City Girls: RAW

The title of the new City Girls album is a shocker: RAW aka Real Ass Whores. It’s an attempt to convince the music world that their X-rated anthems of tricking and scamming haven’t lost any edge just because they got real professional in the three years since City on Lock. In that time, Yung Miami, who chants like New Orleans bounce and Miami bass pioneers of the past, settled into the role of talk show host with Caresha Please, an occasionally raunchy and often therapeutic interview series designed to make her the next rapper-turned-mogul. JT, the more hardened rhymer, transformed into a Vogue-approved It Girl, with more appearances at runways than on rap songs. They’ve intentionally steered their image away from the Miami fast life and closer to Vivica A. Fox’s businesswoman in Two Can Play That Game.

As this transformation was taking shape, the City Girls' lawless, horny, club-hopping escapades became a living mood board for the next generation. It’s not out of pocket to say that Sexyy Red’s Hood Hottest Princess, arguably one the biggest mixtapes of the year, wouldn’t have been able to flourish like it did if the duo’s 2018 album Girl Code hadn’t come before it. But who wants to be discussed like musical relics? The City Girls sure don’t. Throughout RAW, they’re on a mission to regain their spot as the dirtiest, most provocative hitmakers in rap.

Too bad they sound too splintered to get there—I wouldn’t be surprised if a chunk of RAW was recorded while Miami and JT were in different cities. They don’t feel like they’re on the same wavelength nearly often enough. Most of the standout moments go to Miami. Her verses are always rich with carefree personality, like how she erupts over the hushed beat of “Line Up” for a few of the most emphatic bars on the album: “It’s just somethin’ about a nigga who put money in a brown bag/Ooh it turn me on like a light switch.” That “ooh” sounds like she’s panting in the booth. Then on “Show Me the Money,” over a flip of Rebbie Jackson’s “Centipede” so fly that you could imagine it in the hands of turn-of-the-century Hov, Miami’s shifty-flowed flexing does Trina on “Nann Nigga” about as well as anyone except Trina herself.

JT isn’t quite an afterthought, but it sometimes feels like she’s clocking in. Her solo track “No Bars” is supposed to be her close-up, and the thudding Michigan-style beat makes you believe that she’s about to black out. Instead the song is pretty tame, full of clean-cut bars about which brands she would like to be sponsored by. (“Got bitches tannin’ for this dark skin” is a good one, though.) There’s a little swag to her opening verse on the Magnolia Shorty-interpolating “What You Want,” even if it’s quickly upstaged by Miami going for broke: “Fuck them kids, I’ma swallow that jit.” As a unit the City Girls are at their best when JT is the core and Miami is the wild card. That’s the case with “I Need a Thug,” a twist on LL Cool J’s “I Need Love.” The way JT rips into her verse (“He walk in parties and you know the sticks is up/I walk in parties and you know the dicks is up”) allows Miami to act more like Freaknik host.

By now you’ve probably noticed that there are a ton of obvious samples on RAW, as is the trend in popular rap. I’m not against that as long as the flip has a point aside from nostalgia mining, and for the most part, the City Girls are good about that. Turning “From the D to the A” into “Fuck the D to the A” (one of their earliest loosies from 2017, sentimentally repurposed on this album) is clever and spiritually right. The Usher hook on “Good Love” can go, but one thing the City Girls should always do is reimagine bass throwbacks. The spin on the “Int’l Players Anthem” sample on “Fancy Ass Bitch” is on the dull side, though without it we wouldn’t have that explosive Miami verse where she breaks out some French: “Hit Paris, oui oui.”

Then there is “Face Down,” straight up first-rate City Girls. Miami and JT take the concept of one of the filthiest—and most degrading—2 Live Crew time capsules and reclaim it by flipping the power dynamics. As the pummeling Mike WiLL and P-Nasty beat goes, Miami lays down imagery that in this day and age could get its own obscenity trial (“I make him face me, nasty, squirt in his mouth”) and JT sets the tone with one of those bars that you want to yell every time, even if you’re part of the demographic whose pockets she’s trying to hurt: “Shoutout my bitches gettin’ bags out of niggas.” It’s two racing minutes that will make you think that the City Girls still got it.