Coach K and Pee’s Fast-Breaking Hip-Hop Offense

It’s only been five years since the inception of Atlanta-based Quality Control Records, which became part of Capitol Music Group’s Ethiopia Habtemariam-led Motown in May 2015. In that relatively short period of time, the company—controlled by the strong, steady hands of co-founders Kevin “Coach K” Lee and Pierre “Pee” Thomas—has become a measurable force in shaping hip-hop culture. The breakthrough career of trap-to-pop supergroup Migos led the way, as they scored their second straight chart-topper with Culture II, the trio’s first release on QC/Motown after escaping from 300 Entertainment. Simultaneously, Coach K and Pee shepherded the burgeoning solo careers of members Quavo, Offset and Takeoff, while drawing up a blueprint for Lil Yachty to follow. More recently, the partners carefully laid the groundwork for Lil Baby, showcasing the newcomer’s street realness. One thing is clear: Being knowledgeable, prepared and seriously on your grind is a requirement to throw down with this crew.

What is the biggest difference between what you guys do at QC and how everyone else moves in the music biz?
Coach K: We’re real family-oriented. We concentrate and take our time with developing talent. A lot of labels these days treat it kinda like watching a stock, right? And you might see something and say, “Hey, this is the next big thing,” but you don’t know if that talent has been developed—it could be something that just took off socially. So at QC, we really take our time in developing the talent. We make sure that they become a brand, and we hone in on the talent, making sure it’s there, so they can have a career instead of just a song of [being hot for] a summer.

Pee: We’re a small operation, and I can’t tell you everything we do different, ’cause then everybody’s gonna know and try to imitate us. I’m looking at what companies out there are doing right now, and they’re changing up their systems, so I can see that we’re having an influence. But our main thing from day one has been flooding the market with music. A hit record will change everything. I feel like since we’ve first been in this game, we been producing hit records and that’s just what we’re going to continue to do. I feel like that’s just what we’ve been doing, putting out consistent hits.

Analytics is obviously a certain part of it; you guys have mastered that aspect. But how much is pure instinct? Hits are elusive for everybody, yet you guys have hit several out of the park.
Coach K: It’s gut and instinct, man. We have a formula now, you know? Even with our earlier talent, we pushed them through the same formula that we did later with Migos and Yachty. Take Lil Baby: We’ve been zoning in on what he’s best at. He’s only been an artist for 15 months, but when I first heard his voice and saw him, I was like, “OK, I see a lot of star in him.” ’Cause his voice was unique and he just had style, right? One of the biggest things that made us really zone in on him was his hustle—he’s a natural hustler. If he has the hustle, the hustle turns into a great work ethic. So what we did was, we put out five projects in 15 months. Five projects in fifteen months. That was the hit-development stage. What we knew was his hustle; he wasn’t scared. I remember in the beginning he was a little nervous, but we kept pushing him and pushing him. We put out one project and the next project, and every project he got better, to this last project, selling 72k. [The album has moved 150k units in its first three weeks.]

Pee: Yeah, and that’s one thing we do different from everybody else. I’m not sitting in no office just looking at the analytics and data and all that—I’m out here on the ground. I’m the CEO, but I stay up later than all the promo-team guys. I’m with the artists, in the clubs, at the festivals, on the field. I wanna go feel and see. I don’t need nobody coming and telling me, “Oh, this kid right here is hot.” I’m actually out there in the culture, with the people, feeling it. So if there’s a kid that’s hot and I’m in the club and the DJ is playing that music, I’m able to feel it and see how the people react to it.

What’s the working relationship like with Capitol, and how has that been different than what was apparently a very tense situation with 300?
Coach K: Capitol has been a great partner. I give it all up to Ethiopia, man. We were in a place where we were looking for a partner that would see our vision and let us go do our thing but watch our back. And give us enough space where we can learn from our partner, you know? I remember when Ethiopia called. She was calling about something totally different; at the time she was doing publishing, and she called about the publishing side of our business. Then she’s like, “Yo, I got this idea. I want to bring you in to meet with our Chairman.” So me and Pee flew out to L.A. and went to Steve Barnett’s house. One conversation, and we shook on the deal. We haven’t looked back since then.

I’m not gonna lie; in the beginning, when we first got to Capitol, it was like learning anything else. We knew how we were running our business, and Capitol is a big corporate company. So we had to learn their system, and they had to learn ours. In the beginning it was hit and miss; it took a little time. And we both gave each other time. Once we got the system rollin’, listen, man, I just had to sit back. We put out nine projects since December—nine projects—and we have seven more projects slated for this calendar year. That’s 16 projects in 12 months from Quality Control via Capitol.

Pee: I wanna highlight Ethiopia, because there was a time when we was grinding but hit a downhill. I feel like a lot of labels thought we were going to fall off, but I wanna give Ethiopia a lot of praise for reaching out, because we didn’t come to her, she came to us. She believed in it and connected us with Steve. I wanna give her a special thanks and a shout-out to both of them, because they jumped right in and they believed in us from day one—they believed in the boys. We went through a bitter time in litigation.

Who is in the primary squad at QC helping make all this happen?
Coach K: Honestly, it’s me and Pee—we quarterback the whole situation. We’ve got a squad, though; we have an amazing staff of about six people. It’s tight but it’s right. We’re looking to expand now because our business is growing at a rapid speed, but me and Pee, we pretty much oversee it. Our staff is really our backbone, you know? We’re creative, and then they wrap it up for us.

Pee: We just want to make this brand grow. We want to make it as big as we can. I would love to do a festival; I want to bring a festival to Atlanta. I feel like Atlanta has the biggest influence on the music, especially the run in hip-hop.

Last question, because I know you’re busy. If you had to distill your chief operating philosophy—the core of your success—in a word or a sentence, what would it be?
Coach K: [After a pause] Execution. Hard work and execution. A lot of times, people set plans and don’t execute them; the plan keeps changing or they procrastinate. We’re big on execution. We set a plan, we execute. That’s how you actually get success.

Pee: Sacrifice. Having the will to sacrifice. In this game, you gotta be willing to give up a lot of things. What are you willing to sacrifice to get your breakthrough in life? That’s how you win.

Fire up the grill. (5/28a)
Ladies' choice (5/24a)
Each worth a thousand words (5/27a)
A game of Monopoly on Capitol Hill (5/24a)
Redrawing the Mason-Dixon Line (5/24a)
Gosh, we hope there are more press releases.
Unless the Senate manages to make this whole thing go away, that is.
No, not that one.
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