City Girls' Race Against the Clock: How the Duo Made Two Albums Before One Member Went to Prison


Yung Miami and the duo’s administration staff break down their whirlwind 2018

During the numerous days and nights rap duo City Girls spent at Miami’s famend Circle House studios this spring, nobody ever went hungry. Lemonade and freshly baked brownies had been accessible across the clock. An in-house chef would typically whip up oxtails and rice for the duo of Caresha “Yung Miami” Brownlee, 24, and Jata “JT” Johnson, 26.

And when the pair of actually wanted to fulfill some cravings, they’d sneak away to a close-by gasoline station. “Me and JT would get margaritas,” Yung Miami recollects throughout an interview at Billboard’s places of work final month, surrounded by a handful of members of her administration staff. “JT likes Pringles and people bitter gummy worms, and I just like the Hot Cheetos Puffs.” During periods that befell from April to June of this yr, Miami and JT would generally have so many snacks that they’d should pause a couple of hours later for naps. “We had been in that bitch full and drained,” Miami says with fun.

The scene wasn’t simply one other occasion of the form of music-industry extra lavished on younger stars, although City Girls had lots to have a good time in 2018: With the May launch of their debut album, Period, they grew to become the most recent breakout stars of Atlanta’s Quality Control label — residence to Migos, Lil Yachty and Lil Baby — thanks raunchy rhymes about getting laid and getting paid that drew comparisons to Lil' Kim and Trina and introduced a daring new taste to Miami’s signature jook sound. They additionally caught the eye of Drake, who recruited them for his smash single “In My Feelings,” which spent 10 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 this summer time. (The duo recorded authentic vocals for the songs, however they don’t seem to be formally credited as featured visitors.)

Yet within the midst of all of the rising reputation, City Girls confronted a real-life battle behind the scenes. All these snacks and naps fueled the ladies as they labored across the clock, day after day, to fulfill a severe, probably career-squashing deadline: In January, JT pleaded responsible to aggravated identification theft associated to credit-card fraud and was subsequently sentenced to 2 years in jail; she surrendered herself in late June. That left only some months to knock out a yr’s price of content material — together with a complete new album, 5 music movies and a mini-documentary that chronicles the journey to sudden rap stardom — that will preserve the band’s momentum stepping into JT's absence.

At occasions the tempo was brutal. “Coaches go onerous on their gamers, and I deal with them similar to the blokes,” says Pierre “Pee” Thomas, CEO of Quality Control, who runs the label with co-founder Kevin “Coach Ok” Kee. But their interior circle by no means doubted that they might pull it off: “Me and Coach Ok signed them figuring out JT was getting time,” Pee explains, “so I feel that’s referred to as having religion.”

Knowing JT’s jail sentence was looming, City Girls recorded a lot of Period and its follow-up, November’s Girl Code, concurrently. The pair knocked out greater than 200 songs over the course of about two and a half months, Yung Miami estimates, typically pulling a number of all-nighters again to again. It’s why Girl Code songs just like the “Clout Chasin’” sound like they may very well be proper at residence amid the scrappy power of Period — they had been born from the identical artistic interval. (They do showcase a extra weak aspect, nonetheless, on songs like “Panties & Bra” and “On the Low,” which Miami says is her favourite from the undertaking: “We needed to indicate a distinct aspect to City Girls — that we are able to swap flows and rap about one thing totally different than simply pimping n-ggas.”)

If they weren’t within the studio, they had been on set for filming music movies to accompany the music they’d simply made. There was one week in June wherein they filmed 5 music movies — “Not Ya Main,” “Careless,” “One of Them Nights,” “Sweet Tooth” and “Period” — again to again. Sometimes they’d work for 22 hours straight. Miami remembers feeling daunted by their schedule. “Like, ‘When…how?’ Y’all actually needed us to get up every single day to do a music video,” she recollects, clearly exasperated. “In one in all them, I had the identical hair in ‘Period’ [and ‘Not Ya Main’]. They stated I couldn’t have that, however I didn’t care. I didn’t really feel like taking out my hair that day. I used to be like, ‘They received’t discover it’s the identical weave. I’m not taking it out.’”

Fighting off exhaustion solely made their jobs extra demanding. “At the video shoots, they regarded drained on digital camera, so we needed to do the take 10 occasions as a substitute of 5 occasions, as a result of they didn’t have the power,” says Caprie Poe, their supervisor. With tensions already working excessive, JT and Yung Miami generally turned on one another. On the set of “Careless,” they obtained right into a struggle "over an Instagram submit, one thing foolish," Poe recollects, that led Miami to briefly storm off and virtually derailed their complete shoot. “There’s by no means a boring second,” Poe says. “They’ll go from that, and the following minute they’ll be like, ‘Let me use your lip gloss.’”

And then there was the toll their busy schedule had on their family members, which has hardly eased up following JT’s incarceration, as Yung Miami toured on JT’s behalf with Lil Baby and assumed her position because the de facto face of the band. (A course of that hasn’t been with out controversy: In August, she apologized for a years-old homophobic tweet that made the rounds, then appeared to face by her feedback throughout an interview a couple of few months later. “I discovered to be extra cautious with what I say on-line,” she says now.) Before coming to New York in November for extra promotional obligations, Miami says, “I took my son to the truthful in Miami. But I used to be so drained, my physique wouldn’t enable me to rise up. I used to be like, ‘I’ve to do that as a result of I’m gonna be gone for per week.’ I can’t take him to high school. My child be asking, ‘Where’s my mommy at? I wanna discuss to my mommy!’ When I hear him say that, it makes me tear up and get unhappy. I gotta spend time with my child. It’s onerous.”

Still, City Girls soldiered via recording even once they didn’t really feel prefer it — together with the ultimate second’s of JT freedom. “I keep in mind the day we left L.A after the BET Awards [in June], proper earlier than JT turned herself in,” recollects Chantel Hicks, their street supervisor. “She was like, ‘I’m not going to the fucking studio! I’m drained! I gotta flip myself in, I don’t wanna file.’”

JT needed to spend time along with her household whereas she nonetheless may; Pee and the others satisfied her to make one final push to complete the album. So she entered the studio a couple of hours earlier than midnight and recorded half a dozen songs earlier than Poe picked up her at eight a.m. the following morning. “She was useless drained,” she recollects. “I introduced her to Target to get a change of garments, then we hopped within the sprinter to go get one thing to eat, after which we took her to show her in.” The Girl Code album, nonetheless, was principally achieved at that time. “So it was price it,” Poe says, laughing.

It actually appears that approach: In November, Girl Code debuted at No. 31 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart and No. 63 on the Billboard 200. Those aren’t wildly spectacular figures on their very own, however contemplating how Period solely cracked one chart following its debut — the Heatseekers Albums Chart, the place it hit No. 16 in May — it’s an indication of their hustle beginning to paying off. Following Girl Code, the duo additionally debuted at No. 14 on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart, whereas their Cardi B-assisted single “Twerk” even made it to the Hot 100, peaking at No. 92.  

Incarceration didn’t even cease JT from recording. She makes a cameo from jail on Girl Code opener “Free JT,” a feat that required some cautious coordination via jail e mail service CorrLinks. “I instructed her, ‘Call me at eight o’clock, I’m within the studio engaged on this file,’” Miami recollects. “So I went into the sales space, she referred to as me, and I pressed 5 and let her hear the file. I stated, ‘I simply need you to say one thing in between the verses to present it that genuine really feel.’”

Despite their jam-packed yr coming to a detailed, Miami doesn’t see a lot trip time in her future. She hopes to sometime quickly take her son to the Bahamas or Jamaica, however she expects JT to get an early launch as quickly as January and is aware of that — following a welcome-home blowout, in fact — they’ll hit the street and the studio quickly after to attempt to make up for misplaced time. “The stress’s going to get larger with the ‘JT’s residence’ headlines,” she says pensively. “I don’t know if I’ve time for a break. Right now we’re on our come-up.”

When that occurs, City Girls received’t choose up precisely the place they left off — they’ll be fiercer. JT is hungrier than ever to get again to work, Hicks says. And she’ll return to a extra assertive and assured Yung Miami, who’s continued to sharpen her abilities all through 2018, partly to problem naysayers who’ve written her off as merely a provider of Instagram-caption-worthy adlibs — the colourful hypewoman to JT’s extra lyrics-focused emcee. “I used to be by no means a rapper earlier than this, I’m simply now changing into an artist,” Miami says. “So when folks criticize my movement and supply, I don’t actually take it in a foul approach, as a result of I’m rising.” 

In some methods, this progress is precisely what Quality Control anticipated once they signed on to shepherd the duo’s careers. “We knew they’d the potential to be the place they’re proper now,” Pee says. “Sometimes with artists and with folks, you simply want anyone to consider in you and present you develop the expertise.”

Yet members of their staff additionally mild up once they describe how far the duo has come — and the way a lot they achieved in such a short while. “Yung Miami is so assured now, you possibly can hear it in her voice and see it on stage,” Hicks says. “And when JT come residence, she’s undoubtedly going to eat that stage. It went from ‘Oh my God, we simply carried out’ to ‘Yeah, bitch, we did that shit!’”