What Are the Ethics of Drake’s Magic City Merch?
The Canadian rapper asserts his connection to an Atlanta legend.
Drake is currently in Atlanta, wrapping up a three-night run as the grand finale to his Drake and the Three Migos concert series, and hosting a Tuesday night birthday party for Future at the legendary strip club Magic City that ended in gunfire. (No one was injured, and the party was shut down.)
On Tuesday, he released a line of special-edition merch in support of the tour; his most recent album, Scorpion; and his affection for perhaps hip hop’s most important institution: a line of T-shirts, hoodies, and sweatpants in collaboration with Magic City, with prices ranging from $45 to $120. The graphics combine the sinewy Magic City logo with iconography from Scorpion, including pieces that celebrate the club’s iconic Magic City Mondays; some pieces even rebrand the club as “Scorpion City.”
Magic City is a part of hip hop lore—it’s mentioned in countless songs (Young Jeezy even has a song called “Magic City Mondays”), and the club is often referred to as the place that “launched” the careers of hometown rappers Migos and Future (both Drake collaborators), as well as Young Thug, 2 Chainz, and others. Get in good with the DJs—especially Esco, who’s the club’s resident DJ on Mondays—and they’ll play your song. And then, “Once your song gets played, once people start to know who you are, you need to start throwing money at dancers whenever that song comes on,” reported GQ in a 2015 story on the club. Like a lot of money: “And the dancers—they're a lot more likely to request your song if they know you're going to throw $10,000 at them. That's how you get noticed in the room. And that's how the dancers start requesting your song.”
Of course, no rapper “owns” Magic City, but is it corny as hell for Drake, who has close relationships with many Atlanta rappers but famously hails from Canada, to insinuate such a strong connection with the place? On “Plastic Bag,” a song from Drake and Future’s 2015 mixtape What a Time To Be Alive, Drake mentions Magic City in a verse: “Oh yeah, Magic City on a Monday / Esco treat that shit like church on Sunday.” Clearly Drake didn’t just arrive on the Magic City scene, but it didn’t bring him up or break him the way it has so many other rappers. Merch right now is a great way to insist on the depth of your connection to someone or something; entrepreneurs like Elon Musk even use it to promote businesses that don’t quite exist in what I would deem a “merch ponzi scheme.” Merch, in other words, is a dubious space, in which deep, inside-baseball references and a wealth of graphics work as an assertion of authenticity. Online Ceramics’ Grateful Dead T-shirts are as dense as an illuminated manuscript; that goes hand-in-hand with the Deadhead mythology that requires encyclopedic knowledge of the band’s songs and history. “Real heads only,” as they say--though T-shirts can assert a connection or knowledge that can be tenuous at best.
Furthermore, how the revenue stream will be divided between Drake and Magic City is worth thinking about. Will the dancers at the club receive a share of the profits? (We reached out to a handful of Magic City dancers on Instagram to ask if they’d like to weigh in, and will update if we receive a reply.) Drake, who was widely criticized for his treatment of Sophie Brusseaux, the wife of his son Adonis, clearly has complicated feelings about women. He even tried to get stripper Maliah Michel to stop dancing by “retiring” a jersey in her name; “no man can retire me,” she responded on Instagram. “Maliah will retire Maliah.” I'd rather buy a line of Maliah merch.