Isn’t This a Typical Fantasy for a WSJ Reader?

Posted by jcmaziquemd on April 7, 2011


By Ben Westhoff

Chicago Review Press

There are dozens of rap songs called “Make It Rain.” Unlike the Tom Waits track of that name, however, these do not concern existential desires for cleansing – they’re about throwing money in the air at strip clubs.

Countless rap videos feature protagonists tossing stacks of money toward the rafters, or flicking individual bills with their fingertips. It’s a gesture of appreciation for particularly agile dancers, or simply a way to show you have the generosity of a human Pez dispenser.

For years now, a proclivity for making it rain has been a most ubiquitous boast in hip hop; those who fancy themselves particularly adept claim to make it “thunderstorm” or even “hurricane.” “If it’s a ‘rain storm,’” hip hop and R&B singer Ray J told me a few years back, “everybody’s in there making it rain, and they get trash bags and buckets to put the money in. It’s crazy.”

As a hip hop fan, I’d been hearing about this practice since at least 2006, when Fat Joe and Lil Wayne hit big with their single “Make It Rain.” But I had never actually witnessed it myself in the few times I’d visited strip clubs. Nor could I find YouTube documentation of it actually occurring outside of music video sets. In fact, the more I heard about it, the more dubious I became. Particularly in a recession, it seemed unlikely that run-of-the-mill rappers could afford to be so financially reckless. Hip-hop is obsessed with fantasy, but I refused to believe that so many of my heroes were liars. And so, as if hunting Sasquatch, I became hell-bent on seeing the act in person.

All of this came to a head last year while I was in Houston researching my book on southern hip hop, “Dirty South.” I hit the town with a rapper named Trae, who is corpulent, with droopy, bearlike eyes and a voice so deep it’s sometimes hard to understand him. He’s not well-known nationally, but is a household name among rap fans in Texas. As we traveled from club to club, we were whisked past bouncers and into private rooms. His posse included a stand-up comedian, a videographer and some gang members who seemed to function as security.

And me. I had a difficult time trailing his chromed-out Dodge Challenger in my rented Hyundai Accent, and when we arrived at our last stop for the evening – a gentlemen’s club on the Richmond Strip – the attendants spent about twenty minutes rearranging parked cars so Trae’s could be next to the door (presumably so some of its cool would rub off on the establishment). Once inside, however, I saw that “strip club” didn’t entirely apply. Owing to local ordinances, the women here shake it with their clothes on.

Clad in a variety of skimpy and sparkling outfits, the dancers gyrated to the sounds of street rappers like Young Jeezy. Those not onstage huddled around tables of food and liquor in roped-off private areas near the back — like the one our group was shepherded into. They were attempting to entice a high roller into a private dance, and had the right idea, considering this entourage (myself excluded) had money to blow. This became clear when, all of a sudden, Trae and his crew began ripping open stacks of cash wrapped in plastic, presumably fresh from the bank. Handfuls of bills flew into the air, fluttering down onto the dancers.

Guys all over the room joined in, and soon money was everywhere – on the floor, on tables and in small mounds on the stage. When the rainmakers were tapped out, the ladies scooped the cash into large red dishpans.

So, it turns out that making it rain is quite real. Not only that, but it’s more inexpensive than I’d thought; upon inspection I saw that folks were tossing ones. Heck, if you consider inflation, this habit becomes more affordable each year.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t come prepared — the few crinkled ones in my wallet weren’t sufficient for me to join in. As I left, I found some cash underfoot and consider tossing it up, just for the experience. I realized, however, that this would be a terrible breach of etiquette. Truth be told, I was out of my element. And so I bid adieu to Trae and his brethren, leaving the weather-altering to the professionals.

Ben Westhoff’s new book, “Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop,” is available on Amazon. In it, he journeys across the south in a small Hyundai, partying with famous rappers and documenting the emergence of southern hip-hop music, which now dominates the east and west coast styles.


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