Pierre 'Pee' Thomas and Kevin 'Coach Ok' Lee on Quality Control's Takeover of Hip-Hop


Dressed for work in a white T-shirt and black pants, Pierre “Pee” Thomas hunches over his cellphone within the bunker-like Atlanta headquarters of Quality Control Music. “We’re into one thing actual deep proper now,” he says as he scrolls via Apple Music’s checklist of high 100 songs whereas Kevin “Coach Ok” Lee, recent from the barber, reclines in his workplace chair.

Thomas is looking for a music on the checklist that doesn't qualify as hip-hop. He names two, Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” and Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up,” however each characteristic rappers related to the homegrown label they based and run, Thomas as CEO and Lee as COO. “Girls Like You” visitor stars Cardi B, whom the 2 say is the primary shopper of a brand new consulting firm they’ve fashioned, and a remix of “Boo’d Up” with a cameo by Quavo of Quality Control flagship act Migos helped propel Mai to the highest of Billboard’s Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart in July.

“How is hip-hop working the world proper now?” asks a poker-faced Thomas, evoking a chuckle from Lee. They are absolutely conscious that Quality Control and its major-label companion, Capitol Records, are on the entrance traces of that takeover.

If hip-hop is Atlanta’s largest cultural export, Quality Control has been a crucial wholesaler within the streaming age, most notably with Migos’ aptly named smash, Culture, in early 2017 and, precisely one 12 months later, its sequel.

Culture II proved that the outstanding success of Migos’ 2017 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1, “Bad and Boujee,” was no fluke. It turned the trio’s second consecutive album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with almost 200,000 equal album items in its first week — 69,000 greater than its predecessor. And a bit of over a 12 months after Donald Glover declared backstage on the Golden Globe Awards that Offset, Quavo and Takeoff had been “the Beatles of this era,” the trio tied The Fab Four’s file for many simultaneous entries on the Hot 100 by a duo or group: 14.

Quality Control artist Lil Yachty additionally confirmed year-to-year enchancment: His Lil Boat 2 debuted at No. 2 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in March, besting the No. four peak of his 2017 LP, Teenage Emotions.

He wasn't the one Lil to submit large numbers for Thomas and Lee. Newcomer Lil Baby debuted at No. three on the Billboard 200 along with his first album, Harder Than Ever, which has since generated 539,000 equal album items, helped by the Hot 100 high 10 hit “Yes Indeed,” that includes Drake.

“Five years,” says Lee into his snowy Philly beard, shaking his head. In that temporary timespan, he and Thomas have constructed an empire that, along with Quality Control, has a administration agency, Solid Foundation, with a roster that features Yachty and star-in-the-making Trippie Redd, who debuted at No. four on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums in August along with his first LP, Life’s a Trip.

NFL offensive rookie of the 12 months (and Lee’s nephew) Alvin Kamara just lately signed on as the primary shopper of a newly established sports activities administration division. And then there’s Cardi B, who Thomas describes as having a consulting association with Quality Control, though that contradicts claims made by Cardi’s ex-manager, Klenord “Shaft” Raphael, in a $10 million breach-of-contract lawsuit he filed earlier in 2018. Raphael alleges the rapper signed a administration cope with Quality Control in March.

Given the litigation, Thomas and Lee are cautious of discussing the scenario, save to disclaim Raphael’s declare.

“She’s Offset’s spouse, so she’s computerized household,” says Thomas of his and Lee’s involvement in her profession, including, “Cardi’s very sensible. She has seen what we do for artists. She’s acquired conditions occurring that we are able to’t communicate on, and she or he got here to us. We seek the advice of [for her], and she is going to proceed to do good.”

Quality Control’s founders take satisfaction in how, as Lee places it, “we completed made 10 millionaires” given the challenges they initially confronted.

When he and Thomas based the corporate in 2013, Lee was a supervisor whose résumé included Gucci Mane and Jeezy. Thomas’ earlier rap label, Dirty Dolla Entertainment, had all however folded. They got here collectively over a shared dream of emulating Master P’s No Limit and J. Prince’s Rap-A-Lot Records and had already linked with the hardly authorized Migos. The executives say they personally spent hundreds of thousands funding each side of the act’s first 12 months as signees, together with the opulent 2013 music video for “Versace.” “We had been so devoted to creating Migos push via, there was no finances,” says Thomas. “If we acquired to go broke for this, that’s what it’s going to take.”

That dedication could be examined within the coming years. When Migos’ 2015 debut album, Yung Rich Nation, was launched, Offset was in jail for violating the probation he had obtained for housebreaking and theft convictions. Months later, Thomas and Lee spent a half-million over 18 months of litigation wresting the act from a 2014 advertising and marketing/distribution cope with 300 Entertainment that had soured.

One dab dance craze and eight billion profession streams later — 1.2 billion for “Bad and Boujee” alone — success has not modified Quality Control’s ultra-lean operational technique. With solely a handful of day-to-day managers and receptionists on workers, Thomas and Lee rely largely on themselves and their social community to search out and develop expertise that exudes the type of authenticity they noticed in 23-year-old Lil Baby (given title Dominique Jones), a longtime good friend of Thomas’ who attended Migos’ earliest membership gigs, and who didn't begin rapping till two months earlier than releasing his debut mixtape, Perfect Timing, in 2017. “I used to inform Baby on a regular basis: He has the swag,” says Lee of Jones, a highschool dropout who was incarcerated for 2 years on marijuana-related fees. “He is the epitome of an Atlanta hustler. A variety of these children rap about stuff they’re not even round. I’m like, ‘Man, they’re telling your story.’”

It’s instincts like that which led Motown Records president Ethiopia Habtemariam to forge a co-venture with Quality Control in 2015. “They dwell and breathe the tradition,” she says. ”Their style within the music comes from an sincere place — that authenticity, coupled with an unparalleled work ethic, focus and fervour, is what has helped to breed the success.”

Thomas and Lee maintain their artists to a rigorous launch schedule: Lil Baby arrived on the scene with 4 mixtapes in 2017. Culture II was launched on the one-year anniversary of its predecessor. And the evening earlier than City Girls member JT turned herself in to authorities to serve a two-year jail sentence for bank card fraud, the duo recorded new materials till 5 a.m., enabling Thomas and Lee to construct on their latest act’s buzzy cameo on Drake’s “In My Feelings” whereas JT does her time.

But Quality Control’s artists may not be so inclined to -shout out their label in songs if Lee and Thomas didn't preserve their very own breakneck tempo — and Quality Control’s enble momentum. The urgency of their mission is just not wasted on them. Nodding towards his companion, Thomas says, “I informed him the opposite day: ‘Man, we’ve acquired to search out the subsequent artist to interrupt.’”

This article initially appeared within the Sept. 29 problem of Billboard.