As 2018 comes to a close, Quality Control Music has a plan to control the conversation every week.
The Atlanta-based label, co-founded by Pierre "Pee" Thomas and Kevin "Coach K" Lee, has developed a family-oriented environment. Established names and newer acts receive the same amount of attention, allowing Migos, Lil Yachty, Lil Baby, City Girls, and Stefflon Don to ready projects as quickly as they’re finished recording them.
This year, QC’s output includes a Migos album, two Yachty albums, two City Girls albums, Lil Baby and Gunna’s Drip Harder, another Lil Baby project (Street Gossip), plus solo releases by Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset. Not to mention Jordan Hollywood—a priority for QC—who just released his EP, FINALLY. They also promise Control the Streets, Vol. 2 coming in either December or the top of next year, and Marlo and Kollision are expected to have big pushes in 2019 as well.
The “Control the 4th Quarter” strategy is QC going for it on 4th and goal. With a goal of dominating the conversation every week, they're releasing music in a way that's designed for the streaming era. “You drop the product and you just continue to work it, work it, work it, work it, and build,” Pee says. “The great thing about streaming is the streaming don’t stop.” Coach K adds, “These fans, they're research junkies now. So they are going to find it and play it as much as they want. It’s not like the old days where you give them an album and the only way they can hear it is on radio.”
Coach K and Pee spoke with Complex about their latest marketing strategy, the success of Lil Baby, Drake’s honorary membership in QC, and more. Read the full interview below.
What’s the thinking behind the “Control the 4th Quarter” marketing strategy?
Pierre “Pee” Thomas: I just think that we got so many talented artists over here. And the only thing we do is work. We work non-stop. Ain’t no use sitting on this stuff. Ain’t no use sitting on the product. All my artists is hustlers. When you got good work and good product, the people need to have it. You understand what I’m saying? It’s simple as that. I think what we are doing right now is really, really interesting because you've got major labels that haven’t put out as much product that we are doing in the fourth quarter in a whole year. We just trying to stay competitive in the marketplace and try to give the people good music and good product.
Kevin "Coach K" Lee: Just coming up in the music business, that was always the busiest time. I know all the big dogs used to drop in the fourth quarter. If you could maintain in the fourth quarter, you are setting up your next year. Last year, we put out four projects I think in December. It was really successful. A lot of people were scared but we were like, ‘Nah, man. Shit, let’s do this!’ It was very successful.
Coming into this year, all of our artists just got a lot of product. They’ve all been working, man. It lines up just right for that time. And then you know, the Migos doing the solo projects, individually, they wanted to show who they were. It just all made sense, so we lined it up. It’s crazy, we are sitting in a planning meeting and Lil Baby, he was almost like, ‘My project is ready to go.’ And we’ve been working on the City Girls, so we knew that was ready to go. And then the three solos and Jordan Hollywood, this new artist we signed, his new project was ready to go. Then Gunna and Baby, they went in the studio and that project was ready to go. It was like, ‘fuck.’
We just lined it up. If we are going to go, let’s go. It’s good for the brand because we all support each other at Quality Control. It's like, when one goes, we all go. I feel like no one is going to get in each other’s way because everybody has their own fanbase. And it all comes back to the brand, QC.
Pee: Anybody who knows the history of us, we never followed the trend. We always did our own thing. What you’re going to see now is you’re going to see a lot of labels and a lot of different people try to follow-up and do what we do. We sort of did it last year, we put out a lot of product. When we did that last year, I started seeing other people who have been in the game for a long time that wasn’t putting out product the way we was doing. I've seen other people copying what we were doing, so I said, ‘OK, I’ma see if they can keep up. Let’s take it to another level.’ We was doing it last year on a certain level, but I said, ‘Let me just turn it up a notch.’ Let’s really see who can keep up in this game.
What do you say to people who think you are oversaturating the market? That you are putting too much projects out?
Pee: What people don’t understand is we live in a streaming world now. We live in a world where I have seen artists that I didn’t even realize was big. They didn’t do big first-week numbers. They didn’t have an amazing big release or whatever. But you might see the artists' single go platinum. Or you might see the artists' album go gold or go platinum. And the album came out a year ago, or it came out 15 months ago. But the album still went platinum. That comes from not just dropping the product. You drop the product and you just continue to work it, work it, work it, work it, and build. The great thing about streaming is the streaming don’t stop.
Coach K: In the streaming world, when you put something out in the atmosphere, right? Say you put it on a DSP, right? The fans are gonna go find it. These fans, they're research junkies now. So they are going to find it and play it as much as they want. It’s not like the old days were you give them an album and the only they you can hear it is on radio. And they have to wait to hear the song. Or they have to go to YouTube to see a video. When the whole streaming happened, they had access to it. They are going to go to it anyway. I don’t feel like it is oversaturating. If a fan wants something, they are going to go get it. If it is sitting there for them, how is that oversaturating?
I love domination. Market share, domination. - Coach k
When you’re doing this fourth quarter takeover, do you care about the chart success? Or do you want to just dominate the conversation every week?
Coach K: I love domination. Market share, domination. When you go to Apple Music, you go right now, three of the projects that we are involved with are in the top five. In the top 20, maybe six are our projects. It’s all about market share. We love domination.
Your goal is to control 80 percent of the market share. How close are you on that scale?
Coach K: We might be 60 percent. [Laughs]
Do you think it is working?
Coach K: I know it is working. I say everybody can feel it and see it. We are having fun right now. All the artists are having fun, everybody is out on tour, you know, moving. Very good. Especially in a time where a lot of people get scared when the fourth quarter comes because all the big guys drop. They kind of be like, ‘I’ma wait till next year until I got an open…’ Nah, nah. We gonna come on with that shit.
For the Migos, was it their decision to drop solo projects or yours?
Coach K: Well, it’s like this. Last year, we were working on Control the Streets, Volume 1, our compilation. And when we were doing all the artists for different records, they all had solo records. When they’re in the studio, Quavo might be in L.A. working. He’s gonna go in and make some records. Offset, he’s gonna go in and make some records. Takeoff. They all be working on their own time and record the most themselves. When it was time to turn in the project, all these records started coming. It was like competing! Offset might’ve come in with three records. Like, ‘Hey! These are hard. I need the boys to jump on this.’ And Quavo might come in with four records like, ‘Hey, you heard this record? You hear this record?’ But they were all solo records. I was like, ‘Shit, well, maybe sometime next year, we’ll let y’all get them off!’ Cause you know, these boys record a lot. And that’s how it became. That’s how it happened.
You have to put this out, because why sit on it, right?
Coach K: Right, it’s no competition. It’s just really showing the individuality of each one of the artists. You got Migos, to me, one of the best groups in the world [and] of all time. Supergroup. When you see Migos, they form like Voltron. They come off each other like one. But, it is still three individuals. You know, Quavo might do some pop stuff. Jump over here and do some of this. You might see Offset—he’ll do this and do that. That’s all the individual sides of them. It’s like OK, ‘Let’s just give you guys an opportunity.’ And it gives fans an opportunity to feel for them more. I read comments. It’s like, ‘Takeoff is my favorite! Or Quavo is my favorite!’ It’s like, ‘OK, give your fans a taste of that.’ These individual projects … it just comes back to the Migos project next year.
Can you talk about all your artists being on a level playing field? It seems like all of their projects matter and they are being developed equally.
Pee: The great thing about all our artists, even our new artist Jordan Hollywood... He’s got videos. He’s on the radio. We are not just throwing projects out. All of these projects are getting worked. All of our artists are on the radio. They got singles that’s working on radio. They got marketing. They got promotion. They are touring. They are doing shows. They are in development. We are still working every artist to take them to the next level of their career. We are not just throwing projects out, and waiting for them to stream and see if they do numbers. We are actually putting in the work, working all these projects. Nobody is being left out. Everybody is getting a shot at having a successful project. It is a building process.
Lil Baby is a big success story for QC. He started out not as a rapper, but he was incarcerated for a little bit. Tell me about building him from then to now.
Pee: You know the interesting thing about Complex? I appreciate Complex gave us the cover, right? They put me, Migos, Coach, and Lil Yachty on the cover. I fought so hard to tell the people at Complex [that] Lil Baby needs to be on this cover. Lil Baby needs to be on this cover. I feel like he deserves his own cover. Please make sure you put that statement in this interview. Don’t leave that out.
Lil Baby Is the rookie of the year. - Coach k
On the topic of Baby, why was it essential to build his fanbase first in Atlanta?
Pee: Lil Baby is personal to me. All of my artists are personal to me. But Lil Baby, I've known him since he was young. I just know his story. And his story, his background, and where he came from, is just so authentic. And I just knew that if we grinded hard and worked that hard, we would end up where he is now. I personally used to tell Lil Baby like, ‘Bro, you just need to apply yourself. The same way you was applying yourself in the streets, apply to this music. You can be just as big as everybody else.’
I mean, we stayed down. His work ethic is incredible. You can’t question his work ethic. I told him, ‘Whatever you was doing in the streets, just apply it to the music business, do you know what I’m saying? If you were trying to get much product off and get a quick return on your money in the streets? You gotta apply that same hustle to the music game.’ That’s what he did and now he’s one of the brightest stars in the hip-hop community right now. He got a bright future.
He’s a big success story for you guys.
Coach K: Lil Baby is the rookie of the year. You know how you have the Rookie of the Year [in the NBA]? And LeBron was Rookie of the Year and started on the All-Star team? That’s Lil Baby. He put the work in. We dropped, it’ll be six projects in 18 months? Who does that? And each project he showed growth?
Every time he gets on the court—I’ma put it in sports terms. He goes home and practices so hard. Every time he gets on the court in the big game, he shows out. I say that from project to project. It’s like you put him in the big game, and he scores a touchdown. The winning touchdown.
Stefflon Don and City Girls are the women on your roster. They’ve been cutting through with their unique style and influence.
Coach K: You just said it, unique style. You have the City Girls, right? They are very, very important to our label. We’ve had successful groups. And there hasn’t been a women group duo that has had success since Salt-N-Pepa. It was a challenge but we know how to work with groups. And these girls, they are so honest and real in their music. These girls can relate to them. It’s like relatable music, you know what I mean? So all we had to do is develop it and hit it right on the nail. I think we have.
With Stefflon Don, same thing, man. British girl. Very, very talented. She knows who she is. I would say Steff is going to be the first artist to probably go mainstream. She might be the first one. That was really our goal. Like, ‘OK, we are going to really break Steff in the States.’ She’s already [big] in the U.K., in her world she’s taking off. But once we break the States, it’s gonna explode. It’s gonna be a very, very big explosion ‘cause everything is global now. That shit is gonna add on to our brand. Those are two very, very important pieces of Quality Control.
Drake is an unofficial QC member. - Pee
Drake has been valuable to QC, hopping on a lot of songs from your artists.
Pee: Drake is like family. I only met Drake a couple times personally, but we have conversations from time to time. But Drake is an unofficial QC member. It’s just been a blessing man. It’s just genuine. We never reached out to Drake and asked him for these things he has done. It’s been a real big blessing that he’s recognized the talent over here. He loves the work ethic that everybody is doing and he wants to be apart of it. It’s real amazing. I’m real thankful for Drake and everybody else over here is thankful for Drake. It is just a blessing to have an artist of his stature reach out. He actually helped us. He gave us some layups man. He gave us some layups and we slam dunked them and I’m forever grateful.
I think you guys are giving him some layups now with the Aubrey & the Three Migos Tour.
Pee: Like I said, we are forever indebted to Drake. We just grateful for him, just reaching out and being a part of what we are over here building. I think Drake is a workaholic. He acknowledges people that put in hard work in and trying to put numbers on the board. And we just appreciate him.
Coach K: Drake’s our brother man. We respect him so much. He’s a real dude, and he knows talent from day one. When he jumped on “Versace,” man, we always kept the relationship open. He tells us all the time, ‘Y’all always know how to find the next thing that’s gonna move culture.’ He was like, ‘I just love what you guys are doing. And if it feels good to me, if you don’t mind, here’s a verse or two.’ And we really appreciate Drake for that. I’m not going to lie, he’s a genius though. He is a genius.