When it comes to viral hits that get hundreds of millions (if not billions) of streams, few know the game better than Citi Under Siege.
The founder and CEO of Run-It-Up Records, Stanley “Citi” Atwater has made a name for himself over the last 15 years specializing in discovering, developing and promoting hit records — among them some of the biggest and most culturally impactful anthems of the 21st century.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Citi got his start as a party promoter in his hometown’s iconic strip club scene before moving over into the music industry as Head of Marketing & Promotion at Block Entertainment, the label behind Jeezy’s Boyz N Da Hood collective and Yung Joc.
But it was Citi’s natural A&R instincts that kickstarted his career when he discovered Fast Life Youngstaz’s “Swag Surfin,” helping turn it into a gold-certified smash that soundtracks college homecomings, major league sports games and even the occasional Beyoncé performance to this day.
Where others have fizzled out after viral success, Citi has only continued to power forward while navigating the ever-evolving music industry. In 2017, he launched the independent label Run-It-Up Records, growing it into a modern-day Hip Hop hit factory that has collectively achieved hundreds of millions of streams.
With dreams of turning Run-It-Up into a major label that can compete with music’s biggest conglomerates, Citi looks poised to follow in the footsteps of hit-making moguls before him. Here’s the story behind Citi’s success.
Taking On Magic City, Atlanta’s Biggest Strip Club — And Winning
Citi’s start in the music industry was an auspicious one. After impressing a record executive whose girlfriend was one of his college classmates, the self-proclaimed “cool kid on campus” landed an opportunity to promote Field Mob, the Georgia duo who at the time were signed to Ludacris’ Disturbing Tha Peace label.
After returning to Atlanta, he began hosting parties at the Blue Flame Lounge, where he would let local independent artists perform. “I realized then I wanted to work with new artists,” he tells HipHopDX. “I just got that passion from seeing that spark of the artist when they see one person in the crowd rocking out to their music. I was like, ‘Yo, I like the way this feels.'”
Soon enough, Citi’s club night attracted upwards of a thousand people per night (among them rap stars like Young Dro) and was rivaling the ATL’s famed Magic City Monday, “probably the biggest strip club night in the world.” Magic City attempted to poach the disruptive party promoter, but seeing his club night unify Atlanta’s East and West sides, Citi rejected the offer and remained loyal to his brainchild — not for the last time in his career.
The party’s popularity led to Citi road managing the Shop Boyz, the Atlanta trio behind the 2007 hit “Party Like a Rockstar.” And it was during this time that Citi would strike gold by discovering another Georgia group destined for stardom.
Striking Gold With “Swag Surfin”
A Shop Boyz concert in a small town outside Macon, Georgia is where Citi first heard the song that would transform his life. “As soon as the beat drops, I see 800 college kids in the club jump up. I promise you, the roof lifts off the club!” he remembers. “It was literally the most magical musical moment I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”
The song? “Swag Surfin” by Fast Life Youngstaz (F.L.Y.). Recognizing their potential, Citi took the Stone Mountain trio — comprising Myko McFly, Vee and Mook — under his wing and booked them to perform at the Blue Flame, where he would make and sell mix CDs of their set. Soon enough, word spread and labels began to call — including legendary record executive L.A. Reid, who was chairman and CEO of The Island Def Jam Music Group at the time.
“I can take something from nothing and make the whole world love it.”
Mesmerized by the bouncy, dance-friendly song, Reid brokered a deal with Citi to sign Fast Life Youngstaz and vowed to take them to the top of the charts. His prediction was close: “Swag Surfin” peaked at No. 7 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Tracks chart and No. 12 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, while also cracking the Billboard Hot 100.
The record’s imprint has only deepened since its release in 2009, becoming the unofficial Black college national anthem and a mainstay at major league sports games. Even Beyoncé rode the wave, incorporating “Swag Surfin” and its accompanying dance into her headlining performance at Coachella in 2018, which was turned into the concert film Homecoming.
“I don’t care if you’re a graduate of 1968 or 2022, that’s the only record everybody gathers their shoulders and they come together and they do their thing,” Citi says of the song’s enduring popularity. “I think that’s what made it special.”
Soaring to New Heights On the Billboard Charts With T-Wayne’s “Nasty”
Repeating the success of “Swag Surfin” was no easy feat, but Citi proved it was no fluke as he continued to score hits on radio and in clubs across the South with records like Bone’s “Homegurl (He Gotta)” and Kstylis’ “Booty Me Down.” His second major win, however, would come in 2014 with “Nasty,” a song so catchy it became a hit twice.
Citi first discovered Bandit Gang Marco’s original version and set up a deal with L.A. Reid, who was now at Epic Records. But when Marco failed to show for the meeting, Citi hit the road, tapped into his network of DJs and promoted “Nasty” from state to state across the South. His hustle paid off as buzzing Houston rapper T-Wayne recorded his own version, which caught fire locally and would go on to eclipse the original globally.
With a boost from Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat, Wayne’s “Nasty Freestyle” soared to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 while earning platinum certification. Bandit Gang Marco’s original, meanwhile, peaked at No. 41 on the chart. “It’s one of the only songs in the history of music where the same song appears on the charts twice,” Citi explains.
The success of “Nasty” taught Citi valuable lessons that would form the blueprint for the next chapter of his career.
The Birth of Run-It-Up Records
Becoming a music mogul was always in Citi’s plans. “I wrote down on paper when I first got into the music business that I wanted to be Jimmy lovine, L.A. Reid or Master P,” he says. In 2017, he inched closer to realizing that dream by launching his own independent label, Run-It-Up Records.
Aided by his years of knowledge and experience in the industry, as well as his natural A&R instincts and intuitive belief in technology, social media and youth culture, Citi set out a clear and ambitious vision for the company: to be the fourth major label next to Sony, Universal and Warner Music Group.
“I wrote down on paper when I first got into the music business that I wanted to be Jimmy lovine, L.A. Reid or Master P.”
The label’s first signing set the tone: Trinidad Cardona, an 18-year-old half-Black, half-Mexican singer from Phoenix, Arizona who he had discovered on Twitter. Cardona’s debut single — the bilingual love song “Jennifer” — amassed a million YouTube views in its first week and quickly made it onto Spotify’s viral chart. “Every record label in America called wanting to meet. It was insane,” Citi recalls of the song’s immediate impact.
Having shrewdly gauged fans’ response to a teaser of the song prior to its release, Citi had a second hit for Cardona ready and waiting with “Dinero,” which inevitably blew up on TikTok and Spotify. “Trinidad showed me that I could do it,” he says. “I can take something from nothing and make the whole world love it.”
Run-It-Up Records Continues to Run It Up
Run-It-Up Records has only continued to go from strength to strength since its launch, building a diverse roster of exciting young talent while establishing itself as a modern-day Hip Hop hit factory.
From Rae Rae’s “Crash Flow (Ain’t Trippin)” and Hxllywood’s “Sneaky Link” to Mak Sauce’s “Good Morning” and Mohead Mike’s “PTPOM,” the label has racked up hundreds of millions of plays across streaming platforms, TikTok and YouTube, creating a formidable catalog that Citi would put up against any label’s in the industry.
More recently, Run-It-Up has seen success with earworms like Moone Walker’s “Lizzo,” J.K. Mac’s “No Love” and So Supa’s “Nope,” all of which have gone viral on TikTok and are steadily climbing the urban radio charts (“Lizzo” currently sits at No. 14).
So, what’s Citi’s secret to success? “Belief in God,” he says, first and foremost, followed by an “understanding that people get excited for things that are fresh. Our videos innovate, our contents innovate, the artists look cool. We style our acts, we make them act a certain way in front of the camera. It’s no different than what Barry Gordy was doing with Motown — just the new age of it.”
As for what the future holds for Run-It-Up Records, Citi has his sights set on taking the label global. “A lot of artists tour Europe, but when it’s time for them to go east, they’re like, ‘Man, I’ve made $20 million, I’m about to go back home,'” he notes. “They’re underserved with American culture, so I want to go over there and just find some talent, set up shop. I want to take Run-It-Up to the world.”