Album Review: City Girls Cement Their Spot With ‘City On Lock’

Female rappers ran the game last summer, that much cannot be debated. As for 2020, even in the face of a burgeoning revolution and a global pandemic, female rappers are still delivering music that centers them in control of their sexuality and exudes a particularly liberating type of fun. Megan Thee Stallion dropped her smash SUGA EP, teamed up with Normani for “Diamonds,” and recruited Beyoncé for the highly successful “Savage” remix. Nicki Minaj set up a promising comeback with “Yikes” and scored her first #1, in tandem with Doja Cat, thanks to the “Say So” remix. Beyoncé leaned deeper into her rap-singing bag on “BLACK PARADE,” Young M.A dropped her strong Red Flu project, Flo Milli’s tracks have dominated TikTok, Yung Baby Tate delivered a few bangers for Insecure‘s fourth season, Tierra Whack stole the show on Lil Yachty’s album, and Bree Runway has been gaining a lot of online traction. All this is to say that female rap is thriving right now. With their first album since JT’s homecoming, City Girls have cemented their spot in the game with 15 slick tracks about scamming, trapping, freedom, unity, and pure unadulterated fun.

Last summer, City Girls scored back to back hits with the Cardi B-featuring “Twerk” and the timeless “Act Up,” their biggest song to date. The Miami rap duo first gained traction with “Fuck Dat Nigga,” their debut single on which they flipped Khia’s evergreen “My Neck, My Back.” It was their uncredited appearance on Drake’s massive “In My Feelings,” however, that really helped launch their career in the mainstream. Their “two bad bitches and we kissin in the Wraith” refrain was arguably the most memorable part of the whole song. Nonetheless, as JT rapped in “JT Freestyle,” she “went in the same day Drake dropped “In My Feelings.” That song was her first piece of newly recorded music since she came home from a stint in prison for multiple fraud charges. In the time that JT was in prison, her other half, Yung Miami, held it down with verses for collaborations with 21 Savage, Juicy J, Saweetie, and G-Eazy, among others. The events leading up to City On Lock are crucial to truly understanding the pertinence and meaning of this record. Steeped in the Miami drawl and attitude of Trina, City Girls have built a brand on using their bodies and sexuality to get what they want from men and moving on to their next conquest. They’re smarter and more calculating than these men. As lockdowns and quarantines swept across the nation, many women (and men!) turned to OnlyFans to exercise safe sex work and stabilize their income in a time of uncertain employment. For professional sex workers, OnlyFans offered a way to circumvent the dangerous and exploitative porn industry. It’s all about control over your content and your sexuality; the creator always has the upper hand. Enter City Girls.

City On Lock is anchored by a trio of tracks that are not only among the album’s best offerings, but a neat encapsulation of the City Girls brand. The album’s lead single, “Jobs,” features the duo going back and forth over a beat that is reminiscent of Drake‘s “Nonstop.” The song functions as a victory lap as the girls boast about their new lifestyles that their rap success has gotten them. With the anthemic refrain “I don’t work jobs, bitch I am job,” City Girls remind us that: 1) their ability to craft hooks has only gotten better since “Act Up” and 2) they’re not here to work for anybody, they are their own bosses. The refrain also has another meaning: on a more personal level, as humans we are all constantly working on ourselves and evolving into the best versions of ourselves, that in itself is a job. “Jobs” is followed by “Broke N****s,” a duet with Yo Gotti that features yet another immaculate hook. The melodic synths in the background, however, are what really sell the track. City Girls love a beat that accosts the listener. While, initially, the aggressive production enraptures the audience, the lack of variety makes 15 tracks of a similar production style quite tiring. The duo is able to avoid this when they lean into bounce influences like they did on “That Old Man” or when unconventional effects are utilized like the camera shutters on the heartwarming “That’s My Bitch.” The final track in that aforementioned trio is “Pussy Talk,” a slick Doja Cat collaboration that is about exactly what you would expect it to be about. The real triumph of the track is that it is simultaneously a solid pure rap moment for Doja (who has leaned on the pop side of mainstream more than any of her contemporaries) and a moment of homage to Nicki Minaj on behalf of JT (her verse uses a similar flow to Nicki’s “Boss Ass Bitch” flow).

Quality Control

The album’s other two collaborations, the Lil Baby-featuring “Flewed Out” and the Lil Durk-featuring “City on Lock,” reach varying degrees of success. On both songs, the featured artists dominate the track to the point where it sounds like City Girls are featuring on their own song. “Flewed Out” is a nice play on the term that Yung Miami coined last year, and the three rappers trade verses about their private planes and wealth. Lil Durk draws out a different shade of City Girls’ personality on the album’s title track. They get revelatory about their trapping roots in Miami Dade and offer a grittier look at a city that has been washed in glitz and glam over time. If more of City On Lock tapped into this vein of their artistry, the album would have been better off for it. At 15 tracks, the record is numbingly repetitive; you can almost predict the punchlines. There were many missed opportunities for JT to rap about her time prison, for Yung Miami to rap about her pregnancy and birth of her second child, and for both ladies to rap about something outside of their general comfort zone. Songs like “Rodeo” and “Double CC’s” are nice, but they aren’t as catchy as “You Tried It” which was confusingly left off of the album. There are only so many metaphors for scamming until the concept gets stale. It should be noted, however, that Yung Miami’s rapping has significantly improved and, from a technical standpoint, both ladies are pulling their weight.

City on Lock is enjoyable. It’s an interesting snapshot at a very specific experience in one of the most turbulent times for the world and for the duo’s career. There are multiple hits on this record, but there’s also a warning that though their spot may be secure, it’s time for our favorite City Girls to branch out to different sounds and themes.

Score: 60

Key Tracks: “Jobs” | “Pussy Talk” | “Enough / Better” | “Flewed Out” |”City On Lock”

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