Music executive Dina Marto shares why Atlanta has its own ‘secret sauce’

The Cobb County-bred entrepreneur has worked with artists, including T.I., Rick Ross and others

Love perusing through social media to find out what your favorite influencers are up to? Get a closer glimpse into how they spend their time in Atlanta with “ATL Closeup,” a new AJC feature that explores the leisure lives of some of the city’s most notable personalities as they go from work to play mode over the course of a typical weekend —from their favorite places to dine to the little-known spots where they find retreat.

Remember when Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” took over airwaves in 2013? Or maybe you can recall when “Anaconda,” one of Nicki Minaj’s biggest hits, dominated Billboard charts the following year?

What you may not know is Atlanta played a part in the success of both of those hit records thanks to music executive Dina Marto. The hits were produced in her Midtown recording facility, Twelve Studios.

» RELATED: 4 Atlanta recording studios where you could meet (or become) a star

Marto, a native of Jordan, spent her formative years in Marietta. When college came along, she stayed nearby to receive her bachelors degree in communications from Oglethorpe University.

At age 21, she got a head start on becoming a music visionary when Antonio “L.A.” Reid — former chairman of Island Def Jam  — hired her as A&R coordinator. During her six-year tenure at the company, she oversaw the completion of albums by Young Jeezy, Nas, Janet Jackson and LL Cool J.

Eventually, she branched off to create her own companies. In addition to Twelve Studios, which previously served as the Atlanta headquarters for Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group, Epic Records, and Empire Distribution, she founded Twelve Music Group and 7th Level Projects to develop domestic and international talent. She also serves as the general manager for T.I.'s Grand Hustle label.

“Atlanta is the perfect place for me to gain my experience and work, because I believe Atlanta has that special, secret sauce no other city has,” Marto, 35, said. “We have been in the lead of pop culture for 20 years, and that includes dance, fashion, lingo and the rest goes on. I love being from Atlanta.”

Although the Vinings resident is always on the go, she still carves out time to hit up some of her favorite places. Here’s where you’ll likely find the music executive on any given weekend in Atlanta.

Finger-licking good meal

Marto can always count on a delicious and nutritious meal from Local Green Atlanta in Vine City. The eatery, which has pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan options, offers dishes like the Bad & Boujee tuna wrap.

When Marto drops in, she typically orders the Notorious fish tacos or the Sterling salmon sliders.

“Everything is really good. You’re not sacrificing the taste for health,” she said. “T.I. loves to come here. When he’s in town, he might stop by a couple times a week. He doesn’t eat meat, so this is a great option for him.”

Marto isn’t just a fan of the food, she also loves the location.

“I love supporting people that are doing great things in the community,” she said of Zak Wallace, the owner of the restaurant. “And it’s located in an underserved community. There’s not a lot of food options in the area in the first place but certainly not a lot of healthy food options.”

Her top dining pick:

Local Green Atlanta, 19 Joseph E. Lowery Blvd NW, Atlanta. 770-883-8291,

» RELATED: 20 vegan restaurants to try in metro Atlanta

Shop-til-you-drop spot

You'll likely find Marto at shops in Vinings Jubilee or Ponce City Market. But when she wants to add a bit more flare to her look, she hits up The Ivy Showroom near Lindbergh.

“If I want something that I know no one else is going to have when I’m going to a really important event or an awards show, I go there,” she revealed.

A couple of years ago, she wore one of the brand's dresses to Rick Ross' 40th birthday party, which was held at his Fayetteville mansion.

“It was a beautiful, black dress, but it had a really high split,” she described. “Part of my entire leg was out. It was so cute!”

Her top shopping picks:

Vinings Jubilee, 4300 Paces Ferry Rd SE, Atlanta. 770-434-2400,

Ponce City Market, 675 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta. 404-900-7900,

The Ivy Showroom, 800 Miami Cir NE #220c, Atlanta. 404- 599-9791,

Social Hour

When Marto wants to show off her dance moves, she and her girlfriends go to El Bar in the Poncey-Highland district.

“It’s a whole, amazing wave that you ride when you get there,” she said. “And there’s no VIP area, so everyone is dancing together.”

The hole-in-the-wall blasts hip-hop music all night long, and serves up reasonably priced drinks.

“I always have a really good time. It’s so much fun. Great deejays,” she said.

Her top party spot pick:

El Bar, 939 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. 208-545-1176,

The wind down

While Marto’s schedule can often be jam-packed with back-to-back meetings with clients and executives, she still manages to squeeze in some rest and relaxation.

From binging Netflix movies from the comfort of her home to enjoying a massage at Natural Body Spa in Smyrna, her self-care routine varies.

“My girl Latifa at Natural Body always gets me right,” she said.

When she's on the go, she calls on the physiotherapists at Green Room Massage, a mobile, wellness business. The company caters to traveling musicians, performers, actors, and industry professionals and has soothed such artists as Monica, Meek Mill and 2 Chainz.

“They come to you where ever you need to go,” she explained. “So I do little things like that to unwind.”

Her top relax destinations:

Natural Body Spa and Shop, 1675 Cumberland Pkwy SE, suite #410, Smyrna. 770-437-0780.

Green Room Massage, 800 Forrest St. NW, Atlanta. 678-805-7535,

Hidden gem

Aside from the metro area’s most popular museums, there are several that uniquely capture the city’s sub-cultures. For Marto, the Trap Music Museum is one of them.

"If anyone is visiting Atlanta or even if you live here, you have to go to the Trap Music Museum. It is amazing," she raved. "It is so well done."

During a trip, you’ll view artworks of rappers, including 21 Savage, Gucci Mane and Shawty Lo, as well as realistic scenes associated with the development of the trap music subgenre. You can even sign up for an escape room experience.

If you go: 

Trap Music Museum, 630 Travis St. NW, Atlanta.

» RELATED: Don't forget to visit these 8 museums in metro Atlanta