Kevin Lee, better known as Coach K, is cofounder of Quality Control, the multifaceted Atlanta-based label and music-and-sports management company that has brought the world Migos, Lil Baby, Lil Yachty, City Girls and more, and also manages many athletes.
In just eight years, Coach and cofounder Pierre “P” Thomas have built an empire that is not only one of the biggest independent companies in hip-hop, it’s also a strong force in the sports world as well. But success stories rarely come without sacrifice, and Coach’s is no exception. The Indianapolis native was a high school and college basketball star, but had his sports career cut short by a serious gunshot wound in the early ‘90s that required months of recuperation. During his recovery, he worked on pivoting to music, and before long he had moved to Atlanta, the center of the hip-hop world, and was managing major rappers like Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane. But he wanted to start a label, and in 2013 he approached his friend Pierre Thomas, who everyone calls P, who owned a recording studio. The two formed Quality Control and within a month had signed Migos — and a few days after the group dropped its first mixtape, Coach’s friend Drake was reciting lyrics from it to him. Coach says that’s when he knew he was on the right track — and the rest, as they say, is history.
What makes the company different? Surprisingly old-fashioned priorities for such a next-generation company.
“We built Quality Control off of artist development and guerilla marketing,” Coach says in the podcast you can hear below. “I remember in the early days of labels like Bad Boy and Loud, if you didn’t have a good street teams, you really wasn’t gonna win — but when everything went digital, all that stopped. Everybody forgot about the [importance] of walking up to somebody and handing them something. We never stopped that. We do digital marketing, but you still have to touch people with posters, flyers, T-shirts, sweatshirts — that way they know who you are. A lot of labels said to us, ‘Yo, you’re still spending money on promo and posters?’ And I said ‘Hell yeah!’ And then I looked up and they started doing the same thing!”
But Quality Control is more than a company: Coach and Thomas often speak of it as a family, and they also take care of their community. Among other charitable efforts, Quality Control provided groceries for a thousand Atlanta-area families at the start of the pandemic, and those efforts helped Coach to achieve something he’d never dreamed. After his injury, he had always hoped to finish college, and after taking courses online for a few years, he finally got his bachelors degree last year. Well, like most of last year’s graduates, his ceremony was postponed — but when he walked with the Class of 2021, the president of his alma mater, Saint Augustine’s University in North Carolina, presented him not only with his bachelor’s degree in organizational management, but also an honorary doctorate in humane letters, based on Quality Control’s charitable work.
You can more about all of that, as well as the company’s growth, its marketing magic, how it’s become such a success in the hip-hop and sports worlds, and much more in the podcast below.
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.