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Entertainment

How City Girls Got The World To Love Their Homegrown, Unapologetic Sound

An interview with the outspoken Miami rap duo, who've become unassuming feminist icons.

In the trailer for City Girls The Series, the Miami rap duo's five-part docuseries about the making of their new album, a quartet of fans speaks directly to the camera about what the group represents to them. “Female empowerment!” one woman yells with fervor. It’s an impression shared by scores of women who feel as though City Girls are filling a cavernous gap in the rap game. Their homegrown, unapologetic, take-no-sh*t approach speaks volumes, and has cemented them as somewhat unassuming feminist icons.

City Girls have come a long way. Since its inception, the duo has experienced enough transformative events to last them a lifetime. The past year alone, JT was released from prison on Oct. 9, 2019 after serving a little over a year for credit card fraud; and the very next week, Yung Miami gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Summer Miami. Both life events could’ve been seen as career setbacks. In their case, they were opportunities to prove to the world that City Girls are still bred to be mainstream stars, no matter what happens.

Born Caresha Brownlee and Jatavia Johnson, Yung Miami and JT first tried their collective hand at rapping with the 2017 single “F*ck Dat N****,” its hook smartly flipping a potent line from Khia’s “My Neck, My Back.” They both sound young and raw, but also clearly talented and expressive. On their latest effort, City On Lock released in June, they’ve matured and polished their delivery; it’s evident they’re paying closer attention to how their voices play off one another's, but they’re not contorting them to sound any less like themselves. On lead single “Jobs,” they eschew the idea of a traditional career, instead declaring their mere existence is a job in and of itself — and should be rewarded as such. It’s a high-key relatable song, just as much as the brief but introspective final track of the album, “Ain’t Sayin Nothin,” in which the MCs look back on the difficulties they faced coming up.

City Girls aren’t just rappers looking to take over the world one twerk anthem at a time. They’re real women who continue to defy the odds with every word they breathe into a microphone. During a Zoom call with NYLON, the artists opened up about the most memorable songs on their new album, how the city of Miami has seeped into their music, and how quarantine has affected their careers.

Tell me about how y’all put this project together. What inspired City On Lock?

JT: What inspired City On Lock is just us being us, it being our third project together. Me being home — just keeping the music going, keeping the hustle going. We can’t stop, so we always just keep going.

How are you able to maintain your bond as you work across these projects?

JT: Well for the most part, I was in prison. Just really knowing each other, knowing each other’s ways, and basically respecting each other’s opinions and thoughts. Not getting upset if this one wanna do it this way, or this one wanna do it this way. Just working together and respecting each other. Nobody tryna outdo one another. It’s just a group effort.

How has quarantine affected y’all, in terms of your lives and careers?

Yung Miami: Quarantine f*cked up everything, because we’re not able to do shows. We were so excited about Coachella ‘cause that was our first big stage together since JT was home. And we was finna f*ck it up; we was finna bring Miami to Coachella. And it just f*cked up everything, and so we’re not able to do shows, not able to work.

JT: And performing is honestly an important part of artistry, being able to build that fan base through performing. Like, Instagram is one way, but I really feel like with performing, people can just feel the song. It grows more, it makes people understand you and feel you when you’re live. So not being able to perform is kind of rough.

Pussy Talk” is a single, and before that, it seemed to be a fan favorite. Can you tell me about how you put that track together, and how Doja Cat got involved?

JT: That song was actually already done. Caresha did it when I was inside of prison. When she sent it to me, I just loved the beat, and I loved the energy of the song. And we were just looking for somebody new and fresh, and Doja Cat was like, doing her thing. I liked her visuals, and at the time, she was coming up and going No. 1. She’s just real creative and talented. I just love how she’s very different and versatile. She was just coming with a different sound, a surprising sound, nothing expected. So that’s why we chose Doja Cat.

I get a lot of enjoyment listening to y’all. On “Pussy Talk,” Yung Miami, you say, “I feed a dog-ass n**** / Pussy Pedigree.”

Yung Miami: [Laughs.] N****s be playing. So on “Pussy Talk,” the idea of the song was, my pussy talk whatever you talking. So it’s like, if you a dog-ass n****, Imma feed you dog food. I just wanted a fun verse for that song. This is also when I was like, “My n**** told me, ‘This pussy made a better me,’” talking about my baby. I just wanted to go with a fun verse on that song. Funny things, but something that’s enjoyable. Like, “feed a dog-ass n**** / Pussy Pedigree,” I felt like people would be like, “OK!” Cause n****s is dogs.

We just Miami.

I also enjoyed “That Old Man,” it’s a huge bop. I love that you flipped an old nursery rhyme. Who made the decision to do that?

JT: I actually did, inside of the studio. It was a song already. I liked the words of it. And the producers were there. That was Ester Dean’s song, originally. She was in the studio with me, and she had educated me about how she was the one who made the song with Gucci — “Gucci, you don’t love me” (“I Think I Love Her”) — she was "Susie." And she was going through her old mixtape, and she had let me hear that song, and I was like, “Ooh, I want this song for us; I really feel like this fits the City Girls.” So I asked Quay [Global] and Earl [on the Beat] to come up with a beat right then and there, and I just built off that. But she was literally right there. We were doing “Melanin,” which was with us, Ciara, and her. So, she was right there. It’s her song and we flipped it.

Are there any other producers you were excited about working with?

JT: I’m always excited to work with the producers from Miami, honestly, to give them a platform. We never really get opportunity there. For us to be mainstream — well, semi-mainstream, we're on our way there — and to be able to give them a Billboard album with their beats on it, it’s good, because we don’t ever really get past an underground point in Miami. So it’s always exciting to give the Miami producers a platform for their sound.

Speaking of Miami, how do you think the city influences your music?

JT: The way we grew up: the sounds, the fast beats, the movement, the raunchy lyrics, being real outspoken, just saying whatever we feel. The slang, the slur in our voice, everything is just so Miami about us. It’s really nothing else outside of Miami about us. We just Miami.

What do you think the game is missing that you’re providing with your music?

Yung Miami: That unapologetic.

JT: I think it’s missing a sound — our voice is just so different. And a lot of people be tryna sound like us, and it be so funny. They’re making their voices squeaky as hell and it’s just like, “No, this is literally how we really talk.” So I just think it’s definitely Caresha’s accent, that right there, when we come on, it’s a natural feel. You won’t really hear that nowhere else.

Yung Miami: What I don’t understand is, how I got an accent, and you don’t?

JT: Cause I just talk regular, I sound like a normal person.

Yung Miami: Me too!

JT: You talk crazy. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] Were there any songs that didn’t make the cut that y’all are sad about?

Yung Miami: “Twerkulator”! We had a song called “Twerkulator” — that was our hit song.

“Twerkulator”?

Yung Miami: Yup, you didn’t hear it? It was on the leaked version.

Ah. I was like, “I’m not listening to the album until it’s out, out.” I wanted to respect y’all. But, I’m gonna see if I can find it…

JT: [Laughs.]

Yung Miami: Thank you. But it was that song. That was like a fun song, it was so different for us. But the sample didn’t get cleared.

Can you talk to me about the release of this album? I know you said it leaked; it came as a surprise to a lot of people.

JT: The same day, it got leaked that morning, and we panicked. Like, we went crazy cause it was like dang, you know. It was already Friday, it wasn't Thursday. So they started counting sales I think on Friday or something like that. And it was just like a panic and we were trying to figure out if we could do it the next week, but when I say everybody just kept tweeting the Dropbox to the album, it was just bad.

Yung Miami: So we was like, “We can't wait another week,” because all the controversy is now, so we just decided to drop it that night at 12 and we just went ahead and dropped “Jobs,” the video.

How do you feel about your growth so far as artists? Where are you ultimately trying to go?

JT: I feel like we definitely have not reached our peak. I feel like it’s so much more stuff that we have to do. It's so much work that we gotta do. Right now, with COVID, it's hard for us to get out there and get it and I really feel like once this COVID stuff passes, if ever, we gon’ be big — we gon’ be huge. If we just get the industry part of it right, we’re gonna be huge. It's like we’re still learning that part. Like you gotta understand, we [were] just two normal girls and it’s tricky to be normal and industry. It’s a big difference, so once we get that industry mentality and get that “this is what it is, and this is what you gotta do to get to each milestone,” we’ll be as big as life.