Aretha Franklin Dies

City Girls, Rap's Raunchiest Newbies, On Their Plan to Outlast One Member's Prison Stint

Jessica Xie
City Girls photographed on May 14, 2018 in New York City.

Back in the early ‘00s, Trina established herself a feisty rapper from Miami who went lyrically toe-to-toe with like-minded raunch rappers like Lil Kim' and Foxy Brown. Now, in 2018, City Girls are carrying the diamond-encrusted torch of their hip-hop predecessor. The duo, comprised of Caresha “Yung Miami” Brownlee, 24, and Jatavia “JT” Johnson, 25 -- are putting their own spin on Florida’s distinct sound to connect to a new generation while also paying respect to the female rappers who came before them.

Yung Miami and JT first met in eighth grade through a mutual friend, but hip-hop wasn't their immediate goal. “We just did that ‘Fuck That N---a’ song, and it took off,” Yung Miami tells Billboard of the in-your-face track, which arrived last December on Quality Control’s Control the Streets Vol 1. “[Rapping] became important once that got popular. We weren't really doing nothing for real, for real and we didn't have no job. Music was working for us so we were like, ‘Alright, this is our way out.’”

The pair, whose labelmates include Migos and Lil Baby, cemented their up-and-comer status with the debut mixtape Period, which trended on Apple Music upon its May release. Then, they hit the mainstream when Drake tapped them for backup vocals on his current Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, “In My Feelings.” “My son is 5 and he’s advanced, so he knows what’s going on,” says Miami. “He’s like, ‘Mommy, you got a song with Drake?’ It’s so cute.”

“People like to maintain classiness and carry themselves in a way, so I feel like we’re an alter ego for girls,” says Miami of the duo’s explicit lyrics, reminiscent of those by pioneering female rappers. They’ve remade Salt-N-Pepa’s 1986 anthem, “I’ll Take Your Man,” and plan to record their own version of Lil Kim’s all-female posse track, “Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix).”

Though JT began serving a two-year prison sentence on fraudulent credit card charges in July (Miami confirmed to Billboard that Drake did not help delay JT’s prison check-in), Miami will continue solo and plans to tour as City Girls in August and release another mixtape by year’s end. Says Miami: “I got to hold it down and keep the City Girls moving.”

Below, Miami speaks to Billboard about playing a role in the “In My Feelings” phenomenon, her interpretation of female empowerment and plans to keep the rap duo afloat as JT undergoes her prison sentence.

How do you feel about the current Florida wave taking over hip-hop right now? City Girls are one of the few female acts representing the state.
Miami doesn't have a lot of really big artists who came from the city. It’s just like Trina, Trick Daddy, Rick Ross. So for us, this is big because I feel like we’re opening up the doors for Miami again and we’re kind of putting it back on the map. I love the music coming out of Florida! ‘Cause in Atlanta, all of their artists are big and stick together. So when I hear about Kodak [Black] and [the late] XXXTentacion, it makes me happy. They repped Florida and put us on.

How does it feel to have such established rappers like Trina and Trick Daddy look out for you?
It feels good! Like just imagine growing up listening to them and them being Miami legends who are now supporting us and giving us words of encouragement, just uplifting us and telling us that they’re proud of us. That means everything. [Trina] is a good mentor. Every time we see her she tells us, “Y’all are in the same position as me. [Music] chose me, I didn't choose it. So just make it your lifestyle and give it your all.” And to not let these men take advantage of you in the business. She always says, “If you’re at a show and there’s five people there, perform like it’s a sold-out show.” Every time we’re with Trina, it turns into like a five-hour talk. Even with working with other artists, she’s like “You might like him, but keep it business!” [Laughs.]

You both were local girls in Miami just a year ago and now you’re huge stars. Your rise in the industry happened so rapidly.
I always think about that. Last night when I was on the airplane, I was like just eleven months ago I was trying to find a way. I was looking for a way to support my family, because I got a son. For this to fall in my lap, it’s everything. My son is 5 and he’s advanced, so he’s knows what’s going on. He’s like, “Mommy you got a song with Drake?” [Laughs.] It’s so cute. He told his teacher that I was a rapper and I was so embarrassed because she googled me. And [my family] didn't imagine me to be a rapper. So for me to be in New York at Billboard and doing interviews...they support me to the fullest. They understand.

Just being a woman, I appreciate that you’re so raunchy and bold with your lyrics. There’s not too many female rappers out right now who go that extra mile.
I like to say that we speak for women who want to say certain things but they don’t say it. Or they think things but don’t say it. A lot of people like to maintain classiness and carry themselves in a way, so I feel like we’re an alter-ego for girls. We gon’ say and do what you think! You know what I’m saying? We’re just gonna put it out there. That’s just us being from Miami.

Do you ever think others will place you in a box because of the raunchiness?
Yeah, we get a lot of that. Like people will tweet that we promote prostitution, but they don’t get it. We’re not saying, “Go fuck for some money.” We’re saying don’t date a man if he’s not supporting you in every way: financially, mentally, period. If he’s broke, what does he have to offer you? We’re not promoting prostitution because we’re not prostitutes -- we just ‘bout our money.

And rap is so dominated by men, so are there ever moments where guys don’t take you seriously?
I’m just gonna say this, I feel like Cardi [B] opened up doors. Sh went from Love & Hip-Hop to being the biggest female rapper right now. She ain’t have no man bring her out -- she came out on her own. I feel like we make men respect us. There’s a lot of City Boys. A lot of men sing our songs. We met [Louisiana rapper] Kevin Gates in Los Angeles when Gucci [Mane] had a dinner. Kevin said, “I love the City Girls. You know why? ‘Cause y’all upfront with y’all shit! Y’all say what y’all want. You gotta respect a woman who’s like that. Because some women will just let men walk all over them. Y’all just straight up.” So I don’t feel any pressure [from men].

Your music reminds me so much of women like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, Trina and Salt-N-Pepa. The City Girls are the new generation of the ‘90s heyday in female rap.
Yeah, I feel like that too. I love Lil' Kim and I grew up listening to a lot of her music. My favorite Lil' Kim song is “Not Tonight,” and I felt like I was too young [to listen]! I’m only 24, so what did I even know about that song? At that time, whatever Kim was saying something, I googled it to really understand what she was saying because I knew I couldn't ask my mom. [Laughs.] So I feel like we’re young Lil Kim's, Trinas, Eves -- just a little bit of everything.

I’m going to flip the script here. Do you have any advice on how to finesse a guy?
Let me tell you something. Speaking from my experience, I think guys like women to be mean and nasty to them. When they get a woman who they know is just passive...they take their kindness for weakness. So when you’re aggressive and like “Leave me alone” and don’t pay them no attention, it makes them ‘chase’ you because you got a challenge for them. Versus when you’re more vulnerable and you ‘need’ them and you ‘want’ them all the time. They know at the end of the day that they have you and you not gon’ go nowhere, versus when they gotta chase us and you got them on their toes. Like I’m mean off top. I don’t really like you and I "don’t" care. But behind that phone, I be like [whispers] please call me back! So that’s how you gotta finesse: act like you don’t see them. And I’m telling you, they gon’ feel like you’re the one.

I talk about this with my girlfriends all the time, but it feels like we’re in a broke n---a crisis right now. Us women are about our money…
As we should be! I feel like a lot of women settle because they’re scared of being lonely, instead of focusing on yourself and waiting for the right person to come around. I know a lot of people who always had a boyfriend. You just break up and then enter into another relationship. You don’t give yourself time to heal and figure out, “Okay, why do I keep running into these same men?” It’s okay to be lonely.

Have you seen the compilation on Twitter with you and JT saying “Period”?
Oh yeah, I love that video! It’s just like a slogan, like a slang that we say. It can go with agree or disagree; it can be a compliment like, “You look good!” I can just be like, “Girl I love your nails. Period.” Or, “Fuck you! Period.” JT used to tell me I said the word "a lot!" You know when you’re around someone and you pick up what they say? So then she started saying it. When we started rapping, I was like “We should name our mixtape Period. And she was like, “Girl ain’t nobody gonna take us seriously with a mixtape called Period.” So when [Quality Control Music co-founder Pierre "Pee" Thomas] came to us and we started putting our music together, he asked us what we wanted the mixtape to be called. At first we said Girl Code because we got a girl code on how to pimp n---as, but we were still iffy about it. We didn't know if that fit. So I told Pee that we should do Period. And he agreed. When we used to do our drops for radio shows, we’d be like: “We need all the bad bitches and rich niggas to the front at our shows -- period!” And then people started making videos of them saying “period,” so we started a little wave.

And of course I have to talk about your “In My Feelings” collaboration with Drake. What was your reaction when it became the No. 1 song in the country?
I was at [strip club] Tootsie’s in Miami and I was like, “It’s time to make a toast! Lemme get some shots!” I was so happy, like thank you god and thank you Drake! I just feel so blessed. We haven’t even been [in music] for a year and now we’re on the No. 1 song in the country with Drake. We never thought that we’d ever be on a song with Drake, at least not after rapping for 11 months. Like Drake is one of the biggest artists in the world right now. So for him to even reach out, listen to our mixtape -- because he did -- research us, know our name. Like I can’t even explain how it feels. It just feels like a dream come true because me and JT are huge Drake fans.

I would love for a new version of Lil' Kim’s “Ladies Night” to happen.
No lie, we were working on that. That’s what we want to do for our next project. We want features and we want other artists to be on there. With JT gone, it kind of set it back. But when she gets out, [a big female collaboration] is something we want to do.

What else can we expect from the project?
It’s gonna be a mixtape and hopefully we’ll have more features on there. You know, Period didn't have anyone. You know what I felt like would’ve happened if we had features? Being two girl rappers coming up, [critics] would’ve been like “They have to get a name drop on their songs.” But we did it by ourselves, so nobody can take away from what we did. I would love to work with Cardi B. I swear, [a collaboration with] Cardi B and City Girls would be the next “In My Feelings.” It will be a bop, it will be a twerk song and it will be an anthem for sure. Cardi reminds me of me and JT. Every time I watch her, I’m like “This lady is really doing it!” The other day, she put up [an Instagram video] showing her baby shower gifts and it just made me laugh. She just keeps it real. She won’t have on no makeup or you’ll see her glammed up. She’s relatable and that’s what people want to see. People don’t always want to see the glamorous side, they want to feel like they know you.

And I know you’ll be going on tour with Lil Baby soon.
Yeah, I’m excited! You know JT’s not here so I gotta hold it down and keep the City Girls moving. I gotta keep promoting and putting us out there and letting people know who ‘don’t’ know us. I am a bit nervous [to perform by myself]. I swear to god, when it’s time to go on stage, me and JT always gotta hype each other up. If I feel scared, she’s always like, “C’mon girl we got this!” When we did [Spotify’s] Rap Caviar [concert] in Charlotte with Migos and the whole [Quality Control Music] and it was our first time ever on a big stage. The performances that we usually do are at strip clubs or a regular club.

How did that feel?
Bubble guts. [Laughs.] We went to practice and I didn't think I could do it. I thought I might forget the songs. Like I know the lyrics but I’m over-thinking and second-guessing myself. I was like, “I’m gonna go out there and forget the dance routine!” But I went out there and we did so good. Coach, Pee and everybody was there so we had to show them that we could do it.

What do you want your legacy to be?
The two BAPS -- like the movie -- who just became legends and icons. You know, two girls from the hood who are now the Beyoncés of female rap groups.

This article originally appeared in the Aug 4 issue of Billboard.