December 11, 2017 

How Coach K Guides Atlanta’s Hip-Hop Stars

Seven hundred turkeys, two rappers, and an intermediate number of onlookers had assembled in the parking lot of a Kroger supermarket on Cleveland Avenue, on the scrappy south side of Atlanta. The rappers were Quavo and Takeoff, two of the three members of Migos, the dominant hip-hop group of the moment—known for exuberant, off-kilter tracks, like “Bad and Boujee,” that seem to consist of nothing but interjections. It was the Friday before Thanksgiving, and the two were standing in the back of a U-Haul truck, facing a growing crowd of people who wanted turkeys or pictures or both. Takeoff grabbed a carton and opened it. “We shipping them boxes out,” he barked—Migos can turn just about any handful of words into a memorable refrain.

The turkey supply had already begun to dwindle when one of the event’s organizers arrived, pulling up in an elegant but inconspicuous Range Rover. His name is Kevin Lee, but everyone calls him Coach K, and, in the world of hip-hop, he may be better known than the Duke basketball impresario from whom he took his nickname. In the aughts, Lee managed two of the city’s most important rappers—Young Jeezy and then, a few years later, Gucci Mane—undaunted by the fact that the men had engaged in a bitter and apparently bloody feud. Nowadays, he is both a manager and a record executive, guiding the careers of Migos and a clutch of other young hip-hop stars, including Lil Yachty, who is twenty and calls himself the King of the Youth. Lee is forty-six, an age that offers some advantages of its own. “With this gray beard, I’m a O.G.,” he says. “When I say something, they listen—like, ‘Oh, the O.G. must have been through it.’ ” But he prides himself on being open to whatever musical mania is currently seizing the young people who tend to be his clients, and his customers. “When I visit my friends, I sit with their kids, and we talk about music,” he says. “And my friends be like, ‘How the hell do you understand that shit?’ I’m like, ‘This is what I love, and this is what I do.’ ”