On June 28, the world was on standby. Millions of people were counting down until the exact minute Thursday would turn to Friday, and Drake’s fifth studio album, Scorpion, would be released. Among the expectant listeners were Jatavia Johnson (“JT”) and Caresha Brownlee (“Yung Miami”), the women who comprise the Miami-based rap duo City Girls. They’d previously been sent a barebones track of singsongy Drake vocals over a beat produced by BlaqNmilD and Trap Money Benny. Excited, they’d lain down two original verses in an Atlanta recording studio, featuring bars including, “Two bad bitches and we kissin’ in the Wraith/I need that black card and the code to the safe,” and sent them back to his camp.
Then, like the rest of the world... they waited. Their names were in the hook from the beginning—“Resha, do you love me, are you riding? … JT, do you love me? Are you riding?”—but the song’s title, and even what exactly Drake would do with their contributions were a mystery. They didn’t even know if their track had made the album at all.
When the Scorpion tracklist was released, the women scoured it for a clue as to what song might be theirs. “We either thought it was ‘Ratchet Happy Birthday,’ or ‘In My Feelings.’ So when 12 o’clock hit, I’m like, JT you go on the A side, I’ma go on the B side,’” Yung Miami, 24, tells Complex, sitting pretty in a diamond-encrusted City Girls necklace and Gucci sneakers. Their chopped-up vocals appeared halfway through Track 9 on the B side. “I put on ‘In My Feelings,’ we heard the beat, and I was like, Oh, my god, it’s the song! We was, like, on our head, we was so happy. I was ’bout to cry, I was just like, Wow, look at God.”
It was an exhilarating moment for two childhood friends who had started making music less than a year prior. Hours later, still riding the high from appearing on the album of one of the world’s biggest music stars, JT turned herself in to a federal detention center in Miami to begin an almost two-year sentence for felony identity theft charges. As of press time, her release date is March 21, 2020.
From behind bars, JT, 25, would learn how “In My Feelings” became the standout track among Scorpion’s 25 songs, soundtracking a viral dance challenge and going on to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. With no signs of the song slowing down, you’d imagine now would be the time for City Girls to take their blessed co-sign from the Six God and run with it. But with half the group out of commission, how can they really capitalize on this big break?
JT’s sentence has been the bogeyman over City Girls’ shoulder for the length of their brilliant, yet brief, career. She’d been out on bond since last fall, but that didn’t stop Quality Control Records from signing City Girls in December, and it didn’t curtail the momentum that landed the group on Drake’s radar in the first place.
we had times where we would be sad, we had times when we would be happy, but I just feel like it’s a minor setback for a major comeback.
“We was preparing for this time, we knew this time was coming,” Yung Miami says, taking a deep breath. “Leading up until this point, it was like a roller coaster, we had times where we would be sad, we had times when we would be happy, but I just feel like it’s a minor setback for a major comeback, ‘cause when artists go to the jail they come out bigger, like Kodak.”
Musically, the City Girls follow the formula that drew millions to Cardi B.: Talk about your real life, don’t sugarcoat shit and look damn good while you do it. The group’s name even derives from the pair being from Opa-locka and Liberty City, two of the roughest neighborhoods in Miami. They’re ratchet, sure, and a helluva lot of fun. Their album Period, released in May, features 16 songs about scamming, avoiding broke men, and using men for monetary gain. “Pop the pussy on the dick and make it stand /I put it to the side for a Benz,” they rap on a song called “Where The Bag At.” It doesn’t need to be your life for you to feel it; Yung Miami says City Girls make “alter ego music.”
“When girls put on City Girls we want them to be [a] free spirit, not caring about what nobody gon’ say, just put on our music and [claps] I’m that bitch, I’ll take your man, period. We want every girl to feel like this is my lane, I need this motivation,” she says.
Another obvious comparison is to nasty-rap vet Trina, (who actually grew up with Yung Miami’s mom), thanks to lyrics like, “She a rookie on the dick, lil’ nigga I’m a vet/ Have you busting all night, I need a bullet proof vest” on the song “Sweet Tooth,” for example.
JT and Yung Miami have been friends so long they don’t even remember how they met. But from their middle school years until their early ‘20s, they’d never talked about becoming rappers. Yung Miami recalls that JT used to ride around and freestyle with a male friend—he’d make a beat on the dashboard while JT spit lyrics. But Yung Miami didn’t see herself as an artist and needed to be convinced.
“JT had called me one time like, ‘Caresha, let’s make this song.’ I’m like, ‘Girl, stop playin’ on my phone. Leave me alone,” says Yung Miami. “She was like, ‘No for real, I got two beats from Chad’ (producer Major Nine).” JT pestered her to listen to the beats for days; finally she gave in and decided to try.
“I had made a post on Instagram and I was like, ‘Who got a studio we can go to?’ Everybody was like, ‘Sit y’all ass down! Y’all play too much,’” she recalls. But they kept going. Their first try sounded a mess, says Yung Miami, with her head down in shame. After two weeks of trying to get it right, she couldn’t take it anymore: “I told JT, I’m not recording it no more. We gon put it out like that, ‘cause we was just playing.”
If it was a fluke, it was a lucky one: The single, called “Fuck Dat Nigga,” sampled Khia’s “My Neck, My Back” and was released on Major Nine’s Soundcloud last August. Within two weeks, it had hundreds of thousands of listens, Yung Miami says. Girls from Miami, Orlando, and Tampa started uploading videos of themselves dancing to the song on Instagram. But just as they were becoming local stars JT got arrested for fraudulent use of credit cards and Yung Miami felt compelled to keep the momentum going as best she could.
“JT got arrested, I swear, probably like two weeks or a week after we dropped ‘Fuck Dat Nigga,’” she recalls. “When JT went to jail the song was doing so good, it really was, and I was so surprised, so when I saw the song was doing good I was pushing it. I’d go to the club, I’d tell the DJ, ‘Can you play my song?’ I’d tip them, give them like $20, however much they want.”
If Yung Miami needed convincing before, the song’s instant popularity signaled that she and JT needed to begin taking music seriously when her partner was released on bond a week or so later. “I’m like, ‘This gon’ be a life changer for us, ’cause it was already moving fast. We had just dropped that song, now we getting booked in clubs, making a little money, doing our little shows.”
Shortly thereafter they caught the attention of a local manager named Stanley Gabart, who connected them to Quality Control Records co-founder Coach K. “Coach K came to Miami. He was like, ‘I listened to y’all girls’ music, y’all authentic, y’all hood, I love the shit y’all talk about, that’s some real shit, I wanna sign y’all,’” Yung Miami remembers. Still, they were afraid JT’s situation would be a dealbreaker.
To their relief, Coach K felt JT being out on bond only made the girls more genuine. “He knew we really talked about this in our songs—‘swipe them Visas,’ all of that. Coach loved it. He was like, ‘That’s a story right there.’”
Now with the support of a label, who secured JT a good lawyer, a strategy was put in place to accomplish as much as possible while the legal process played out. Originally facing up to 10 years in prison, JT copped a plea deal that reduced her sentence to 24 months. “We just did everything we needed to do before she went in ’cause we knew it was coming,” says Yung Miami. “Every day we had radio, in between radio we had studio, in between studio we had video shoots, interviews, so every day we was working.”
I hope she in there writing so much music so when she come out we can have some more hits!
In between the time of their December signing and Scorpion’s release in June, City Girls appeared on Quality Control's compilation Control The Streets Volume 1, put out their album Period, released four music videos through WorldStarHipHop, and continued to build a loyal social media following. While they were grinding, Champagne Papi followed them on the ’Gram and started liking their pics. Because he already had a relationship with their QC labelmates Migos and Lil Baby, City Girls started to get their hopes up that Drake might want to collab with them next. When it came to fruition, Yung Miami says she got a feeling that she can’t even describe. She tries to be humble, but a smile spreads across her face and betrays her. She can’t help but admit, “I ain’t gon lie—I knew it was gon’ be big for us!”
With the taste of breakout success fresh in her mouth, Yung Miami has no choice but to overcome any nerves she might feel having to carry the team on her back for now. She’s going on tour with Lil Baby starting Aug. 10, launching City Girls merchandise, and keeping the #FreeJT movement going in the press and on social media. It helps that her friend calls every day and issues the charge Yung Miami needs to hear.
“JT will call like, ‘Keep yo head up, make sure you promote us, don’t let no hater stop you, get in the studio, make yo songs.’ She be saying the stuff that I should say to her,” Yung Miami says.
Knowing that JT is in good spirits makes Miami happy because the truth is, she knows they could be going further if both were present, but to waste time on wishful thinking would only slow her down. She chooses to look at this step in their journey through the lens of, “God does everything for a reason,” and she’s hopeful that when JT gets out, people will only be more curious to hear what she has to say. “And I hope she in there writing so much music so when she come out we can have some more hits!”
Not even a professional act for an entire year yet, the City Girls have already enjoyed an extraordinary ascension. Add this organic popularity with a co-sign from Drake and the support of today’s most relevant label, and that should assure fans the City Girls will be just fine. Plus, a source with insider knowledge believes JT won’t be on the sideline for long.
“I think she’ll be home real soon… like, real soon. Sooner than later,” Yung Miami says.
We'll take her word for it, period.