JT and Kali Uchis on Men, Money, and Making It
At New York Fashion Week, it was all about JT. The Miami rapper was everywhere, in your face and on your feeds, turning front rows into the JT show, with her knockout style and unbothered aura. It’s a far cry from her Liberty City upbringing, where against all odds she and her friend Yung Miami founded City Girls, the rap group that booked them a one-way ticket to stardom. Now, with her first EP imminent, JT is looking to make money moves as a solo artist. As she tells her friend and collaborator Kali Uchis, she’s going to give it to them raw.
THURSDAY 4:30 PM SEPT. 14, 2023 LA
JT: Is Kali on?
KALI UCHIS: Yeah, I’m on. Hey!
JT: Hey, baby. Did they give you questions?
UCHIS: Yeah, I just made it a little more natural. What are your plans this weekend?
JT: I’m going to stay in this weekend because New York Fashion Week and the VMAs drained me. I just got back to L.A., so I’m going to chill and write down some goals and recharge.
UCHIS: I feel like you’re on the go right now more than ever. Are you going to take time to celebrate all your milestones during the holidays?
JT: I really want to. Even though I’m working hard, sometimes it just don’t be feeling like enough. I think that’s because I have yet to be in a place that I’m individually solidified. The City Girls’ next album is about to drop, and I want to put out that project and then sort everything out individually. When I dropped “No Bars” I had to drop another song and another song, so I couldn’t bask in anything because I was promoting so much at one time.
UCHIS: Yeah, it was a lot. But that’s why you’re taking off with your solo career. Do you feel that?
JT: Yeah, but not how I know I can. I’ve been having these little talks with myself. I know I could get on these levels because I have the talent, but I’m not really in my own space to the point that I’m nominated, and those are things I want to see for myself. But I am happy that my Spotify listeners are going up thanks to “Muñekita” and you. I see it, but I can’t wait to actually feel it, if that makes sense.
UCHIS: It’s really important to think about everything that you want. Visualizing is definitely the first step and it’s good that you have such a strong vision for what you want for yourself.
JT: Yes. And I knew I had it years ago. I was reading a DM to this girl in 2017, and I told her everything I was going to do. I was like, “I’m going to be like this and I’m going to do this.” I want to have that same belief in myself that I had years ago, and I feel like the industry sucked that out of all of us. We stopped believing in ourselves, how we was when we had nothing and our backs was against the wall. Now we’re up against bigger machines, but I want to get back into that space, like tunnel vision.
UCHIS: Has this always been your dream?
JT: Well, making music was. I always had the talent, but I won’t say it was my dream because coming from where I’m from, we don’t dream that big. You know what I’m saying?
JT: Where I’m from, we don’t really make it like that. I think that the last people to make it off music was Trick [Daddy] and Trina. My goal was to be a girlfriend to a rich man. A football player, if we being exact, only because all the athletes come from Florida. I wouldn’t dream as big as I could, even though I had the talent, because of my upbringing. The tricking music and the finesse music comes from that.
UCHIS: That’s something I love about the topics that you choose to rap about, and me and you are very alike in that sense. We both don’t believe in giving our energy, especially not sexual energy, to anyone that’s not taking care of us. When did you first realize that for yourself?
JT: Growing up in Miami is crazy. My surroundings was like that. My mom was like that. My aunt was like that. My dad got eight baby mamas, and he was like that. He gave them money.
UCHIS: You always just had that understanding?
JT: I had that understanding growing up because we are not as privileged in Miami as people think. Even though it’s a beautiful city, it’s very grungy, especially where I’m from. I don’t want it to be perceived the wrong way, but unapologetically, I feel like every woman deserves to be taken care of.
UCHIS: Me too. There’s something very traditional about it.
JT: But in my community, it’s like, “Oh, you a trick, you a ho, you a user.” I feel like it goes both ways, because I’m in a relationship and I know how it is to be in a house with a man. I’m taking care of you, just like you’re taking care of me. Men require a lot. They actually require more than women.
UCHIS: I completely understand. In my culture, it’s looked down upon to have sex with somebody who’s not doing anything for you. Like, you’re giving the milk for free, why would they buy the cow?
UCHIS: Well, now that you’re here, is there anything about fame that took you by surprise?
JT: It changed a lot with us new artists. The generation before us was different because it was less social media, and these labels was making them work harder. We probably only had 10 songs on the radio at the time, so they was bigger stars. When I watched TV growing up, I wanted to be on TRL or 106 & Park and feel that type of fame. Everything is so dumbed down and quick and streamed now, so we don’t have the full experience as the artists before us. It took me by surprise that it wasn’t what I saw when I was growing up.
UCHIS: It’s changed so much since then. Do you see yourself as a part of a lineage of Miami rappers?
JT: For sure. I love Miami so much, even though I don’t live there because of the trauma. But I still talk like I’m from Miami. I still walk like I’m from Miami. I still rap like I’m from Miami. And when I do something good, the hood always calls me. When I stray and do more commercialized music, they don’t be feeling it, but when I do my little hood one-two, they be like, “That’s what I’m talking about.” That’s what I’m going to lean into more when I do my first project. My roots.
UCHIS: Back to your roots.
JT: And just give it to them raw, because raw bitches is winning right now.
UCHIS: As a woman artist, people expect us to act like Disney princesses all the time, or we get called rude for having boundaries and being human beings. And in a world where so many people are just full of shit or afraid of confrontation, you know how to address issues head-on. That’s so important, especially in this industry where people take everything until there’s nothing left of you. Have you always been that way?
JT: I grew up protecting myself. I separated from my mom when I was six, and my dad was a great dad. He gave us a lot, but I never really felt like a nurtured kid. I was always a black sheep. I was always getting called problematic and all of that. I’ve been getting called problematic my whole life. So I always had to protect myself, because if I didn’t speak up for myself, nobody else would. If I feel uncomfortable with the way somebody’s touching me or talking to me, I’m going to let them know. I don’t care how many times people call me rude, because they don’t know what I’ve been through.
“I’ve been getting called problematic my whole life.”
JT: And in this industry, they compare us too fucking much. Some people are soft because they were brought up in soft lives. Other people been through so much shit that they always thinking that the worst is about to happen. Like, I don’t like when people take bad pics of me because when I first got in the industry, all people talked about was my looks. Last night I went to a fashion show and I got into it with a man because he kept taking pictures of me with my mouth open. I wasn’t prepared, and he was like, “You don’t have to be rude about it.” But you’re the one taking advantage of me right now. You’re not looking at me as a human.
UCHIS: That’s exactly what I was going to say. Our position can be very dehumanizing, like with people throwing shit at us at concerts. They expect to be able to abuse us in a lot of ways and for us to just smile and wave.
JT: Oh god, that too. My breast popped out at a show and I asked onstage, “Can y’all not post that?” And a man still posted it. A man, it wasn’t a woman. So there’s so many reasons why I’m protected. We’re just items to people. And they call it media training. “She needs media training.” Like, you mean to act like nothing bothers me?
UCHIS: That’s such a personable trait of yours, though. With a lot of artists, it’s like, “Bitch, you are not like that when the cameras are off.” You can feel that they just have a facade up.
JT: Everybody will tell you I’m always polite to people, but I’m never going out of my way to be nice to somebody that I don’t like. I don’t care what nobody else thinks because I don’t wake up with these people.
UCHIS: Exactly. Moving on, what do you do when you can’t sleep?
JT: I just stay up. I’m bicoastal, so I really struggle with going to sleep at night. Last night I started talking to myself. I said, “Am I crazy?” But I know how to be by myself because I spent a lot of time alone in prison. [JT was incarcerated for two years on credit card fraud charges]
UCHIS: Where do you feel like is more home to you, New York or L.A.?
UCHIS: What’s your favorite food to eat out there?
JT: I like this restaurant called Zinc. I get a little bowl with rice, beans, chicken. It’s like a healthy bowl.
UCHIS: Okay. I never heard of that.
JT: You got to try it. It’s so good. I’m eating it right now.
UCHIS: Who do you tell all your secrets to?
JT: I don’t really have secrets. I don’t do nothing that I’m ashamed of. But if I want to talk shit about my man, Ima call my best friend. That’s probably the biggest secret that I have. [Laughs]
UCHIS: It’s so important to have somebody safe that you can talk to because you really can’t talk about your relationship to everybody. Would you say you have an extended family of friends or just a couple of people that you feel really close to?
JT: I don’t really have people in L.A. My assistant comes around, but I don’t go out that much. I talk on the phone, but I don’t know what place I am in life with friendship. I’m at a critical age, where people are having babies, people are getting married. My friends are dropping their kids off to fucking third grade and I’m like, “Yo, I don’t even have kids.” Caresha’s [Yung Miami’s] son, Jai, went to the fifth or sixth grade. You get what I’m trying to say? It is so hard for everybody to connect.
UCHIS: Yeah, everybody got their own life. Do you ever go back home?
JT: No, I only go home when I’m working. I don’t know why.
UCHIS: Yeah, I’m the same way. So on a regular off, what is your go-to schedule to have some “me” time?
JT: I lay in bed, I eat as much as I can, I’ll probably take a good shower.
UCHIS: I love that.
JT: And then I think about how I’m going to get better, if I have time.
UCHIS: Yeah. I know me and you really just started becoming friends recently, but you seem so focused right now.
JT: I am, because I know I can crush and I know I can dominate if I sort things out right. We have it so good in the industry that nothing can stop us from making it if we just apply ourselves. It’s no label exec—we don’t have tryouts to be rappers no more. So it’s like, why not?
UCHIS: What do you think will be the defining moment when you really feel like you can take a break for a second?
JT: Girl, I don’t know. I just want to push the limit. I want to make girls like me believe they could do it, for real. People always talk about colorism and us not getting as much love as others, and I really want to make it just off of that. Let’s break that barrier. And it’s so true, I see it all the time. If you are too dark of a shade, it’s not good enough, it’s not marketable to people.
UCHIS: That’s so important. When I think of Black beauty, your face always comes to mind. You have a face for glamour.
JT: Yeah, I love glam.
UCHIS: Is that one of the things you want to be synonymous with?
JT: Only because I really like makeup, and I love clothes, too. Because growing up I always been the shit. Do not get me wrong. You could go to my Facebook. Do not let them mugshots fool you. But now to be able to afford the best makeup and the best stuff means everything to me. Because before the industry, I never got the, “You ugly,” until I got in the industry.
UCHIS: I know what you mean.
JT: I never had a problem getting boys. I never had problems hanging out with other girls. I never had a problem making it because I was the shit in my city. But when I got into the industry on a different level, it was like, nah, that is not the standard. So for the tables to be turning right now and everybody to be like, “JT is so pretty,” I love that. That was one barrier that I did break down, to be looked at as a beautiful Black girl and for other girls to say, “Oh my god, I look like JT.” I get that all the time. I used to get mad, like, “Bitch, is you trolling me?” But I get it now, and I really, really love that. I take full responsibility for the girls that have broad features, big noses, big lips, darker skin.
UCHIS: I love that. Aside from glamour, if JT were to have a manifesto, what would be two more things that you want to be remembered for?
JT: Rapping. And I want to get more into community work. I really want to get back into the prison system to help out people and families. I want to be remembered for doing good in the world. I know it’s a clichéd answer, but it’s so serious coming from me.
UCHIS: That’s important. Do you have anything coming out soon?
JT: The City Girls album is coming out soon. I’m not going to say the title, but I want to say October.
UCHIS: That’s exciting. How about your own project?
JT: I really want my first EP to have that raw, grungy sound. I wanted to do that for my birthday, but I think it’s too soon because I’m so picky. So probably the top of next year.
UCHIS: That’s still so soon.
JT: Yeah. I’m going to figure it out when I have the time and I have the sounds that I want. But I’m a hard thinker. I want everything to be perfect and this time I’m going to be presented by myself, so I really want it to look like everything.
UCHIS: Well, if I know you, I know that everything is going to be beautiful and I hope that it goes exactly how you want it to.
JT: Thank you, babe.
Hair: Nikki Nelms at The Only Agency.
Makeup: Kabuki using Mac Cosmetics.
Nails: Alex Smith using Aprés Nail and TheGelbottle Inc.
Set Design: Jenny Correa at Walter Schupfer Management.
Movement Direction: Remy Maelen.
Digital Technician: Antoine Bernard.
Photography Assistant: John Waterman.
Fashion Assistants: Carma Flores and Cyrenae Tademy.
Tailor: Thao Huynh.
Post-production: Helen Studios.
Location: Neighbors BK.