“Do we have time to heat this up?” Jatavia “JT” Johnson asks before the start of this interview. Out of all the delectable treats in VIBE’s office mini shop, her eyes are set on chicken flavored Cup Noodles. It’s May and it might be sweltering outside, but the equivalent to Ramen Noodles are the best snack to combat her hunger. After making sure her tresses are laid and lip gloss pops severely, we head over the artist lounge where Caresha “Yung Miami” Brownlee is waiting for us. Their Quality Control godfathers Coach K and Pierre are off in the cut making calls as we collect the aux cord to listen to their debut project, Period.
Their singles “F**k That N***a” and “I’ll Take Your Man” give the 20-somethings more than clout. It’s garnered them a spot on the coveted Quality Control label, which also houses Migos, Cardi B, Lil Baby, Stefflon Don and Lil Yachty. A month later, the world would discover their biggest fan is Drake, who gave them a ring to be featured on the uber-popular Scorpion B-side, “In My Feelings.” The ladies are aware of the sunny glow-up they’re about to experience, but a few clouds are in the way.
Shortly after the release of “F**k That N***a” in August 2017, JT was arrested and charged with aggravated identity theft. As the song floated through radio and streaming tunnels, legal woes prevented JT from enjoying it all. With her family forced to put up their home for bond, JT was released and attempted to right her wrongs by leaving the scamming lifestyle behind. Her new path would lead her to more time in church, where a pastor shared her life would change for the better in a matter of months. The gift was Coach K and Pierre, who had a recording contract ready for the Miami natives. JT and Yung Miami were now known as City Girls.
“I don’t know what Coach K was thinking when he named us the City Girls,” JT says. “He said cause every n***a, want a city girl,” Yung Miami adds, with JT completing her sentence. The synchronicity isn’t a gimmick. The childhood friends have always been in tune with one another, including their plans to get behind the mic. “Honestly I’ve always been gifted with rapping but I never would’ve thought that I’d be a rapper,” JT explains. “Like, I never would’ve imagined me, like, being here in y’all face, like, doing this ‘cause it was really more of us having fun when we did the song which was in August. So, we didn’t think it was gonna get this serious, like, ‘Oh we got a record deal, wassup.’”
Yung Miami points to Nicki Minaj as a direct influence while JT notes how Miami veteran Jackie-O changed her perspective on women in rap music. “Yeah, I love her,” JT says as her eyes light up. It makes sense–JT carries a serious resemblance to the rapper, who was an underground favorite that scored a rap mainstream hit in 2003 with “Nookie.” Jackie-O now has a career in Christian hip-hop but is still a source of inspiration for JT.
“Growing up I used to call myself ‘Jackie-O Jr.,’” she gushes. “I met her once but she changed her number on me ‘cause my friend stole her number out my phone and called her a bunch of times. I really wish I could talk to her now. When I rap sometimes I hear her, you know? I hope that one day we meet again cause I know she remembers me. I was crazy about her and now her daughter listens to our music.”
The girls understand the game. They’ve gained co-signs from Trina and Khia by sampling their biggest tracks (“Baddest B***h” and “My Neck, My Back (Lick It)”) on “Sweet Tooth” and “F**k That N***a,” respectively. Period is filled with braggadocious lyrics catered to the empowerment of women and the finer things in life. Their puns are clever: “Let me cripple on your face/ be my wheelchair (aye)/Pick me up, while you eat it, that’s a facelift,” JT boasts on “Sweet Tooth” while Yung Miami comes with the jokes on “Not Ya Main” (“Summertime bottle on his d**k in December (ballin’)/And had the nerve to ask what he getting for Christmas”). They also interpolate Lil Kim’s “Crush on You” on “F**k U.”
On first listen, “Rap Sh*t” can be interpreted as another conceited tune but JT hints at her legal issues while ignoring her biggest critics. “And I been gang gang, running sh*t since middle school (on that)/My own daddy said I wouldn’t be sh*t, I looked at him like we gon’ see b***h,” she spits.
The release of the album so early in their buzzing career was clearly meant to keep the City Girls on the noggin. Soon after it was reported JT turned herself into authorities, “In My Feelings” was officially released as a single, with the #FreeJT movement kicking off. Johnson will be released from jail on March 21, 2020.
“True friends stick together no matter what,” Yung Miami tells me over email last week. With Shiggy’s viral challenge bringing more pop appeal to the track, City Girls have a new fanbase with plenty of songs for them to jam to. Yung Miami is surrounded by dancers in the Karena Evans-directed video released Thursday (Aug 2), but JT is in her heart.
“JT would love the video,” Miami says. “I talk to her every day on the phone and through email. She’s always telling me to keep my head up. She stays so strong for us.”
While JT knows what’s to come, she’s thrilled to share how the City Girls have more music to share with the world.
“For our next project, I just feel like it’s time to go all the way, show out full talent,” she says, still snacking on her noodles. “With Period, I was thinking all the time, we have to remain ourselves all the time, ‘cause ‘F**k dat N***a’ was a fun track. So keep it fun but still put some serious songs in it, but keep it fun. Now that we have everyone’s attention it’s like, we can go all the way with it.”
“True friends stick together no matter what.” —Yung Miami
Miami feels the same way. During their early recordings with her cousin as the engineer, the girls would spend long nights in the studio to make the best tunes possible. “It sounds crazy but it was fine, it was fun,” she says. “We were correcting each other like, ‘Don’t say this, don’t say that, do this part over.’ We were having fun on it. We’ll get to the studio at 1 p.m. and be there ‘til six in the morning.”
The artists hope to work with their QC sister Cardi B and have plenty of visuals dropping in the near future. As the cult movement for City Girls grows, the ladies are bound to come hard with a new allure post-JT’s release. “I think that it’s a good opportunity in women right now,” JT says, listing Cardi as a girl like them who made it from the hood. “Everybody wanna be hood in some type of way even if they was raised good,” Yung Miami says. “They wanna be in the hood because the hood is fun. They get their interests that way.”
“But we’re taking over,” JT says. Yung Miami caps it off: “Period.”