January 20, 2015

Why the Rap Veterans Behind Atlanta Indie Label Quality Control Music Are the Smartest Guys in Hip-Hop

Two middle-aged guys in hoodies named Coach and Pee run what may be the most important hip-hop label in America. This spring, they'll release 2015's most anticipated rap debut, a Lil Wayne-featuring full-length from trap-rap trio Migos, who have already collaborated with Justin Bieber and reached the Billboard Hot 100 on three occasions. They have an innovative deal with 300 Entertainment -- the New York music company founded by former Warner Bros. executives Lyor Cohen, Todd Moscowitz and Kevin Liles -- for distribution and marketing of nearly all the acts on their label, Quality Control Music. By behaving like managers and studio owners as well as execs, Coach and Pee are drawing a road map for other upstart indies in the 21st century.

Formed in March 2013, Quality Control is the shared vision of Kevin "Coach" Lee, a 40-­something dad who used to manage Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, and Pierre "Pee" Thomas, a 35-year-old Atlanta native who "used to wear a lot of jewelry" and grew up idolizing No Limit entrepreneur Master P. Together, they invested deeply in a carefully curated roster of young rap talents -- as influential local producer Zaytoven puts it, "They've got all the hottest artists in Atlanta" -- the most successful of whom is Migos, who command roughly $40,000 a performance.

Envisioning a digital-age hybrid company, Coach and Pee hired a radio and promotions staff. They started their own publishing and management ventures. They spent 12 months and $1 million to build a bunker-like headquarters on Atlanta's West Side, which houses office space and four recording studios. "Everything we do is in-house," says Pee. "We got our own producers, our own engineers."