Lakeyah and Bankroll Freddie Are Writing the Future for Their Cities’ Rap Scenes
The final story in our three-part interview series on the future of Quality Control Music focuses on the Milwaukee emcee and her Arkansan labelmate, and includes an exclusive “Neighborhoods” performance from Lakeyah.
Our series on the trailblazing music label concludes with profiles on Lakeyah and Bankroll Freddie, who both aim to broaden the scope of their respective hometowns’ rap scenes. You can read part 1 of the series—featuring CEO Kevin “Coach K” Lee and COO Pierre “P” Thomas—here, and part 2—featuring rappers Duke Deuce and Metro Marrs—here.
Lakeyah knows that the history of Milwaukee rap doesn’t boast the same illustrious track record as some of its Midwestern counterparts. The young emcee signed to Quality Control also knows, though, that if she keeps grinding the way she has through the first 19 years of her life, she’s going to be able to write the future of the city she calls home.
Though Lakeyah is firmly repping Brew City, she was raised on music from the automobile capital of North America. “I’m a big fan of artists from Detroit. I wasn’t a big fan of the local artists here, because I didn’t really sound like anybody from my city,” she explains. “I’m a big fan of people from Detroit like Tee Grizzley. And, of course, global artists like Nicki Minaj and Drake and Wale. So I’ve always been into music. I knew I could sing, but the rapping came along when I got into high school.” Though Lakeyah’s talent is nearly tangible from the moment she begins to spit, a few of her successes in her career came through chance. Of course, chance is determined by relentless hustle and a nose for opportunity, and Lakeyah consistently positioned herself to be in the right place at the right time.
She first realized she had an ability to rap when she went viral on Facebook thanks to her interpretation of the #SoGoneChallenge. With the encouragement of her friends, she continued to rap after the single took off. Once she turned 18, she visited T.I.’s Trap Museum in Atlanta and was moved by Quality Control Music’s exhibit. Lakeyah decided QC was the label for her, so she enrolled at the Art Institute of Atlanta, though she only stayed at the school for a few months. She kept on living in Atlanta, though, and continuously tagged P on her social media posts in hopes of getting the attention of QC.
It eventually worked when she went viral again for her #FirstDayOutChallenge, in celebration of JT of City Girls being let out of jail last October. Though P and Lakeyah connected in January of 2020, it wasn’t until she made a searing freestyle set to Lil Baby and 42 Dugg’s “We Paid” that Lil Baby retweeted her and P eventually signed her. Good things happen to those who are persistent. “I’ve always been patient my whole life. I was a shy kid. So growing into the person I am now is surprising. It took patience because I didn’t know I was going to be a rapper. I thought I was going to be reading books and stuff my whole life with my glasses and my braces.”
“P always tells me, ‘Stay in the studio, stay hungry, stay consistent, because if people ain’t noticing you or you’re not putting your music in their face enough, they don’t see you.’ Now? People can’t deny that I’m a star.” — Lakeyah
Though Lakeyah has found a large following thanks to her freestyles and her 2021 project, In Due Time, her relentless fight and unwillingness to quit has kept her humble and made her a devoted student of the Quality Control philosophy. “I love, love, love QC, especially P. He always tells me to stay hungry. You got to keep that mindset because as quick as you get it, it can just be gone,” she explains. “So he always tells me, ‘Stay in the studio, stay hungry, stay consistent, because if people ain’t noticing you or you’re not putting your music in their face enough, they don’t see you.’ Now? People can’t deny that I’m a star.”
Bankroll Freddie is more than familiar with growing up in a city not known for rap. Freddie is from West-Helena, Arkansas, and if no emcees from that city pop into your head upon reading that location, don’t worry—Bankroll Freddie is the first rapper to emerge from the whole state with a major-label record deal. When you Google “Arkansas rappers,” most of the stories that immediately appear are about how Bankroll himself has put the entire state on his back. That seems like a mighty big burden for a 26 year old, but Freddie has been prophesying this shit his whole life.
“It’s very important for me to rep where I’m from. I’m the first one that said, ‘Shit, I’m gonna make it,’ and did it. That means a lot to me. I got to put on, I got to be the face of my city, you know what I’m saying? This isn’t just about myself, either. I got to put on other rappers from my city, too,” Freddie explains.
Freddie has been bubbling for a while, but his 2021 record with Quality Control, Big Bank, firmly cemented Bankroll as less of a regional star than a growing national force. Freddie’s ascent has been rather remarkable, considering he only started rapping four years ago, but any success has kept him hungry for more, rather than satisfied with his growing persona. “I’m not stopping until I be on top of this industry, until I’m a household name,” he tells me. “This doesn’t matter until everybody knows Bankroll and who he is. Saying my name will carry weight.” It’s been a consistent theme throughout this series: Quality Control rappers work their asses off, and this is certainly conveyed to them by P and Coach K, but each rapper the duo take a chance on has this mental toughness and tenacity instilled in them from a very early age.
“It’s very important for me to rep where I’m from. I’m the first one that said, ‘Shit, I’m gonna make it,’ and did it. That means a lot to me.” — Bankroll Freddie
Being in Arkansas, Freddie didn’t have any regional rap legends to look up to, but his dad was a big fan of Three 6 Mafia and other crews from Memphis. Freddie forged his own path, studying the styles of artists like Yo Gotti and Gucci Mane, and there’s some of that molasses drawl in his voice that Gucci helped popularize. Freddie has an innate ability to move between cadences and flows, making a club hit one moment and the sort of thing you’ll hear rumbling out of a car stereo the next. This versatility comes from his relative greenness in the game. He had no rules to follow, so he made his own.
Though Freddie is a rapper’s rapper, one of the lessons he’s taken from Coach K and P, in addition to the emcees in his hometown who never quite make it out, is that no matter how good your flow is, you need to come correct with the total package. Freddie honed the other aspects of his rap career as intensely and passionately as he did the music—when the songs dropped, and were as good as he knew they were, he had an entire identity to present along with it. “From day one, you got to be on top of everything―your image, your style―or else you won’t make it.” Freddie made it because he had a persona to present alongside his songs. It’s the tale of a small city kid trying to do something that’s never been done, and being told it can’t be—until he did it. FL