Anyone who even has a cursory interest in Southern hip-hop culture knows that for decades, Atlanta’s Magic City “Adult Entertainment Nightclub” has been its fulcrum—so important in breaking and predicting hit records that superstars would rather service their tracks to its DJs than anyone at radio.
Part of that, of course, is because of its dancers, who are more powerful than any A&R: if they like a track, it’s almost a surefire hit, and the club’s name (and atmosphere) has been referenced through the years by everyone from Outkast to Jay Z to Cam’ron to Future to 2 Chainz. While much has been written about the club’s influence through the years, GQ has commissioned feminist director Lauren Greenfield—the auteur behind the acclaimed Queen of Versailles, among many other projects—to shoot a documentary about the club, its culture and influence.
It’s the best thing I’ve seen about it, not because the documentary features the cosigns of rappers like Future, but because Greenfield focuses the film on the women who make their living dancing “asshole-nekkid” for some of the world’s most famous musicians, actors and ballers. Which, obviously, always should be the focus, considering they are the reasons the club even exists. But beyond former dancer Sonya Taylor’s 2007 memoir Finding Platinum, I’ve never seen a profile that focuses on the dancers’ lives and minds and day-to-day more closely—it’s always been about the smash hits, the men who make them, and the bodies of the women who inspire them. It’s probably telling that even still, the dancers only get about five minutes total—but the film remains a complicated look into the wild economics of dancing at America’s most famous adult nightspot, where they’re carting home literally garbage bags full of money.
“I made anything from 15 to 20,000 dollars my first week here,” says the dancer known as Secret. “I was shocked... you make money for free. Just by dancing. Who doesn’t wanna make money for free?”
It’s the surface sentiment, to be sure, but Greenfield also takes it deeper, laying out a very specific economic cycle: If Future can afford to buy a mansion with a pool because Magic City helped break his singles, then why shouldn’t the dancers breaking those singles also benefit from his riches? In this documentary and in hip-hop lore, there are always the tales of the rapper or athlete who made it rain 30, 50, 100k at Magic City. No one can blame a dancer who becomes “addicted to the pole” when that kind of income is rolling in, even if it’s rolling in on your bare ass, especially if said dancer started working the pole because she couldn’t afford to pay for her college courses.
All of the dancers have higher ambitions, but the interviews also delve into the vicious cycle created by the music, the dancing, and the money, amid shots of a male club worker climbing a ladder to retrieve dollar bills from the lighting troughs on the ceiling. Implicit is the notion that one of the most culturally visible ways black people can become filthy rich in this country is by rapping, balling, stripping. “It’s a thick line between reality and entertainment. I guess I’ve been around long enough to realize that a lot of it is just a front,” says Lil Magic, the manager of Magic City. “I’ve been around money, I’ve seen money, I’ve seen the absence of money and what it does. I realize that wasting it just to impress people isn’t really the way to go.”
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