Amid prison, pregnancy and a pandemic, City Girls have still come out on top.
With the release of last year’s “Act Up,” the Miami duo — comprised of Yung Miami and JT — had Summer 2019 on lock. But JT (real name: Jatavia Johnson) watched her star rise from prison — she did more than a year for credit card fraud — leaving a pregnant Yung Miami (Caresha Brownlee) to tour and hold down the City Girls name all by herself.
But last October, JT was released and Yung Miami’s baby was born, and the two got to work as quickly as possible — literally. Within 24 hours of her release, JT had dropped her “First Day Out” freestyle.
Earlier in the summer, City Girls dropped their highly-anticipated third album City On Lock, with features from Lil Baby, Lil Durk, Yo Gotti, and Doja Cat. The project speaks to female empowerment, independence, and thriving when the world feels like it’s working against you. Variety caught up with Miami and JT via Zoom to discuss the new project — which was released early, due to a leak — and more.
JT, you were away for two years, could you describe the moment you guys reunited?
JT: The moment we got back together, it was a good feeling. She was coming to see me in prison — not to say it wasn’t magical — and I’d seen her two weeks before I got out, but when I [first] started recording I didn’t even realize she was in the studio. For us to be back together, working on the album, that’s the exciting part.
How does it feel to gather more than 3 billion streams?
JT: We did? Shoot, I didn’t know that. [laughs] It feels good.
Miami: Me too, I just found out. That’s amazing — it means people are really tuning in.
What does “success” mean to you guys?
Miami: Being successful means everything, because if you’re successful, you get money. If you get money, you can take care of your family. You can buy nice things, and be comfortable.
Was there any hesitation about releasing “City on Lock” in the middle of a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement?
JT: Someone leaked it, so we had to release it. But everybody at the label and everybody who works around us were saying that it was a perfect time: We were gone so long, we’ve got to get the people back in tune with us. We were supposed to drop the docuseries first, then we’re going to cover the single. But it all got ruined when someone leaked [the album], we had to put it out the same day.
Were you guys in panic mode?
JT: It was past panic mode. It was something I’ve never felt before. It was a feeling like, “My career’s over.” I was real sad that day. I was talking on the phone to different artists who’ve been in it a little longer than us, and they were like, “It happens — it doesn’t mean it’s the end.”
What do you think of Kanye announcing he’s running for president?
JT: Kanye’s going to be Kanye, chile. Kanye’s in a whole different tax bracket than me, I don’t need to be talking about Kanye.
What was it like working with Doja Cat on “Pussy Talk”?
JT: Doja Cat’s very nice. We actually met her for the first time at the video shoot, we’d talked to her before. She’s a warm person. Sometimes you’ll meet these artists and they’ll give you a vibe where you can’t really say much to them, but with her, it was all smiles. It was comfortable, she was relaxed. Because she’s very animated, just good people.
The video looked lavish, what’s the best memory from the shoot?
Miami: I liked the office scene. I don’t know why, I just liked it. I liked the look.
How many Birkin bags do both of you have?
JT: I got one Birkin. Caresha got all them bitches.
Miami: I got red, black, brown… I got four.
How did it feel to act as part-time workers in the “Jobs” video?
Caresha: That was so much fun, because that’s how I’d be. If I had a job, that’s how I’d feel. It be hot at work, I be hot and bothered. [laughs]
What’s the worst job you ever had?
JT: Burger King for me, it was horrible. At the time, I was wanting to do me. I was punching a clock. I honestly didn’t have to, I was scamming a little bit on the side. I was dating this guy, he was in school. He was so f—ing nosey, so I had to act like I was working. That’s where the money was coming from. It was irritating for me to go into Burger King every day, knowing damn well I didn’t need to be there. It was crazy.
Miami: I never really had a job — well, I had this one little job for four months at European Wax Center, but I never really worked it. That’s my first job.
What are your thoughts on [content subscription service] OnlyFans?
JT: Make that money, don’t let it make you.
Caresha, bring us back to when you were selling clothes on Instagram. You wanted to do fashion then, right?
Miami: Yeah, I wanted to make money. I wanted to sell clothes because I like dressing up. I used to order clothes from a vendor. I used to be my own model — no hair, no makeup. If I wasn’t rapping, I would’ve been trying to pursue my own boutique or a storefront. I’m into fashion. I wanted to order clothes, dress up, and see everybody on Instagram with my clothes on.
JT, how invested were you in music then?
JT: Not at all. I was doing me, I didn’t really think about music. Music was never the first thing on my mind, coming from where I come from. People don’t make it from being underground. I’ve always known rappers — I’m not talking about the ones you see on TV, I’m talking about the rappers in my neighborhood. They’re the ones who inspired me, so I thought I should fight to be a musician. I always felt “Okay, being that I come from this background, I’m not good enough to become a celebrity.”
How does it feel for the both of you to be celebrities now?
JT: I’m a celebrity? [laughs] Caresha knows more than I do. She’s actually been out there, gotten up in front of large crowds. I’ve been in the industry from the internet. These days with the Internet, anybody can be a celebrity. I’d really have to at least go outside and feel that energy as City Girls. Now, Instagram is Instagram. I’m not really too much moved by the comments, I want to feel this energy. So until I feel the energy, I still feel like Jatavia. Sometimes, I be having to check myself. When someone comes up to me, I’m like “Oh sh–.” I went out the other night, people were literally screaming.
You guys got signed with only two records. What are Qyour label uality Control’s greatest strengths?
JT: [Quality Control cofounder Pierre “P” Thomas]’s greatest strength is he’s going to push you; [cofounder Kevin “Coach K” Lee] greatest strength is he’s going to understand. You could tell Coach the wildest sh–, he’s going to have an understanding for whatever you said. You could tell P the wildest sh–, he’s going to yell but he’ll still have your back and will push you. If I know I did something I didn’t have any business in, he’ll look at me like “Okay, so what you did?” We’re having a talk on the jet the other day, he said, “I heard what you did, so what you did?…” I started telling him, he didn’t yell. One time I heard P say, “As long as she’s not in trouble, let that girl do whatever, because she’s going to do whatever anyways.” P’s like, “You better get it right, right now!” Coach is like, “Man, you got 55 years to get it right. Trust the process.”
You used to take an entire day to make one record, what’s the recording process like now?
JT: For me, it’s becoming more fluid, easier. Not going to lie, since the pandemic, I barely get in the studio. Been trying to get in with my engineer, he got kids. It’s hard to get somebody to get in the studio with you right now — [everyone’s] scared of corona. I’ve been begging [engineers] to get in there with me. I’m trying to get in there today, I got features. Caresha be in the studio more than me
Caresha: I do songs easily now. I do three, four songs in one day.
Caresha, How does [boyfriend] Southside push you to be a better artist?
Southside: Keep going! There’s no quitting. I’m hard on you.
Miami: Every time I say something, he says, “Do it over.”
He said you’re the sweetest thing in the world and you’d do anything for your kids. How do you manage to balance career and family?
Miami: It’s easy, as long as my kids are stable. When I know I got work, I make sure that my kids are stable and have everything they need before I go to work. It’s very easy because they’re always with their grandma, or somebody that’s close to me while I’m working. I’m okay knowing that they’re home and stable.
How much sleep do you both get?
Miami: I don’t get that much sleep.
JT: I be sleep all day. I’m lazy. I be in the room to the couch, the couch to the room. Nothing else to do, the world is literally closed. I sleep to make the day go by.
What’s the first thing you guys are gonna do when the world opens back up?
JT: Let us pray it opens back up. Hopefully a show soon.
Do you guys miss performing?
Miami: Hell yeah. It’s fun interacting with fans. I like dancing. I love performing. I love that I’m about to hit the stage, see how the crowd’s going to react. I love putting some of the fans on stage, them dancing. I miss everything about it.
At this point, do you guys get nervous before you hit the stage?
Miami: I used to, I couldn’t do it without taking a shot. But it became a normal, everyday thing, so I don’t need a shot anymore. I don’t be nervous.
Talk about the Working Woman Wednesday and small business Sunday initiative.
JT: Working Woman Wednesday is for all the ladies who work regular jobs or 9 to 5’s, but don’t get enough credit. They don’t get enough money and have a story to tell. We give out an extra $1000 to them every Friday. Small Business Sunday is for the entrepreneurs coming up. Some of them have to sell more product than you actually make money. because I was once an entrepreneur, so I know how it is to get big orders and only make $50. It’s for people who need extra help, working hard to achieve their goals.
Caresha, I saw you post “Emotionally Scarred” by Lil Baby and he commented. What does it mean to have his support?
Miami: It means everything. Because Baby’s a big artist right now, so for him to always give words of encouragement and be an open ear. He’s always giving advice. “You’ve got to think about this from an artist’s standpoint,” stuff like that. It’s good. He’s like a big brother, I can go to him for advice and he’s always there for advice. To have his support is everything.
Last question, what’s your guys’ favorite song?
Both: “Pussy Talk”!