Music News

South Florida rappers find success at local strip clubs

"Drive Me Crazy" by Don Yute featuring Amerika

Six cops sit in patrol cars outside Diamonds Cabaret, a swank-meets-hood black strip club on the western, industrial edge of North Miami Beach. It's just before midnight, and three security guards stand near the door. The club once had a bad reputation it's trying to outgrow — but the feeling that tonight is going to be a wild night is inescapable.

For starters, it's Miami rapper J.T. Money's birthday, and a bunch of local rappers and producers are expected to attend his bash: Trick Daddy, the Dunk Riders, Grind Mode, Ball Greezy, and a crew from Miami's Poe Boy Records. A lot of these hip-hop artists don't clock much radio play, but their songs are anthems in urban neighborhoods throughout South Florida. And a big portion of their popularity is related to one thing: Their music is played at local strip clubs.

A place like Diamonds is the perfect barometer to judge what's hot with urban music. Songs still months away from radio play are on regular rotation here. And girls who work at Diamonds consider themselves to be the best black strippers in Miami — so the place is always a party.

Only moments after stepping inside the small lobby, where admission is paid and patrons are patted down, there's already a touch of trouble. A reggae artist named Don Yute and his manager are here to see the DJ. But the girls in charge of admission won't let them in for free.

"It's $10, boo," a stylish black woman with long, curly hair says with attitude. "Your name is not on the list."

"What do you mean, we can't come in? This is Don Yute," his manager says with confidence. "Tell the DJ Don Yute is here."

Don Yute, born Jason Williams, is a 30-year-old reggae artist from Port Antonio, Jamaica. Yute isn't a big name in his native country, let alone Miami. But they're hoping to slip Yute's latest single to one of the DJs. That single, "Drive Me Crazy," is a sexy, up-tempo dancehall track geared toward erotic dancers. Doors could open if they can get the record played tonight — most likely by tipping the DJ ten bucks.

But they've got to make it inside first. Eddie "DJ Fattboi" Desrosier, 28, who spins music at Diamonds and bears an uncanny resemblance to the animated character Shrek, doesn't recognize Yute's name. He won't approve them to get in for free. Opting not to pay $10 apiece, the manager, in desperation, slips me a CD of Yute's music.

"Tell him to play track five," he says while being ushered out the door. "Track five! That song is perfect for the strip clubs."

A bouncer turns in my direction. "We get this all the time," he says. "Nowadays, all of the local artists come here to try and get their music played."

For a lot of urban musicians in South Florida, the popularity of their music inside black strip clubs is directly linked to their success. More new songs are debuted in these erotic venues than on any mainstream local radio station. And it appears to be a phenomenon only in the dozen or so South Florida strip clubs that cater to a black clientele while other clubs play mostly Top 40.

In the eyes of artists and record-label executives, titty bars are an ideal place to test new material. If girls can bump and grind to a new song and it entices guys to spend money, there's a good chance the track might be a hit.

Jack "DJ Suicide" LaLanne spent 15 years working as a radio personality at 99 Jamz and as a DJ at strip clubs. "It's very common for artists to perform in strip clubs to stay relevant in the streets," he says. "That's where most major records are being broken anyway. All these new songs on the radio that you hear, even national stuff, it doesn't get broken on the radio. Those songs are big in strip clubs first, whether it's a Young Jeezy or whoever. Radio is last nowadays."

The 28-year-old DJ Chico, who declines to use his real name because he works for pirate radio stations, also spins records inside black strip clubs. He's currently working at Flavors, a black topless bar in Pompano Beach. Chico asserts that DJs in these venues fill the void that mainstream radio stations leave open by not supporting enough local artists.

"I feel like the radio stations, they don't play music for the people," Chico says. "And it's not right. The little person, they don't have any other opportunity to get their music heard, so they come to titty bars."

It was the mid-1980s when local hip-hop entrepreneur Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell and his 2 Live Crew partners began using strip clubs as their venue of choice for breaking records. They claim they were the pioneers of breaking into music via strip clubs.

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Jonathan Cunningham