By Ashley Zimmerman
By Dana Krangel
By John Hood
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By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
By Steve Brennan
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"Just Know Dat" by Flo Rida
In Campbell's eyes, strip clubs at that point were mostly for bikers and white guys. The music played at local clubs was for that same demographic, with guitar-heavy rock of the Alice Cooper and Poison variety. Campbell saw an opportunity for Southern rap to sneak in.
In 1986, 2 Live Crew's first single, "Throw the Dick," was a hit at Miami strip clubs like Coco's and Club Rolexx (now called Club Lexx). National attention followed almost immediately. Most bands at the time spent promo money on videos. But Campbell said he figured out that making a song popular in topless bars throughout South Florida, and eventually around the country, ensured that it would be played during lap dances for years.
"Everyone was trying to figure out, 'How is he selling 500,000 records out of his mother's wash house, with no radio play whatsoever?' " Campbell recalls. "I'll tell you how: 'Cause I captured the strip-club market, and the streets started following, that's how." The group's label, Luke Skyywalker Records, was the first black-owned indie label to notch two gold records, and much of it was attributed to the group's popularity in nude cabarets around the world.
Campbell eventually split from 2 Live Crew in 1993 to start his solo career, but group member Chris Wongwon — AKA Fresh Kid Ice, AKA Chinaman — recalls those early days of titty-bar promotions the same way. "Yo, we figured out early on, if you got 50 strippers all dancing and shaking they asses to one song, saying 'That's my jam,' the guys in the club are gonna be like, 'Oh shit, that's my jam too,' " Wongwon said by phone from his home in Miramar. "It really is that simple."
Given 2 Live Crew's raunchy image and the highly sexual nature of their songs, there weren't other outlets that could play their earliest recordings.
"All those songs like 'Pop That Pussy' and 'Face Down Ass Up' could never work on radio, so we used the strip clubs," Wongwon says. "And we were doing that way before anybody else was."
After 2 Live Crew found success from strip bars, it paved the way for other local rappers like MC Shy D, Poison Clan, J.T. Money, and Disco Rick. Soon, it caught on in Houston and Atlanta.
"Radio stations in South Florida have gotten so bad, it's like you hear the same 12 songs all day long," Campbell says. "But when you go to the strip clubs, you're hearing all kind of new stuff. The girls listen to music and request songs that they like. 'Cause they want to dance to songs that will generate them the most revenue. There's an entire music culture that exists inside of these [strip] clubs if you pay attention to it. When I'm in there, I always watch what the girls are requesting — it helps keep me current."
It's early Sunday morning at Flavors in Pompano Beach, and a black woman wearing a cropped red polo shirt, red-and-white panties, and black heels works the center pole. She dips down and flexes her butt cheeks repeatedly the way a bodybuilder flexes his pecs. Patrons start tossing dollars toward the stage, yelling "Pop that shit, baby" as she blushes.
In the DJ booth, Chico blares music perfect for rump-shaking. Lyrically, none of the songs are erotic, but in strip clubs, the beat is more important. In between calling different girls up to the stage, Chico can't pass up the opportunity to talk shit on the microphone.
"Fuck 99 Jamz," he says. "They don't play local artists the way we do in here, so fuck 'em.' " And with that, he drops Miami rapper Bizzle's "Naked Hustle," a catchy strip-club anthem marketed solely at erotic venues.
Asked why he disses local radio, Chico leans and says, " 'Cause they need to start playing music that the people like. Man, I been playing Bizzle and Grind Mode and Billy Blue for so long. Those other stations need to catch up."
Any artist savvy enough to get his music played in South Florida strip clubs stands to benefit from it. For instance, Opa-Locka rapper Brisco recently signed a deal with Cash Money Records based off street buzz alone. It wasn't until recently that Brisco started getting national radio play, and his new song, "Just Know Dat," featuring Flo Rida, is now in heavy rotation. Before that, strip clubs were a lifeline. "Sometimes a hood spin," he says, "is bigger than a radio spin."
He tests all of his songs in the strip clubs. "That's where all my records get broken," Brisco continues. "If the girls can bounce their ass to it, it's a hit. Down here, you can give a nigga $10 and say 'Play my shit,' and it's a way more cost-effective way to get your music heard."
Miami rapper Billy Blue, who recently signed with Poe Boy Records, got his start the same way. "When you're an unsigned artist, money has to be spent," he says. "Even if it's just giving $10, $15, or $30 to $40 to the DJ to play my record, I'll do it."
Blue also knows to use the dancers to get his record circulated. "They move from club to club all the time, so you always treat the dancers well and tip them good so they'll request your songs at whatever clubs they work at."