Budding rap girlies are arriving en masse, but Miami duo City Girls have re-entered the game with an “elevated” status on their third studio album. Three years after making the great escape on their sophomore LP City on Lock—which succeeded their uninhibited 2018 debut Girl Code—the fearless pas de deux composed of Caresha “Yung Miami” Brownlee and Jatavia “JT” Johnson are back and bolder than ever.
On their new album RAW (an acronym for “Real Ass Whores”), City Girls offer their traditional ratchet, everyday girl rap with hints of vulnerability between songs. Midtempo “Emotions” features Grammy-winning R&B singer-songwriter Muni Long, who begs a prosperous suitor to “open your heart and open your wallet.” “Show Me the Money” sees Yung Miami and JT continuing their paper chase, as the former dismisses romance and opts for the bag: “Fuck love I be playing wit’ ‘em.” Salacious club banger “Piñata” could make your abuela gasp; JT commands her sexual conquest to shower her in Chanel for an opportunity to “hit it.”
As the Dirty South natives tell it, the provocative ethos of RAW is no different from their trendsetter entry into hip-hop, which has been closely followed by the rising generation of brazen female rappers. “When me and Caresha came out, we came back with that fuck that n**** music. At the time, we got bashed for calling men broke; people were cussing us out left and right, saying ‘fuck them hoes,’ ‘they ratchet,’ and [our music] was just real raw shit,” JT tells ELLE.com. “When we came out, everybody kind of switched up what they were doing and how they were presenting themselves.”
Recorded in major cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Miami, RAW reflects City Girls’ growth and coast-to-coast perspective between stops at lively night clubs and hookah lounges. “I think on a personal level, we’re not on the same mindset. We’re older, we’re [in] different locations as far as where we’re living. We’re just not in the same space,” Yung Miami says. “It’s been three years, so it’s just everything; the way we dress, the way we talk, we live, we think… A lot can happen over the years.”
In the five years since making their mainstream introduction on Drake’s chart-topping hit “In My Feelings” (where JT was noticeably absent from the music video due to her previous incarceration), City Girls have taken pop culture by storm. Their witty catch phrases like “period” and “real bad” are synonymous with the Black Twitter lexicon, and both women have achieved commercial fanfare together and individually. Yung Miami, who hilariously deemed herself “The Black Oprah,” is the face of contemporary hip-hop media for her wild REVOLT podcast Caresha Please. JT is a fashion world mainstay, often placed on cyber-chic Y2K mood boards for looks that compliment her longtime partner, rapper Lil Uzi Vert. The ladies are even executive producers of Issa Rae’s Max comedy Rap Sh!t, loosely based on their early career. Florida rap was once known for its gloomy, hypnagogic SoundCloud artists of the 2010s, but City Girls broke the mold and solidified themselves as unapologetic womanist megastars.
But where City Girls have attracted fame, the pair also grappled with misfortunes. In 2020, the father of Yung Miami’s son was fatally shot, and the rapper would later speak about experiencing depression. JT has gotten into occasional spats with “fans” and haters on social media, some involving her high-profile relationship, but the couple shrugs off detractors. During our Zoom chat, JT briefly picks up a call from Uzi. They exchange quick words of affection: “Yes, I do miss you. I love you, too. But I’m gonna call you right back,” JT affirms. This was just days before JT changed her Instagram name to “Jatavia Woods” to match Uzi’s legal surname.
JT might be on her way to “City Wife” goals, but the rapper makes it known that she can still take care of herself. “When you get money, you are independent. Even if you’re in the house with me, I don’t have to tolerate much because I know that I can pay my own bills,” she says. “So as submissive as I can be, I’m still independent when somebody got me fucked up, because I know that I can move how I want to move and I do what I want to do.”
Despite public fodder about their relationships and alleged beefs, City Girls are nonplussed by rumors. “You just learn to deal with being a public figure. You know what comes with it as far as criticism, trending, people talking about you—it’s become natural,” Yung Miami says. “It’s like an everyday part of your life. Everyday somebody’s gonna wake up and tweet about you; you’re a celebrity, you’re famous. It’s just one of those things, which is, if you get it, you get it. It don’t really faze us.”
Maybe that explains why Yung Miami is plainly unbothered about gossip revolving around her past relationship with Diddy, although the two are still friends and business partners. On RAW track “Survive,” she acknowledges their fling: “Bitches want smoke while I’m on the jet with Puff/young bitch from Miami got a n**** tryna cuff.”
Although her romance with hip-hop’s third billionaire was short-lived, Yung Miami imparts dating wisdom that other self-sufficient women can relate to. “I think something that’s important to having a relationship is transparency, being able to communicate with your partner and [compromise]. When you are an individual and independent, you’ve gotta take care of yourself in some type of way or form.”
An anthemic rags-to-riches tale, “Survive” also sees City Girls take on the fast life and harken back to the grit of their South Florida origins. “We live a real raw lifestyle. You can tell the difference between people that have literally been taken care of since they were kids and people that get access to certain things with age,” JT says.
In agreement, Yung Miami interjects: “You know how some people are born with a silver spoon? We grew up off of survival.”
“Since we could understand, we were fighting to survive. Not on no crazy shit, but on some real shit,” JT continues. “That’s just how it goes where we’re from. We grew up [as] ’90s babies in Miami. We’re not from a small town.”
They bring the big city to the runway on RAW track “Work for It,” where JT boasts that her catwalk is “giving Kate Moss.” Historically, female rappers have been arbiters of hip-hop’s connection to high fashion and streetwear, and JT carries the tradition in recent campaigns for Mowalola and Poster Girl. Now with her own forthcoming line, JT confesses that she isn’t “running to every fashion show,” but it’s clear that she’s effortlessly become an It Girl.
“Sometimes people try hard to fit into spaces where people don’t want to nurture them. When I do campaigns, I probably know a person that’s there and I feel comfortable doing it. I’m learning as I go, but I’m not forcing myself into any spaces,” JT says. “What I’m trying to do is be myself and I think that’s what makes it so cool, because people don’t expect it and it’s new to the people where I come from.”
As for the criticism regarding her style experimentation, like her Mowalola x Beats shoot, JT doesn’t sweat online backlash. “I’m glad that people see it, and what makes it so good is controversy, because it’s always stupid and ugly to people so [they] make it go viral, and then it becomes a thing,” she says. “Every time I do a photo shoot that don’t look right to somebody, they post it because they think that I’m gonna get clowned, and then it just makes me go up.”
Akin to JT’s fashionable reputation, Yung Miami has rightfully paved her own lane in podcast culture, and she’s preparing for the second season of Caresha Please. Wanting to have “real life conversations,” she’s focused on being a resource and speaking to guests about domestic violence, homelessness and politics. The internet once joked about her abruptly using a Malcolm X quote while interviewing Megan Thee Stallion, but Yung Miami insists that her next talking points won’t be a laughing matter: “You have to touch the people and there’s a lot of topics to touch on as far as the day that we live in.”
Even with their individual praises, City Girls have yet to be properly awarded for their efforts as a team. Despite their BET Award and Billboard Award nominations, they still haven’t earned the recognition they’re due. For example, their 2019 song “Act Up” was sampled on Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign collaboration “Hot Girl Summer,” certified three-times platinum, and marks the highest certified song by a rap girl group ever. But City Girls didn’t receive an award to show for the single’s success.
“People try to laugh and clown about ‘Act Up,’ but ‘Act Up’ was a culture shift and it deserved way more than what it got,” JT says. “People sample songs fifteen years out – ‘Act Up’ was sampled within a year. I don’t give a fuck where it came from, how it came about, ‘Act Up’ was a song that deserved way more than what it got.”
JT also disapproves of the fact that Lil Yachty seemingly took full credit for writing the song. (He stirred controversy when he revealed himself as a co-writer, then appeared in the “Act Up” music video.) “When you think about it, probably the biggest songs that win Grammys are written by other people, so that don’t even make sense,” JT adds. “I feel like, as the City Girls, we never got the respect that we deserved, and it’s okay. I’m not crying about it, I don’t give a fuck. But that’s when you put your all into you and how you measure your success.”
In a time where the music consumption is largely based on virality, RAW demonstrates that City Girls still have plenty of wins to keep them on everyone’s radar. Looking ahead to dominating every aspect of hip-hop, the duo shows that their dedication to evolving still makes them a force to be reckoned with.
“Whatever we dream of—podcasts, fashion, TV—I feel like we’re doing very, very good by ourselves,” JT says. “I feel like a lot of odds are betted against us. A lot is taken from us, was taken from us, so I hope that we evolve together and individually just to prove people wrong, period.”
Jaelani Turner-Williams is an Ohio-raised culture writer and editor. She specializes in digital and print media, and has written for Complex, Dwell, Rolling Stone, Teen Vogue, and other outlets. She is executive editor of biannual fashion, lifestyle and culture publication Tidal Magazine.