The Red Bull Music Festival kicked off at the top of this month and we scored an invite to their ‘Conversation with Coach K’ event that happened this past weekend. If you’re curious about how trap music influences the culture, then this is for you.
Kevin Lee – whom we now know under the moniker ‘Coach K’ – is one of the founders of Quality Control, one of the hottest record labels in the game today whose artist include City Girls, Lil Baby, Stefflon Don, & its flagship act, Migos. With the stronghold that he and his team have on hip-hop right now, it was only right for him to sit down in the place that started it all for him (Atlanta) to share his knowledge on the industry and how he got his start.
“It was always there and always a passion that I had,” Coach K refers to music as he reflects on his childhood growing up in Indianapolis in the 70s which was home to the RCA Pressing Plant- a manufacturing plant where phonograph records are produced. The same pressing plant where his mother and grandmother worked, always bringing home records and tapes, ingraining music into his identity despite sports (basketball) being what most may deem as his claim to fame.
As he replayed his childhood on the Plaza Theater stage, Coach’s face lit up as he told stories of him dancing to those records and how the music seemed to always find its way to him, even when it wasn’t his main focus. Coach’s journey with sports and music always seemed to intertwine. He attended St. Augustine’s University – an HBCU in Raleigh, North Carolina – on a full basketball scholarship but after getting shot his senior year, it all came to a halt. It was this moment that pushed him to focus on music full-time.
It wasn’t until the ‘90s that he got his first taste of the music industry, learning the ins and outs of A&R management at Universal Stars, a record label that he started with his friends back home in Indy. His work was short-lived as the label, unfortunately, flopped.
Shortly after, he moved to Atlanta.
In 1997, he and childhood friend, Al Henderson (who, at the time, was a forward for the Atlanta Hawks) started Hendu Entertainment where Coach was once again running the A&R department. After beginning to manage Pastor Troy, he started to create a name for himself in the world of hip-hop.
Reflecting on how he got the name Coach K, he recalls how he and rapper Jeezy – much like many of the artists he works with – spent lots of time in the studio perfecting the projects they were working on. Calling him “coach,” out of frustration from how many times K had him restart recordings until everything was just right, Jeezy didn’t even realize that he would give him a name that would stick forever. The name fits because he acts as a true coach, instilling confidence in all of those he works with and pushing them to be their very best while molding them to do even greater things beyond the music.
Fast forward to now, you could consider Coach K a hip-hop godfather, responsible for some of the hottest names in the biz like Gucci Mane and Jeezy in addition to being the driving force behind Quality Control.
Coach shared with us how his label is continuing to take over the industry by creating spaces and opportunities right here in Atlanta. The Quality Control team is building a new multimedia facility, where he plans to hire hundreds right here in the Southern Region at what will be a resource for those in hip-hop.
“We’re about to build a real industrial infrastructure here,” said Coach. “Something that people can say this is their home.”
He expressed how no longer will artists that start here have to run to print or television media in larger markets (like NY and LA). He and business partner, Pierre “P” Thomas are taking it upon themselves to bring the right publicity and right media here. Creating a space to continue to cultivate the culture right here at home.