Even in their boosting days, the Girls carried themselves like bosses. It didn’t take long to learn that no matter how much money a man had, he wasn’t to be relied on. “You gotta be careful with them dream-selling-ass men who be like, ‘Baby, when I get this, we gonna live it up; now give me $500,’ ” rants JT, recalling the “man leeches” of her past. “And these rich n—s will sell you a dream, too, so don’t you get it confused. It’s a lot of women out here getting drained.” And anyway, no man was going to hold you down like your best friend did.
When JT hit up Miami in the summer of 2017 to record a dis track about a neighborhood girl talking shit, it was mostly for want of something to do, though JT had been rapping for a while on her own time. When they got the beat from their producer friend Major Nine — a genius flip of Khia’s 2001 hit “My Neck, My Back” — the song immediately went in a different direction. “Give me the cash, fuck a wedding ring!” is the first bar on “Fuck Dat N—a,” a solid introduction to City Girls’ ethos, though back then they were billing themselves as simply “JT & Yung Miami.” It was the first time either had been in a recording studio, but their attitude was undeniable — the track steadily racked up SoundCloud plays and became a fixture on the southern Florida strip club circuit. Suddenly clubs from Tampa to Jacksonville were asking how much the duo charged for shows; they made up answers on the fly. Raw talent aside, they accidentally had become rappers.
Coach K and P cut casually imposing figures on the leather seats in Quality Control’s main studio. Coach, with his distinguished salt-and-pepper beard, is the smooth talker; P, with his reserved baritone, the self-described “motivator.” Coach built a reputation as an artist manager during the heyday of Atlanta trap, developing the careers of Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy practically from scratch. P had been running his own small label, Dirty Dolla, when Coach approached him to start their own venture. “As the industry started going to a different place, labels started getting rid of artist development; it was more about data,” says Coach. “So when me and P decided to start the label, it was about: ‘Let’s keep the old way, but coexist with today’s time.’ ”
The same year Quality Control launched, Habtemariam — an Atlanta native herself — was named president of Motown, tasked with bringing new life to one of America’s most storied cultural institutions. “Clearly, there was the history, the music, but there was also something about it being the first African American-owned label that went on to have huge pop success and change the culture of this country,” says Habtemariam. “I wanted to balance the history of it while allowing it to be a platform for new talent.” For that, she knew she had to call Coach.
A year into her tenure as president, Habtemariam brokered a joint venture between Motown and Quality Control, under which Motown and other divisions of Capitol Music Group work and distribute Quality Control signees on an artist-by-artist basis. For the first two years, Habtemariam admits, the arrangement was a bit dicey: The first artist signed under the joint venture was OG Maco, a rapper whose fame would prove fleeting. But as Quality Control signed acts from Lil Yachty and Lil Baby to Migos — the label’s marquee act whose 2017 album Culture debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 the same month the Quality Control/Motown deal was announced — and made management deals with Cardi B and Trippie Redd, Habtemariam’s gamble seemed to pay off. The homegrown outfit was breaking artists at a clip some majors couldn’t match. Coach and P’s formula was working, and their ambitions for the label expanded beyond Atlanta.