Battle rap has been around since hip-hop began. It’s an evolution of a game from 60’s Black culture called “the dozens” or “jone-ing” or “ranking” and a laundry list of other names that just mean “insulting one another.” Over the last decade, the battle rap culture has been growing on YouTube. Today the videos reach millions of views per battle within a matter of days.
Before YouTube existed, one man marched into the seediest ghettos of New York City with his trusty camera and filmed legendary rap battles, then released them on his own exclusive DVD series, SMACK (Streets Music Art Culture Knowledge). Soon the SMACK DVDs became similar to the drug heroin, leaving people in a frenzy waiting on the next installment to drop. The government cracked down on bootleggers at the same time digital streaming blew up, strangling out most of the mom-n-pop shops that used to sell street DVDs and albums. So, Smack, being the innovator he is, started a battle rap league known as the URL (Ultimate Rap League), and, instead of having to risk life and limb to find classic battles, he brought the best battles to a venue and stage of his choice. Also, instead of going to DVD with his battles he went directly to YouTube, garnering a global fan base.
Of course, after Smack began to enjoy repeat success, the copycats came out the woodwork. Today, there are over 400 battle rap leagues, all attempting to recreate what Smack has mastered. So many imitators emerged using Smack’s talent pool, his battles’ style and format, that the URL has a slogan that everyone champions: “You Can’t Copy Respect.”
Even with so many competitors–including some with huge cash assets like FilmOn’s Alki David or multi platinum rapper Eminem–Smack has maintained the #1 position in battle rap. Even when he doesn’t host the biggest battles, people still wish he did. This is so true that even the fans have begun to champion a slogan of their on when it comes to other leagues and their battles: “If it’s not on Smack, it don’t count!”
Smack has the emerging battle rap industry under complete lock and key. As a result of battle fans proclaiming that “if it’s not on Smack it don’t count,” every battler dreams to rap on a Smack stage and many battlers won’t bring their A game to other leagues. One of the many secrets to Smack’s success is that he refuses to do pay per view events. He simply films his battles, charges hardcore fans an admission fee to witness them, then holds some of the best match ups until the fans clamor and complain to him via social media about the fate of the rap battle. Eventually, once Smack deems the time right, he releases the battle of his choice. Smack has his release schedule down to a science. Constantly throwing battle events year-round and releasing the battles at strategic times keeps the fans buying tickets to sellout events and begging and hoping for their favorite battlers battles to drop. It has turned into a madhouse. Every battle league tunes in to see what amazing feat Smack will pull off next.
Smack doesn’t always have the biggest names battling, but some way he has the overall best battle talent. Smack was so successful that he had his own battle rap show on BET co-hosted by Bow Wow. The music industry elite comes and supports Smack in droves, thus solidifying his coveted position. Smack’s battles have become a hangout for tried-and-true MCs as well as highly successful music execs and artists. At any given battle, you are likely to see lyrical giants like Busta Rhymes as well as pop sensations like Drake or Puff Daddy enjoying the young spitters from the balcony and even, sometimes, from the main stage.
Smack has a small team that he works with and they have the whole battle rap world on edge. Smack hasn’t spent promotional dollars on radio, billboards, or any other traditional promo methods. He puts up a link to buy tickets to his next event online and in a couple weeks he sells out his event. The URL Head Honcho then releases trailers for the next battle that will be released online. A fan might end up waiting five or six months to see a battle and that only exacerbates the anticipation.
With other prominent leagues opting for larger payouts, they usually release their battles to pay-per-view and as a result their video is ripped a hundred times and shared the same day, diluting the impact of the battles. Smack, however, chooses to miss out on global payouts in the name of the culture. Smack’s reward is plentiful and comes in heaping loads of respect, admiration, and loyalty. Expect Smack to remain a figurehead of battle rap for years to come. As a result of pioneering his own lane he has maintained relevance and has continued to push the culture forward. With his own radio show, War Report Radio, a popping battle news site in URL.TV, and battlers that are welcome to every other league, continue to watch for Smack to drop a groundbreaking classic battle that defines culture and leaves the battle rap community literally begging for more.