INTERVIEW – A Conversation with DJ Big X of the Coalition DJs
by: Bryan Hahn (@notupstate)
If we head down to Atlanta and I say “strip clubs” you will probably have one of two reactions: “Who’s driving?” or general disgust. But if you’re involved in the music industry or an avid fan of new music, there’s a third reaction: “Who’s spinning?” Nowhere else in the country, does the DJ serve as an essential role in shaping the future of music than in Atlanta. While most people frequent Onyx or Magic City for the skin, unbeknownst to them, they’re catching wind of the next artist to make it big before anyone else in the United States.
The trend of hearing tomorrow’s stars in strip clubs may have been around as long as the strip clubs themselves, but one collective of DJs has been at the top of every artists’ lists as the ones to break their records in the 21st century. That collective is the Coalition DJs. Started back in 2008 by DJ Big X (Xavier Hargrove), the group started with four DJs: DJ Big X, DJ Funky, DJ Nando, and DJ X-Rated. Big X had noticed that his small knit group of DJ friends were already breaking new artists but that it could be so much more.
Being from Atlanta, I was always around the strip club scene. One thing that really drew me back into it was one of my friends, who’s now part of the Coalition-DJ Funky. He was already kinda responsible for breaking cats like Young Jeezy, Shawty Lo, and a lot of dudes coming out of Atlanta. When I was working at Rowdy [Records], he was my go to DJ. When I stopped at the label, I always seen him DJing at the club and I already knew how to DJ so I wanted to get a job DJing at a club. One of my friends who went to high school with me helped me do it. I went to see him on a Wednesday or Thursday night at Queens City. He was one of the owners. He asked if I wanted to come do his Saturday nights. I started that and went to Onyx. Then went to a few other clubs.
I knew Funky, Funky knew X-Rated, and me and Nando worked together at Onyx. We was doing a Sunday night at one club and it was so popular, that everybody and all the artists in the city were coming to see us on a Sunday night. I was thinking, “If everybody is coming to us to play their records, what do we have to do to get the ball rolling?” I came in and organized the madness. At one point, it was freeform. We have a real system that’s unique.
But early on, the group faced a major issue: having people respect and value the marketing services they were providing to new artists. Big X explains, “People knew records were being broke in the clubs but nobody took the DJs serious.” But they kept it moving. They did something new for DJs at the time: scheduling conference calls among themselves and then meeting in person to discuss their approach to DJing at the strip clubs as well as new artists they wanted to support. Eventually those meetings turned into New Music Mondays, which is an opportunity for artists to meet with 10-15 of the Coalition DJs at once and play their music to earn spins at the strip clubs. From there, the DJs work in new songs into their sets on a tight schedule, similar to how MTV was one of the first to incorporate Michael Jackson videos into their schedule, on the hour.
Big X gave me a little history lesson that while Miami dominated the strip club scene in the late 80’s, Atlanta had always been the “home of the strip club; always home of the best dancers, best DJs in that world.” What has helped contribute to those superlatives is the fact that the strip clubs heavily reflect the streets, similar to a barber shop: “One thing about strip clubs out here is that they’re the street because everyone on the street come to the strip club. If you a street dude, hustler, or however you get your money, you gon’ come see the girls.”
Now they have over 15 DJs in five major markets (Atlanta, Detroit, Carolina, Miami, Houston) and artists like Future, Migos, and Ca$h Out in their rolodex titled, “We played them first.” But there’s another piece to their successful strategy–the dancers.
Dancers are a major part of it. A lot of people don’t understand. When we play these new records, it’s during their sets. If they don’t like the records, they’re quick to tell you. If the song is horrible, nobody is going to tip on it. We have to make sure the songs are up to standard of what’s out here now. If we know the girls are receiving the record and they wanna hear it again, then we know that artist is about to blow.
Besides attracting a steady clientele, the dancers play a big role in helping the DJs serve as the A&R for the south. And then from there, it’s fair game for the rest of the country: “Once we play it, we make it okay for the outside DJs (radio, club). We test it before it gets big.” Big X emphasizes that at the root of it all is their passion to support new artists and finding the next wave in music. They don’t make a killing from New Music Mondays, so they have to supplement that with the gigs they get from strip clubs or other venues. As they continue to grow in clout and number, Big X sees one more obstacle to overcome. They want to stop hearing this, verbatim: “I got a strip club record just for you.” They’re tired of people putting strip club DJs in one box labeled Trap/strip club anthems.
“We play Rihanna, Ne-Yo, Jennifer Lopez, Maroon 5 because you get people from everywhere. There’s never one type of demographic. You have to have a broad collection at a strip club. We play slow R&B records and mid-tempo. The misconception of a strip club is all we play is strip club and Trap records. My man, DJ Funky, will sometimes play EDM records, depending on what the crowd is like that night.”
When I ask Big X about the pros of being a strip club DJ, he immediately replies with the freedom to play anything they choose to and working with beautiful women all night. He recounts that, “when they were breaking Jeezy and Gucci Mane, they used to come in and say, ‘I don’t wanna hear nothing for the rest of the night but Jeezy and Gucci.'” And that would be that.
1. What is your favorite movie of all time?
The Spook Who Sat By The Door
2. As a young DJ, who was the one DJ you looked up to?
Jam Master Jay
3. As a DJ, what’s your biggest pet peeve?
Never outshine the headlining DJ
4. What is your current DJ set up at home?
2 1200’s and a ’05 Vestax mixer
5. What’s your favorite record of all time?
“Funky Drummer” – James Brown