Beasley provides a detailed introduction to the Ultimate Rap League (URL), discusses Drake's involvement, explains the importance of battle rap in today's Hip-Hop culture, and reflects on some of the greatest battles in URL history.
As the genre and culture of Hip-Hop continue to evolve year after year, the rap community’s palette is constantly expanding. Due to an influx of melodic, alternative, and genre-fluid artists, long gone are the days when Hip-Hop could be easily defined as a distinct style of music by artists, critics, and fans. Yet although so much has changed in the decades since Hip-Hop’s inception in the Bronx, there are still plenty of purists in the music industry — in the spotlight and behind the scenes — who are making sure that Hip-Hop’s roots aren’t forgotten.
Among those purists are Troy "Smack" Mitchell, Jean "Cheeko" French, Eric Beasley, and all of the great people behind the Ultimate Rap League (URL). Over the last decade, the offshoot brand of the iconic SMACK DVD video magazine has been able to successfully transition from innovative multimedia Hip-Hop journalism to many fans’ go-to source for battle rap, producing unforgettable showdowns like Tsu Surf v. Hitman Holla, Loaded Lux v. Charlie Clips, and Arsonal v. Calicoe, among several others.
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While distanced from the realm of mainstream Hip-Hop, battle rap has still managed to grow in popularity and attract an even larger audience, which led to URL eventually joining forces with Drake and Caffeine in 2020. The head-turning partnership provided URL with an even bigger live-streaming platform and an invaluable celebrity co-sign from one of the most successful rappers alive, and the relationship quickly proved to be a fruitful one, as it brought in over 8.7 million total views for URL’s first season on Caffeine.
After an incredibly impressive year for the Ultimate Rap League, things got even more interesting in 2021. Stars like Remy Ma, Papoose, Chris Brown, and more made huge appearances at events throughout the year, and in October, URL and Drake linked up for the highly anticipated event Til Death Do Us Part. Two years into the new decade, URL has helped bring battle rap back to the forefront of Hip-Hop, and with a load of exciting events slated for 2022, the Ultimate Rap League is likely about to experience even more growth.
So far, this year has already yielded its fair share of epic events, including Super Fight, Banned, Resolution 2, and, most recently, Any Given Sunday 2, and in the days leading up to the AGS2 event in Atlanta on March 27, HNHH had the pleasure of linking up with Eric Beasley for an insightful interview about the future of the Ultimate Rap League. During our conversation, the URL co-founder broke down what makes battle rap so sensational, and he also discussed everything from his appreciation for Drake and Caffeine’s involvement with URL to his interest in an insane hybrid collaboration between URL and Verzuz.
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Check out HNHH’s full Q&A — edited for length and clarity — with Eric Beasley below, and be sure to tap in with URLTV and Caffeine to stay up to date with everything related to the Ultimate Rap League.
Beasley: Yo, what’s going on man? How you doing?
HNHH: Yo, I’m good, how you feeling?
Shit, I can’t complain. Nobody’s listening anyway.
I appreciate you for taking the time. I’m glad this all worked out.To start off, can you give me a brief history of URL and how it has grown into what it is today?
Alright well. Originally, URL comes from the parent brand, SMACK DVD. SMACK DVD, for those who don’t know, was a compilation of interviews and original music videos created by SMACK. What we would do is go around — this is the pre-YouTube era — and get interviews of guys like Eminem, The Game, Kanye West, State Property, Ludacris. Everybody who was hot at that time would get on SMACK DVD and give us these exclusive interviews that even big outlets like MTV and BET wouldn’t be able to secure. They would talk to us in a way that was different, and people appreciated it.
We would capture them in their neighborhoods, in their own environments, studio sessions, backstage at performances, and things like that. And what eventually began to happen is it got really, really popular. And one of the other features on SMACK — cause SMACK is also an acronym for Street, Music, Arts, Culture, Knowledge — were the MC battles at the end of every DVD. We did SMACK for a couple of years, and it got popular and everybody knew about it. But once 2007 came and YouTube really started to explode and you had the big blog explosion and you had sites like WorldStarHipHop and other websites and blogs emerging, they were taking our content and posting it.
Just the rate of keeping up with everything was really tough. Cameras, high-quality cameras, became more accessible and user-friendly, so we began to face a big issue because we couldn’t really contain our information. Now the radio stations are recording interviews, and they’re streaming around the country. They’re syndicated. When the artist steps out of that interview, there’s an intern in the hallway who has a blog and a camera in his hand and he records all the information. So with all the stuff had been getting before, we were getting beat to the punch. And then also a lot of issues were getting resolved faster because there were more eyeballs on it so people would step in. So all the things that kind of made SMACK DVD what it was were being basically destroyed in front of our eyes. We didn’t have any control over it. And then artists could paint their own narrative ‘cause now they had cameras and cameramen that were with them and they had various outlets and blogs where they could send information to, or create their own blogs. So, it really put a strain on the business overall.
"The one thing we noticed that we could control, were the battles. Because a battle is like a fight. You know it’s like a boxing match. Two guys prepare for each other, and they compete. They’re not gonna return and compete with the same material again. So, in 2009, we decided to form the Ultimate Rap League, which was an extension of SMACK battles."
But the one thing we noticed that we could control, were the battles. Because a battle is like a fight. You know it’s like a boxing match. Two guys prepare for each other, and they compete. They’re not gonna return and compete with the same material again. So, in 2009, we decided to form the Ultimate Rap League, which was an extension of SMACK battles. So, we held an event, invested some money, got a camera crew, and we shot it. And we just moved with technology, and uploaded it to YouTube. We used some of the blogs and sites that were already popular and that had got popular from our content, and we used their platforms to promote. And we launched URL from that point moving forward and just never looked back. And then over time, we just began to grow and it grew to what it is today.
Clip provided by URL
And now today y’all have a partnership with Caffeine and involvement with Drake as well. So let’s first touch on the relationship with Caffeine. How has working with Caffeine affected the trajectory of URL?
They’re a great platform, but they’re like a network also. So, they have a schedule. One thing that they’ve been able to do is increase the frequency of the shows that we do. That’s one outlet. Another one of the biggest attributes, gifts, or things that made Caffeine help us improve is that they were able to make the battles for free. Before like I said in the beginning, we would just basically have ticket sales. We did well with that for a while, and then we began to have our own pay-per-view platform. We would charge $50, $55 to stream. Now, if you’re not a battle rap fan and your first introduction to battle rap is $55 and you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re getting, that’s kind of hard for somebody to pull out their credit card, punch it into a website to pay for something, and be confident that their information is not going to be compromised and that they get a good product for what they’re spending their money on.
Especially in an era where hip-hop is so accessible now, it’s free. That’s a difficult task for someone that’s not into battle rap for their first introduction. So, with Caffeine stepping in, and being able to help us be free and advertise that to our fanbase, it made things [better]. It helped [longtime fans] so they don’t actually have to pay for the battles, but also in expanding and growing, the new fans can now come in and see what URL is about from a live event perspective. We have tons of material on YouTube from the last 10 years, but if you want to keep up to date now, you don’t have to pay or wait for the battles to drop, you could see them live and for free. So I guess that was the big thing that kind of helped and improved everything that we were doing.
Got you. As you’ve seen, rap battles have come from being this underground, not so mainstream thing to now having a much larger presence over the last few years. In regard to Hip-Hop culture, what role do you think rap battles play in 2022?
Wow. So much. I think that battle rap is really important, especially in this time. In these times of where music is at currently. Music goes through different changes all the time, but I think in the current state of modern Hip-Hop, lyricism isn’t as important as it once was. Of course, there’s a few people around who actually still rap, but the majority of the style of what hip-hop is presently or what it’s morphed into, doesn’t really have a high importance on lyrical content or actual rhyming skill. Battle rap is the last place where you could have two lyricists come and say, “I’m better than you, and I’m willing to put it on the line and prove it in front of the world.”
"I think in the current state of modern Hip-Hop, lyricism isn’t as important as it once was. Of course, there’s a few people around who actually still rap, but the majority of the style of what hip-hop is presently or what it’s morphed into, doesn’t really have a high importance on lyrical content or actual rhyming skill."
Clip provided by URL
They’re not gonna hold back. They’re gonna be aggressive. They’re gonna say everything that they want to say to you directly to your face in front of you, on stage, and then in front of the world. So you have two guys who have that competitive spirit that are willing to put it on the line. You don’t see that in modern-day Hip-Hop. I mean, you see some of it in drill, but that’s kind of a different thing. It’s a little bit different ‘cause they’re actually going out and doing stuff that they say they’re gonna do in their songs, but it’s not as skillful and as lyrical and as clever as the modern-day battle rapper is. So I think that in terms of skill and people actually hanging on your every word, you going out, controlling a crowd with new material that they’ve never heard without a beat, or without music, and being able to deliver your stuff clearly — it’s fearless. It’s a whole ‘nother level. It’s a whole different style and skill set that people really don’t realize that is going on right under their nose. So, in terms of importance in the culture, I think it’s very important because it’s really the last place where lyricism is paramount, as opposed to mainstream music where you don’t have to be a lyricist and you don’t have to really even rap.
You can really put on an auto-tune machine and kind of harmonize and the words can rhyme and that’s what people accept. That’s what people like. That’s what’s popular, and there’s nothing wrong with it.
I’m not saying that the music that you or I prefer is better. It’s just different. I think that Hip-Hop has expanded in so many ways that what we’re listening to is a derivative of what we’re accustomed to, or what we call Hip-Hop. So what Nas, Jay Z, T.I, and Scarface did, this is not that. This is a derivative of that. Just like how you have Rock n’ Roll music, and there’s different offshoots of Rock n’ Roll music. You have punk rock, metal, death metal, all of these things. They just group Hip-Hop into one category. So I think that currently, what we know as traditional Hip-Hop is not what is popular, but I think that right now, battle rap is the leading force in terms of keeping lyricism alive. So that’s what I think the importance of it is.
Okay. You mentioned a lot of interesting points about how the landscape of hip-hop has changed, and how it’s more melodic, less focused on lyricism. Even the importance of the theatrical aspect of battle rap. When combining all of those points, you get someone like Drake, who has experience with acting and actually has bars, all while maintaining a melodic and popular mainstream sound. So could you describe Drake’s role within URL and explain the impact of his involvement?
Oh definitely. I mean, if you really look at Drake, he’s had the longest run of any Hip-Hop artist in history. He does all types of music. But one thing that people have to remember is even though he does make some melodic records and some records he doesn’t rap on, he does actually participate in the culture. Like if you diss Drake, he’s gonna get at you. He’s gonna go to war. He’s gone at a couple different people. He does follow the rules and understand the culture, and he’s been a fan of what we’ve been doing since the SMACK DVD era. Look online and you can see videos of him and French Montana and him saying how he came up on it, and he’s really into it. And not just the battle rap aspect, but our whole brand, in terms of the things that we did with the interviews, original videos, and what we packaged on the DVDs.
"If you really look at Drake, he’s had the longest run of any Hip-Hop artist in history. He does all types of music. But one thing that people have to remember is even though he does make some melodic records and some records he doesn’t rap on, he does actually participate in the culture. Like if you diss Drake, he’s gonna get at you. He’s gonna go to war. He’s gone at a couple different people. He does follow the rules and understand the culture, and he’s been a fan of what we’ve been doing since the SMACK DVD era."
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But his role is just using his influence to put more eyeballs on what we’re doing, and he’s definitely been doing that so far. His role is more so just, hey look, everybody is paying attention to me, I’m gonna try to shine some of the light that I have onto this brand and onto this culture to bring more awareness to it, so that more people could get involved and love it in the same way that I do. So, I think he’s more so an ambassador for the culture and just somebody who believes in our brand and sees the growth, and he just wants to do it for the sake of the culture and just Hip-Hop in general. For years, he’s been coming to events before we ever decided to work with each other. He would just come as a fan. Just show up. Call the night before, yo I’m coming to N.O.M.E. I’ll be there tomorrow. And he’d come to the show, and actually sit and watch every single battle. And then when he doesn’t make it, if he’s touring or something, he would buy our pay-per-view, and then he would put it through his stories on his Instagram feed and let people know like “Yo, I’m watching this right now, you guys need to tune it.”
So when he approached us and said, “Hey, I have some things going on with this company Caffeine, I think it would be beneficial to you,” it made all the sense in the world because he was already a fan prior to the opportunity coming about.
That’s lit. That’s cool to see that it was just genuine love behind it. Murda Mook and Drake have revealed that they have come close to battle before, so, is getting Drake in the building as the main attraction something that URL really talking about? Or is that something that y’all are considering maybe further down the line?
Oh, I mean everybody wants that to happen, but I think that the way he looks at it, he’s mentioned it in his lining notes saying like, what these guys do is totally different from what I do and I respect it so much that I wouldn’t step into that field, because even though I’m a lyricist and I write and I rap and I know what this is. This is a different skill set. I think that as people begin to become educated with battle rap, they’ll understand that even though your top lyricists that you see in the game currently — guys that are still rapping like Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, and some of the upcoming lyricists — are really good writers, rappers, and performers, it’s still something different. And a lot of these guys would not be able to compete with the guys that are in the URL.
It’s just a totally different thing. It’s like saying, “Hey, I’m a boxer! I’m gonna go to the UFC now and compete over there!” Yeah, you have boxing — and it is a combat sport — but what are you gonna do when the guy kicks you in the leg and then rushes in, takes you down, and puts you in an armbar? How do you react to that? You haven’t been trained for that. There’s a very big, massive difference in skillset that takes place. So I think as people become more educated with battle rap and what it is, how it’s performed, and just stuff like that, they'll understand that there’s a clear difference here. So to answer your question, no, Drake doesn’t. Don’t think that he’s gonna come in and beat everybody and be like a big battle rapper. We’re not forcing it, and I don’t think the culture itself [is checking for it]. If he did battle, of course, they would want to see it, but they’re not expecting him to battle.
I feel it. People put in the work in that field, and when an outsider comes in — even though he appreciates the culture — it could have some long-lasting effects that may or may not be positive. Depends on how history goes. But I even saw Big Sean talking about that in his Million Dollaz Worth of Game interview, where he admitted that although he can rap at a high level, those tried-and-true battle rappers are just a different breed. URL is really a different league altogether. So, in the spirit of just giving these battle rappers their flowers, I wanted to know what are your top three battles in URL history so far?
The best battles I would say. There’s too many to name but I’ll try to, my mind’s kind of drawing a blank. I would say Loaded Lux and Calicoe, just for what it meant and how it kind of really put a big light on us. That was a great battle, and it was kind of a lot of people’s introduction to URL. People that weren’t your everyday viewer, that wasn’t watching battle rap. A lot of them got into it from watching Loaded Lux v. Calicoe.
That would be one of my favorite battles. Wow. So many. I would say, man, probably Brizz Rawsteen v. Arsonal, and man, I can’t even think of anymore. It’s so many. We do so many battles. It’s so hard to remember or pinpoint any one that is special because a lot of them are really good.
Got you. Okay so, two more questions for you. With the success of Verzuz over the pandemic, how has URL been kind of witnessing this alternative battle-style competition? Do y’all feel like it’s just a completely different league or do you think that it’s helped bring more interest to your platform?
I think there’s some similarities in terms of the competitive nature of it, but I think it’s something totally different. I think Verzuz is more like a trip down memory lane with some of the greats of the music business, so you get to actually see them perform their songs and their materials and it’s exciting to see people’s reactions and stuff like that. But this is totally different. Two totally different things. I think that they can co-exist and even have some form of a hybrid show one day. I think would be interesting.
"I think Verzuz is more like a trip down memory lane with some of the greats of the music business, so you get to actually see them perform their songs and their materials and it’s exciting to see people’s reactions and stuff like that. But this is totally different. Two totally different things."
That would be crazy.
But I don’t think that one necessarily helps or affects the other. I think they’re just two different things, two great platforms, and two great forms of competition.
Okay, that’s fair. That’s fair. So as Any Given Sunday 2 this weekend, what else can URL fans expect for the remainder of 2022? Give us a little sneak peek of the lineups.
Yeah. I mean, listen. We do so many different styles of battles. Right after Any Given Sunday, we have an event called Kings vs Queens where we put the guys against the girls. It’s crazy. It’s always crazy. We also have another event called Double Impact, where two MCs team up on a team against two other MCs, and when they compete in the rounds, they actually rhyme together. So they go back and forth, so I might spit four bars and you come in with your four bars and I go back and forth 6 bars. And the other guy. So they kind of write their rhymes together and then perform as a unit against another team. That’s called Double Impact. That’s coming up. And then we have our Marquee events like N.O.M.E., which stands for Night of Main Events. That will be on June the 25th I believe, and then we have the Super Bowl of Battle Rap, which is Summer Madness, and that’s generally in August or September.
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And then, we’re in talks of doing another event with Drake, towards late October. Then, of course, we’ll have other types of regular battle events going on throughout the year, so it’s always nonstop with us. Then we also, aside from Caffeine, we have our own app. It’s the URL TV App. It’s something that we own and created. We have a paywall up, and real die-hard battle rap fans can come there and see exclusive battles and the VOD for battles that we do on Caffeine because we don’t release much content on YouTube anymore. So after the event airs live on Caffeine, the VOD for them is on our app. And then we also create original content and battles that we put on the app and live on the app exclusively. So, if you’re a die-hard battle rap fan you can go there, and for $7.99, you have access to battle rap's biggest library.
That’s smooth for sure. Well, I appreciate your time. I’m really excited to check it out on Sunday. This is kind of my entry into it. I’m one of the casual ones who probably wouldn’t have paid $55.
That’s wild. Nah, you gotta see it man. You’ll see like when you come in the building, I’m just hoping everybody shows up. And you’ll see the energy is like a soccer game. Bro, like they’re [screams], and that’s what you’re gonna like about it. It’s not boujee. It’s Hip-Hop shit. So when people say shit, you’re gonna see people saying the cruelest shit to each other in the world. And you’re gonna be like yo how is this guy keeping his cool right now. They don’t hold back. Nothing is off-limits. Your mother. Your work situation. Your living situation. Everything they’re gonna say and bring up. So a lot of it too, you have to follow along because things are happening in between these battles. Somebody gets robbed or something may happen to someone or an embarrassing situation or one guy sleeps with another guy's girlfriend. All of these things can come up in the battle. Also, they freestyle so something might happen on the spot. Something might be going on in the room. There’s all these different variables and crazy things that are happening all at once. So I think this is a good entry. You should enjoy it. I know there’ll at least be two good battles on the card.
Clip provided by URL
Well, I’m really ready for Sunday now. I appreciate your time for real. Very nice to meet you. Thank you for everything.
Word. I appreciate your time man. Thank you.