Strip Clubs, “Bands a Make Her Dance”, and Music That Just Sounds Good (Mike Will Made It)
There are a few things you should know about me, and then I’ll get to talking about the song “Bands a Make Her Dance” by Juicy J, featuring Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, and produced by Mike Will Made It. I’ll try to get through that first part quickly because it’s decidedly the less interesting than talking about ratchets and strip clubs.
I’ve only been to three strip clubs. The first one was called Cheeks. It’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and my girlfriend-at-the-time brought me there on my twenty-second birthday. I don’t remember why. It was terrible. There was a small lake of vomit in front of the mens room door, and it didn’t seem like anybody’s job to clean it up. Drinks cost about $20. We saw someone get bounced for licking a dancer’s chest, almost motorboating her, really.
Cheeks is a seedy place. It’s the kind of place where you invite a whistleblower from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and beat the whistleblowing out of him right there in the parking lot.
The second strip club was called Peepers. It’s in Utica. When I was in high school, there was a coffee shop next door where we used to hang out. We’d sit out in front smoking cigarettes and hackle the guys going into Peepers by calling out, “Peeper!” It was clever. Little did I know that, like, ten years later I’d be one of those peepers.
Peepers was maybe even more depressing than Cheeks because it’s extremely low rent. I mean, Santa Fe is a state capital. Utica is something like the opposite of that. Everything in Peepers seems like it’s covered in dirty black, low-pile carpeting. Everything except for the stage, which was a shiny (intentional?) black color that caught murky reflections of the lighting rig and, if I recall, dollar store disco ball hanging above. They either didn’t sell alcohol or the dancers weren’t fully nude. One or the other — possible both. It was a depressing experience that wouldn’t have happened if, you know, me and my friends hadn’t been up for a day or two, you know, doing stuff and drinking. Literally the only positive part of the experience was they played Drake’s “Best I Ever Had”, which I’ve already jotted down a few thousand words on. (Forthcoming - threat/promise.)
The last strip club was some place in Syracuse, New York. I don’t remember what it was called. I got there with a bachelor party and promptly passed out in an armchair. I remember it was very bright, like every non-dance-able surface was covered with lightbulbs, which seems odd so maybe I dreamt that.
Another thing about me, quickly, is that I’m really into thinking about how cultural gestures can unfairly co-opt or otherwise appropriate other people’s thematic lives. And I’m especially wary of getting myself sucked into a large-scale culture-generating machine that does that. Like what happened to Seven Samurai and how Clint Eastwood just seems like a super-racist now and his whole career sort of makes symmetrical sense to me now. So the whole thing about me (a person who, If I were a D&D character, wouldn’t have rolled a 20 in ‘strip club culture’) loving this song about strip clubs seems, on the face of it, maybe sort of unseemly? Especially the part about how the “You say no to ratchet pussy / Juicy J can’t” line always feels like this profound life-affirming experience.1
Jon Caramanica wrote a really great piece in a recent T Magazine. He says, “the way some cities are known for their restaurants or their museums or their turn-of-the-century architecture, Atlanta’s landmarks are strip clubs”, and then he goes on to talk about how strip clubs are an integral part of the promotional cycle of rap music in the south — especially Atlanta, which is really just an incredible cultural epicenter of interesting rap music (and black culture). It might seem sort of facile, but I don’t think it’s wrong to say that the southern, black view of strip clubs is just different than your (read: my) northern, not-black view of them.
Future, who’s had like the steepest personal appreciation delta of any artist I can remember, talked to Caramanica in that piece, and he was pretty blunt: “I just knew I had to start with [strip clubs]. You gotta go through the front door to get to the back of the house.”
Clearly, there are a lot of cultural and pragmatic reasons why strip clubs are popular in rap music. (Cf., Hannibal Buress’s white strip clubs/black strip clubs joke — pretty funny/true.) On the other hand, strip clubs are places where people go to spend money to watch women take of their clothes and/or get lap dances. So for all the high-minded culture/history/business talk, there’s like a whole roar of applause for the more pragmatic reason why strip clubs figure so prominently in rap. (Plus, it’s not like everyone’s favorite white indie rocker isn’t actually some sort of exploitative sexual predator-artist, amiright? (yes).)
I don’t know, honestly, I see why strip clubs are dirty/nasty, but I also sort of agree with this joke I heard by David Huntsberger last night about how people try to put a stink to strippers — “Oh, you take off your clothes for money” — when in fact, every job is for money, and taking off your clothes is one of the easier jobs in the world. I think the larger point is that strip clubs foster a potentially exploitative work environment, but just about every work environment is or can be exploitative. (Rise up proletariat! False consciousness! Alienation, etc.!)
From my personal experience, I’m not a strip clubs type of person. I know this. It’s not that I think they’re implicitly bad, or that I don’t think people should pay money for sexual gratification. It’s partially that I don’t like the sort of person who goes there, ie, the sort of person who’s totally fine with the idea that you can pay for sexual gratification. I guess I’m drawing a sort of fine distinction. It’s like, I’m totally fine with the idea of paying for sex, but I just don’t want to - just like I’m fine with people being Republicans even though I certainly am not. I think the world is a large and diverse place, and a lot of things don’t really hurt other people, but the idea of them maybe hurts our own ideas. I mean, that’s basically the underpinning of the modern vernacular of ideology.
You can treat anybody or anything as a means to your own gratification rather than something meaningful and important in itself. “Bands a Make Her Dance” is reasonably misogynistic in its non-strip club content. It’s mostly viewing women as objects, using them, literally controlling them, and maneuvering them around in a hyper-real carnival of sexual exertion. I don’t think there’s a lot of profit in ‘defending’ the song on any high-minded terms. You basically just have to say that the song just is about creating an atmosphere of hazy, remorseless sexual adventure and accept it at that. I will say that if you think about it, that really is the effect that a lot of great art strives for and generally falls short of achieving to the extent at which “Bands a Make Her Dance” reaches. That’s one of the main reasons, I guess, why I think it’s such an amazing song.
So me. I don’t like strip clubs. I don’t like misogyny. I love this song about strip clubs and misogyny. Hey! Whaa happened?!
The easiest answer is that I’m a dark person, a hypocrite, someone who in his heart simply accepts the patriarchal values that run through our culture. I think there is a part of that going on here. If I were a more high-minded, a better, person I probably wouldn’t give the time of day to a song like “Bands a Make Her Dance”. I’d hear it once, or half of once, and turn it off. But I can’t. You say no to Juicy J. B Michael can’t!
OK, let’s cut to the chase (a thousand words in…): “Bands a Make Her Dance” sounds amazing. Honestly, the words could be all gibberish (Flit it from the tide like a hubba hubba space nun) and the song would still be amazing. I could get over my admittedly juvenile humor fixation on the term “ratchet pussy”. I really could.
I don’t think it’s untoward for someone who really has no interest in strip club culture to be at the same time totally enamored with strip club music. It’s not a form of slumming it or appropriation. I sort of think that the converse is true: if you were to simply deny the validity of strip club music, that would be cultural misstep. There’s nothing wrong with loving the hell out of “Bands a Make Her Dance” because it’s a pointless exercise to imagine your not liking it would otherwise — what? — save a stripper? Who are you, Drake? There is responsible cultural consumption, and I think that’s basically the best you can do. You just have to weigh and measure, think. And I’ve thought about it.
Thing is, Mike Will is this year’s Clams Casino. His production has been everywhere good: Future, Kanye, Rick Ross, Jeremih, Schoolboy Q, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane. Like, he single handedly made Future, a pretty underwhelming performer heretofore, into one of my favorite rappers of the year. Go ahead and download his latest compilation mixtape. I’ll wait. It’s worth it.
Lil Wayne sort of brings some heat, 2 Chainz does his thing, Juicy J does his thing. I mean, like I said, the whole song is like a wet dream inside a sex dream inside a porno movie. The upside, I guess, is that Juicy J shows up his scene-biting usurper Spaceghostpurrp’s sex-imagining skills. This song makes the latter’s phonk-szxxx jams sound like the aural equivalent of a lewd drawing on a bathroom wall. “Bands a Make Her Dance” is a fully realized, near-Lynchian sexual dystopia. I don’t think it’s deep because it’s not really a metaphor for anything. There’s no symbolism. But it is a quite vivid and focused evocation that stands out from the ironically flat “make it rain / make that ass clap” approach to strip club songs.
I don’t think, thematically, “Bands a Make Her Dance” is really any better or worse than any other song. Like, I don’t really care about the personal motivations of Panda Bear or Lil Wayne or anyone else who makes music. I care about how the music sounds, because duh it’s music. Honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked if every Grizzly Bear song were actually about dipping live puppies in concrete to make statues because I know literally none of the words to any of their songs, and I actually figure that’s part of their artistic goal. I do know their music sound damned amazing. And “Bands a Make Her Dance” sounds, dare I say, even damneder amazinger.
That sort of issue should probably get looked at a little later on. The other thing, obviously, is that “Bands a Maker Her Dance” seems sort of exploitative since it’s, well, it’s all in the name actually. Your money is making this woman dance for you. Seems pretty degrading. OK, so we’ll look at that, too. My thinking goes several different ways to start about all this, honestly. It seems like a pretty common way to censure rap music is to say that it’s almost implicitly misogynistic. I mean, I think rap is trenchantly minsogynst, which garners a de facto “implicitness”, but it doesn’t have to be. ↩
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