really do it for me.
When they started playing it, the energy in the club got lower; it kind of stood still. Whenever I hear the [Rihanna and Drake] song "Work" I start dancing. Same for "Controlla." All the dancers are singing it already, and we just started listening to it last week.
I like it. The girls were dancing, shaking their asses everywhere on stage to it. Honestly, everybody loves Drake. I was listening to his new album all day today, so I already knew ["Feel No Ways"]. It doesn't matter if the song is slow, all the dancers love anything Drake does. He could even speak Spanish and the dancers would love it. When customers listen to Drake at any strip club, they always spend money.
I feel like a lot of the guys who come in here relate to him a lot, relate to the things he talks about, the girls he raps about. I'm pretty sure he's been to strip clubs and spent money. Whenever customers hear Drake, they don't want to look bad when there's a pretty girl on stage and they're not spending money. Because when Drake sees a pretty girl on stage, he's probably going to spend money.
Jessica, Bottle Waitress
I think this song is the epitome of a Drake song. The way he sings, the way he stops, it's the epitome of a Drake flow. The way he says "on purpose." I think it's a good strip club song, but it's not a song you're going to hear in a club setting without dancers. It doesn't have as much bass, unlike most songs [that are hits] in clubs without dancers. But in a strip club setting, girls can dance to it well. It's like a nice, chill, sexual song...Drake is good music to play in a strip club because there's a whole variety of Drake songs. You have the stripper booty-shaking songs that are more up-tempo, and then you have the more slow, sensual songs for girls, like "Practice." Drake makes everybody feel like the girl on stage is their ex that moved away.
"FORMATION" BY BEYONCE
It's a nice song, I just don't like it. It's Beyoncé, everybody's going to go crazy besides me [laughs]. My daughter likes it, but I don't. The beat is good for a club. I just don't like the lyrics or the concept. The only part I liked is the lyrics, "You mix that creole with that negro, get that Texas bama." Something about that line, I just love it. But the song doesn't give me that let-me-twerk vibe.
"Formation" isn't a good song to play in a strip club, unless all the guys are going to get in formation and throw some money. Half these guys think that her music is just heartbreaks and shit. Who the hell wants to hear about heartbreaks inside a strip club? I don't think guys like Beyonce. I think they'd rather just listen to Future, or ratchet music that's going to make them want to spend money. That's my opinion.
I remember back in the day, they used to play "Irreplaceable" in the club: "To the left, to the left, everything you own in a box to the left." Guys would actually get mad when girls would sing it. But "Single Ladies" was a good song to play in the club—guys used to throw money at that one. I have yet to see guys throw money to "Formation."
I think it's a great song for the club because it's a women's anthem, empowering women, and the strip club life is about women and sexuality... so if you play that in a strip club, the girls are going to go crazy. I don't think it's a song that guys would like, though. There was one guy dancing to it just now, but I don't think you would see a guy in the club going crazy to it. But they'll bob to it.
Any Beyoncé song that is upbeat is good to play in the club. Off her new album, "Formation" is probably the only good club song. [Strip club DJs] often play "Single Ladies," "Formation," and "On The Run" because it's a women's environment. When it comes down to it, girls are going to dance on stage or be more entertaining when they hear a Beyonce song.
"PURPLE RAIN" BY PRINCE
That was kind of awkward. It kind of threw people off. The ones who knew the song sung the words to it. It's not a go-to strip club song.
There were a couple that looked up and were like, 'What's this? What's that?" It was a state of confusion for a couple of minutes. And then the ones that knew, they was like, "Nah, that's Prince! Purple Rain!" So Snapchat and Instagram came out. It was good for the ones who knew, the ones who respect the art and the craft of this man. Even though it threw a couple of people off, it was a good throw off because it took them out of their comfort zone of trap music.
The dancers were still dancing. That's their job to dance. They're not going to stop dancing. That's always going to happen. But the ones who knew [it was "Purple Rain] danced even harder because they understand what that song meant to them.
I feel like they shouldn't play that in the club cause it's too slow motion. People are not gonna like that. I'm not a fan of Prince. Yes, I know who he is. I don't know any of his music... people are hyped up, they're drunk. They're gonna want to hear trap music at a strip club.
Follow Zach on Twitter
Visit Shaniqwa's website for more of her photo work