With a roster full of talent, Quality Control is making their way to domination.
Words: Kris Ex
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

All of us got real dicey pasts and shit, you know whutImsayin?” confesses OG Maco, who signed to Atlanta’s Quality Control Music shortly after releasing his breakthrough hit “U Guessed It.” He’s sitting on a small desk at Quality Control’s Quality Sounds studio, a 6,000 square-foot, four-recording room facility with multiple lounges, kitchens, bathrooms and office space, located in a compound West Midtown Atlanta’s Berkeley Park neighborhood. Maco—dressed in tight jeans, ankle boots, a sherpa-lined red jacket and a deep v-neck tee, he doesn’t look like a trap rapper, as much as the musical nova that he envisions himself to be. He makes intense eye contact and everything he says has the air of speaking in confidentiality. He considers himself many things to Quality Control—in his words, he’s the artistic legend and Kanye West of the label; the Black Phil Collins and the one to get the Grammys; a coach, a change agent, the glue. When this last designation is challenged by pointing out that he no longer lives in Atlanta, and hardly records at the label’s homebase he gets philosophical: “What is the first thing that glue does when you apply it to anything?” he asks. “It fucking disappears; you don’t see it. [It] keeps everything together, though. The properties of the glue keep it together, it’s not the visibility. You ain’t got to see me, but my properties keep this shit together so everybody don’t cut each other’s fucking throat out. That’s my purpose.”

Sitting a few feet from Maco is Young Greatness, a New Orleans born-and-bred rapper who’s been signed to the label for over a year. Greatness—who had recorded with Pusha T, Gucci Mane, Meek Mill and more as a street rapper before even coming to QC—is one of the artists on the label’s rosters that Maco “Really fucks with.” They’re also the only two of the label’s artists who were not arrested after a performance last year. (More on that later.)

“Everybody on the label ain’t the same,” Maco informs. “Like I said, we all got dicey shit—but it’s all different dicey shit. Like, being famous don’t matter as much to Greatness as being known for what we do. Me, I’m a fucking rock star, you feel me? I can out-rap niggas all day, but that’s not my intention: to go around and out-rap niggas. I want to out-everything niggas. I want to be a bigger rap star than you if that’s what we doing. But I want to be a bigger rock star than everybody. We want to be legends. We already got money and did all that before. I want Grammys. It’s a mentality thing. And that’s a like-minded thing [with Greatness].”

A quick word about Young Greatness’s “dicey past:” He served two-and-a-half years at LaSalle Correctional Center in Louisiana for possession with intent to distribute 10 pounds of marijuana. (“I actually wasn’t really caught with it,” he says. “I was in transaction with somebody and they kinda was caught with it and I was still in the car. But they had me right.”) After coming home in 2010, Greatness refocused on the rap skills he picked up when he was a teen, releasing videos and freestyles almost daily. He made a record with Juvenile, immediately shot a video and took the song straight to the radio, paying someone to get it played on local mixshows. It was a mistake, he says, noting that he should have worked the record at clubs first. But it got him some attention, and he started traveling to nearby markets—Shreveport, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Houston—to push his career past the hometown ceiling. Greatness was a guest on an Atlanta radio station, which led to him getting signed to Quality Control. Last year, he dropped his I Tried to Tell Em mixtape, which he plans to re-release with new songs. He also has I Tried to Tell Em Reloaded, ready to go, and is finished with his forthcoming debut, Can’t Rush Greatness.

“I ain’t gonna lie, the great part about QC: Man, they let us work,” he says. “They trust us. They like, ‘We signed these niggas for a reason; they know what the fuck they doing.’ They know one thing about me: ‘Greatness gonna get in there, he gonna work, he gonna make good records, he gonna have his shit together, and he gonna be ready to go when his number called.’ On this label you got to hold your own. Ain’t no babies, babying you and walking you through this. Nah. you want it, nigga? You gotta earn it.”

The Jose Guapo show has to be experienced to be understood. When Guapo—a former member of Grand Hustle’s Rich Kids (now Rich Kidz)—bursts into the studio room, the diminutive rapper has a handgun almost too big for his body sticking out of his hoodie. In OG Maco’s affectionate terminology, you don’t interview Guapo, as much as you “absorb” him. And there’s a lot to absorb; the weapon which he removes from his pocket and puts into his waist, but then back into his pocket when he realizes his jeans are too low to hold it properly (even if he wears extra long tee shirts, for concealment purposes). The many, many gold chains that click and clack as he sits down springs up, and most of all, Guapo himself: ecstatically narrating his entire encounter with Maco and Greatness to Snapchat (or Vine or IG or whatever), ad-libbing his minor hit song “Run It Up,” grabbing the recorder and in short and long, treating it like a microphone at a party. He names himself by multiple aliases, shouts out just about every artist on the label and their hometown, the entire XXL staff, a supposed compilation album and tour, his “Run It Up” remix and talks about his prices going up. He says he would give out his booking information, but that would be too much, so instead before he goes on to give all of his social media handles and says he’s one of the most handsome people you will ever see. El Guapo shouts out to dab season, dab fever, appreciates everyone sharing the culture, names over two dozen cities, his new mixtape, strip clubs and much, much, much more before walking out.

“That’s Guapo,” says OG Maco. “That’s the perfect way to meet Guapo. That’s not an act. That’s 100 percent real life Guapo.”

“Guapo, his personality is like the Down South Ol’ Dirty Bastard,” says Pierre “Pee” Thomas. “So you gotta think about somebody trying to deal with Ol’ Dirty Bastard.”

Pee, along with Kevin “Coach K” Lee, is the head of Quality Control. The label was started three years ago when Pee—who had invested over $300,000 into building a studio for an independent record label that folded—approached Coach K, a veteran music industry manager who’s most famously worked with both Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, about booking artists for his studio. Coach told Pee that he had a group he was interested in managing and suggested they start an independent label. Pee—already burned once in the music game—was skeptical; he was just trying to recoup on his investment at this point. But when Coach informed him that the group was Migos—a flashy and energetic trio from Gwinnett County whom Pee had already seen recording in the studio with Gucci Mane—he was intrigued. Upon hearing the group’s music, the two men formed the record label which would become Atlanta’s premier indie label and its strongest homegrown movement since the heydays of Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane in the early aughts.

In 2013, Atlanta was a city up for grabs. Incarceration, infighting, label issues and the passage of time had weakened Jeezy, Gucci and T.I.’s claims over the city. In their absence, career artists like 2 Chainz and Future flourished, but neither were able to hold the keys to the Empire City of the South as they gained wider national success and were challenged by a new generation of rappers led by Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan. Though intertwined by mutual friends and respect, the competition was stiff and it was unsure if Quality Control— an independent label with no real backing—would be able to stand against artists backed by major labels like Def Jam Recordings and Epic Records, as well as a powerhouse subsidiary like Cash Money Records. Moreover, the city’s incredibly territorial attitudes cast Migos as outsiders—they were from Gwinnett, which was adjacent to, but northeast of A-Town’s Dekalb and Fulton counties.

“There was a lot of hate in the beginning,” says Pee. “We just never spoke on it. Usually when somebody pop out of Atlanta, somebody like Jeezy or Tip, they embrace it. It wasn’t like that for us. It was the Gwinnett shit. We had to battle through that shit. Like, ‘Y’all don’t wanna let us in? Okay, fuck y’all. We gonna kick the door down.’ And we really tore this city up.”

Migos dropped their third mixtape with Quality Control Music, Y.R.N. (Young Rich Niggas) and it was an announcement of new ideas twisting old tropes, fresh spins on rap flows and a new wave of slang—the bando replaced the trap, Versace replaced Louis Vuitton and Gucci. With their insular cadences, off-center dialogue and high-octane songwriting, Migos captured the ears and hearts of young ATL. And when they dropped the video for “Versace”—at cost of over $100,000, complete with a leopard, high-fashion models, a Calabasas mansion and a whole lot of Versace clothing and jewelry—the industry took notice.

“It really solidified our brand because I knew a lot of folks were like, ‘This is probably going to be some guys in the hood with Versace on or whatever, whatever,’” says Pee. “It spoke volumes for our label being independent because you couldn’t tell nobody that that video wasn’t a movie.”

Quality Control was able to ink a distribution deal for Migos with Lyor Cohen’s 300. Last year they signed a separate distribution deal with Capitol, which has already picked up OG Maco and Young Greatness; the label reserves the right of first refusal on QC’s other artists, including Guapo, thoughtful Chicago lyricist Jayaire Woods, EDM-trap enthusiast Rich The Kid and the rest of the QC roster, which includes another handful of artists.

“I don’t really want to talk about how big our deal was but it was a nice-sized deal,” says Coach K. “And they give us the room. How Capitol is set up, they really don’t have an urban staff, so it’s like QC is kind of like their urban staff. They’re a true partner. It may be a little bit more percentage-wise on the distribution fees, like a partnership, but we own our masters. We got a deal with Capitol but then we got a deal with Caroline, which is Capitol’s distributor. So, if Capitol doesn’t want to upstream [one of our acts], then we’ll just run it through Caroline—and it’s really a better split there, because it’s just a P&D deal with Caroline.”

“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Pee. “Who you know in the past three years done came in and did some stuff like that—got two separate situations like that? Nobody.”

Quality Control’s good run nearly came to an end last year, when over a dozen of the label’s artists were arrested on various gun and drug charges in April 2015 following a performance at Georgia Southern University. “It went bad for our whole label.” says Coach K.

“It was devastating,” adds Pee. “Our whole studio was empty. It was just me and Coach coming to the studio every day.”

Migos members Quavo and Takeoff were released on bond within days, but other artists—including Migos’ third member Offset, Rich the Kid and Skippa da Flippa—remained behind bars for up to eight months. Tours were cancelled, lawyer fees mounted up, bills were still coming in, business arrangements were in jeopardy. “It was like, ‘Damn, now we back to the drawing board,’” recalls Pee. “It took us back to 2013 when it was just us against everybody. And it really brought us back closer because a lot of stuff had got out of hand with so much fame and money, and attention coming so fast. It really took us back to when we was at the old studio. That’s where [the] Back to the Bando [mixtape, which produced the defining hit, “Look At My Dab”] came from. It came from them experiences that we went through in 2015.”

The group takes a stoical look at their past drama—without it they say, they wouldn’t have their month-long Dab Tour, which has been successfully selling out. It’s also given them a renewed sense of appreciation for their success. “I saw two sides: I could live this [unlawful] way and it’s still going to be the same result as the other street way,” says Offset, whose legal issues have long been a running story. “But we can go this [music] way and keep going up.”

As the flagship artists of Quality Control, Migos are in a leadership role—a responsibility that has fiscal implications not just for them, but for the dozens of families that somehow rely on the label’s continued success for financial support. As the first act on the label, they’ve gone from a legitimate abandoned home, to a brick-walled studio with no windows, to now being at the top brand in a city which once didn’t care for them. They—like all of the other acts on the label—have their own mini-empires and movements, but realize that foundation and infrastructure provided by Coach K and Pee’s expertise and network of connections is what’s truly important.

“We need to focus as a whole team and make sure this QC shit stay strong,” says Quavo. “We just establishing ourselves. This our first studio across the street from all this major shit over there and the major shit down there, so we trying to establish this and make this major. Every time we recorded somewhere, we always locked in and upgraded our abilities and upgraded our surroundings after we laid down tracks. It’s always progress after we make music.”

“We started on the Northside and now we all the way on the north side of overseas—Europe, everywhere,” says Takeoff.

The group pauses for a moment to reflect on the events of the day, which has brought together the entire label. “On some real shit, I ain’t even know QC was that deep ‘til today,” says Quavo. “We ain’t never had no meeting all as one. It look good. It just need a lot more work to be done.”

“We gotta go get the bag,” says Offset. “We gotta make it happen, so everybody else can go make it happen.”

Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2016 issue including Big Sean’s cover story, the Letter from the Editor, Macklemore’s thoughts on White privilegeKodak Black’s Show & Prove interview, Doin’ Lines with Boosie BadAzz, Flatbush Zombies’ serious comic addiction, the producer behind Desiigner’s hit “Panda,” Plies’ career boost thanks to Instagram, Anderson .Paak's Show & Prove,  Lira Galore's Eye Candy shoot and more.

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