May 7, 2006

At strip clubs, hip-hop is big business

By Gail Mitchell

NEW YORK (Billboard) - It's no longer just the hardworking
women who make money at strip clubs. These late-night hangouts,
with their booming sound systems and gender-mixed crowds, have
become big business for the record industry, particularly for
hip-hop labels.

"Strip clubs have become the main breaking place for
records, especially in the South," says Jermaine Dupri,
president of urban music for Virgin Records.

The music industry increasingly has embraced the strip club
out of necessity and convenience. Tighter radio playlists mean
it's harder than ever to break a track on the FM dial, and
regular dance clubs -- where songs get played for a moment and
then lost in a mix -- tend to play what's already on the radio.
At strip joints, DJs are able to play full tracks and can take
a chance on underground and unproven material.

Two principal DJ collectives have sprung up that target the
strip club circuit -- the Hen House in Detroit and
Atlanta-based Hittmenn DJs, a 72-DJ collective established
three years ago by Robert "Kaspa" Smith, now president, and CEO
Greg Street.

"Right now our DJs reach 32 million people in 29 markets,"
Smith says.


That's major reach for lifestyle promotions, Interscope
urban promotion executive Kevin Black says. "When we work
records, we work lifestyle venues like barbershops, beauty
shops, skating rinks, bowling alleys -- anything with a culture
to it. And strip clubs fall into that category."

"Word-of-mouth is still one of the biggest promotion
factors out there," Universal Motown VP of rap promotion Troy
Marshall adds. "That has helped turn strip clubs into big

Perhaps most important for the record promotion business,
plenty of strip clubs break the stereotype of lecherous men in
raunchy, smoke-filled haunts. At Sue's Rendezvous in Mount
Vernon, New York, for example, DJ Carl Blaze of New York's
top-rated R&B/hip-hop station WWPR (Power 105.1) plays the hits
to a smartly dressed crowd. And while women -- ones not on
poles -- are a minority, there are still plenty of them.

"It's just another night out for us," one young woman at
Sue's told Billboard. "Great music -- and this is where the men

Today, strip clubs are one of the fastest-rising segments
among entertainment venues. There are more than 7,500 strip
clubs across the United States, according to the Strip Club
News Web site. Key venues are located in such prime markets as
New York (Sue's Rendezvous), Detroit (Platinum), Charlotte,
N.C. (Champagne), Miami (Diamonds) and Atlanta (Body Tap, Magic
City, Strokers).

Houston's Club Onyx, for example, is an upscale venue
established nearly two years ago to tap into what its Web site
calls one of the "fastest-growing but underserved demographic
segments -- the universe of highly successful and increasingly
affluent urban males."


The strip club circuit also is a great place to see and be
seen for those in the hip-hop business. Virgin's Dupri, who
declares that "strip club airplay is (more influential) than
radio airplay in Atlanta," has signed artists as a result of
his strip club forays. These include rappers Mannish Man and T.

"Strip clubs are definitely a good place to meet people,
learn things and see what's happening in other people's worlds.
I'm probably the only label president there every other week,"
Dupri says with a laugh.

Record executives love the easy access to quick feedback
provided by strip clubs. "You can often gauge how hot your
record is by the number of times strippers request the song
during a given night," says one major-label promotion executive
who requested anonymity.

Among the bounce-friendly, beat-banging R&B/hip-hop hit
records that Atlanta's Hittmenn collective has promoted first
in the strip clubs are Ciara's "1, 2 Step," Dem Franchize
Boyz's "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It," Young Jeezy's "Trap or Die"
and D4L's "Laffy Taffy."

"Lil Jon, the Ying Yang Twins and Ludacris are all artists
who were helped early on" by strip club exposure, Smith adds.
"Now today they are some of the biggest artists in the


Urban music's working relationship with strip clubs dates
back to the late '80s, when Luther "Luke" Campbell and the 2
Live Crew first gained notice. The dancers who worked with the
censorship-threatened performer onstage and in his videos were
strip club dancers.

"I didn't have a big budget where I could hire regional
people," Campbell recalls. "I had to be creative and use all
the different avenues I could think of."

Campbell is in the midst of promoting his first new project
in several years: a three-CD boxed set titled "Uncle Luke -- My
Life & Freaky Times," due May 16. Once again his promotional
strategy includes strip clubs. Campbell is staging an "Are You
Ms. Freaky Soul 2006" competition at strip clubs across the
country. Prizes include $10,000 in cash, a Rolex watch and the
opportunity to tour with Uncle Luke.

And Universal Motown's Marshall is coordinating a
promotional strip club tour in June on behalf of "Go Head," a
new track by Ali & Gipp. The plan includes visits to venues in
17 cities, including Houston's Onyx.