The music you hear in Magic City isn't the music you might expect at a strip club. Magic City Mondays are the most important nights in the most important club in the most important city in the hip-hop industry. Magic City is the place where you hear music before anyone else does, and where it is decided if that music gets played anywhere else. ... Occasionally, City Dollars threw some singles at the naked woman standing in front of us, the way an old man might absentmindedly feed some ducks the crust of his sandwich. ... On the bigger nights at Magic City, you can find Magic patrolling the room in a taupe suit, parting the clouds of hookah smoke with a wineglass in his fist. His trim hair going gray, his lantern jaw set. He played football on scholarship at Duke and at age 60 still has the bearing of a man who knows he's physically more powerful than other people. He is called Big Mag, pronounced "big maj" (Lil Magic is his son), and he is an elder statesman of the street. Atlanta is balkanized—you might not be welcome in Bankhead if you're not from there. But as the proprietor of Magic City, as a man who has, in his parlance, been running around in the streets for thirty years, it's different for Magic. He can pass safely into any zone he likes; he can talk to almost anyone like family. ... If hip-hop were Silicon Valley, Magic City would be the place venture capitalists would loiter, looking for talent.
He sold America on a West Coast gangster fantasy — and embodied it. Then the bills came due ... His exploits — some mythic, some real — during the heyday of Death Row Records have become part of hip-hop lore: In the early Nineties, he allegedly shook down Vanilla Ice into handing over publishing profits, walking the rapper out to a hotel-room balcony to show him how far his fall would be. ("I needed to wear a diaper that day," Ice said later.) In his memoir, former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller alleged that Knight and his cohorts, bearing baseball bats, intimidated Eazy-E into releasing Dre from his Ruthless Records contract. (The claims have never been substantiated.) Knight was sitting next to Tupac when he was gunned down in 1996 in Las Vegas; his participation in a fight on the night of the shooting would land him in prison for five years on a probation violation. ... As Knight's fortunes have crumbled, he's gotten closer to the streets, according to prosecutors. In a motion arguing for the high bail (which would later be reduced to $10 million), the L.A. District Attorney's office alleged a recent scheme by Knight to "tax" out-of-town rappers for as much as $30,000 just to work in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. ... former associates struggle to understand why such an undeniably talented businessman can't escape this kind of small-time drama and thuggery. ... Knight already has two prior violent felonies on his record: If any of his current charges stick, under California's Three Strikes law, he could be going to jail for the rest of his life.
On paper, Khaled's career doesn't make a whole lot of sense. He's released eight full-length albums but doesn't actually rap on any of them. He's perhaps the most quoted figure in hip-hop, able to create viral catch phrases with an ease that marketing executives dream about. He's played a serious role in the hip-hop industry throughout his career, yet he's perceived almost exclusively as a meme by fans across the nation. He's a human pop-up ad who, to many, is known simply for shouting his own name like a hairy brown Pikachu. And, sure, any fool can stumble into success. ... But that fool won't stay there for nearly a decade, collaborating with the biggest names in the industry: Kanye West, Jay Z, Rick Ross, Nas. If they have a pulse and can rap, Khaled has worked with them. ... It's the tale of a child of immigrant parents who worked his way up from DJing school dances in Orlando to the top of the Miami music scene and, now, into two million (and counting) cell phones, where he delivers daily sermons about the correlation between egg whites and success from a three-inch screen.
Becoming a rapper today might seem as easy as signing up for SoundCloud and visiting your neighborhood face-tattoo parlor, but only a few artists get to travel the country playing to sold-out arenas. Whichever end of this vast spectrum you find yourself on, it helps to be young and unattached, and able to tour constantly. E-40 is none of those things: he is 49, happily married with two sons. His rap career began when cassette tapes still seemed pretty novel, and now that many of us don’t even have a way of listening to CDs, he’s returned to making music the way he did back in the late ’80s: completely independently, selling his raps more or less directly to his fans.