In 2009, Mitchell switched gears and created the Ultimate Rap League (URL) pitting battle rappers against each other with purses ranging from $4,000 to $20,000. This past August, the URL’s Summer Madness 2 show brought battle rapping back to the forefront. The event was held in New York City’s Webster Hall and was packed to capacity from start to finish. Financially backed with sponsorship from Ciroc Vodka, the entire show was recorded and presented in high quality video rivaling a pay-per-view boxing match.
“We wanted to show the world that this artfrom is the new form of Hip Hop entertainment,” says Smack. “We had Diddy, Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip coming and staying from the first to last battle for eight hours. People tried to throw battle rapping on the back burner saying battle rappers can’t make songs, but they don’t have to. They’re not trying to make songs, they’re just trying to entertain and bring something new to the game.”
“I signed a deal to Ruff Ryders (DMX, Eve) three years ago as an artist and hadn’t battled since then,” says Harlem battle rapper legend, Murda Mook, who got his start from SMACK. “I wanted to focus on making music. Then all of a sudden, Smack calls me and says he has $20,000 for me to come and battle [at Summer Madness 2]. I’m not turning that down.”
He continues, “That let me know that this could be a very lucrative industry. People watch battle rap and are mesmerized by the ferociousness, the wit and the courage that it takes to do it. I think it could be million dollar huge if it’s in the right hands.”
Since the August event, YouTube footage of the battles have sparked a renewed interest to the point that commercially successful rappers like Meek Mill have challenged some of URL’s players, and superstars like Jay-Z have tweeted popular lines from the battles, specifically Loaded Lux’s “you gonna get this work.”
“People are paying attention and want to be involved,” says Smack. “The URL stage is needed right now because Hip Hop is getting boring. Everybody drops an album on Tuesday, look at the Soundscan scan numbers and its over. With a battle, it’s on forever, it’s documented for ever. It’s history.”
Mook feels so strongly about URL and battle rap’s rebirth that he thinks the new business model could overtake the fledgling record industry.
“You don’t have expenses,” he points out. “When you’re making music, the label invests in the artist and the artists are instantly in the hole. With battling, you don’t have to worry about studio time, mixing songs, all of the logistics of making an album. In battle rap, you’re just coming with your rhymes.”
But, even as the art form is showing signs of becoming the next big thing, some of its participants are weary of the newfound interest in it.
“We need and appreciate the attention and notoriety,” says Detroit-based battler Calicoe. “But it can be bad when celebrities come in and they bring a bias. The crowd feeds off whatever the celebrity is cheering for. People like them should be neutral at these events.”
While bias is sure to come anytime a battle has to be judged, Smack and URL are looking forward to bringing in other things.
“We got a lot of support from Ciroc, XXL and The Source and people are actually seeing the amount of eyeballs we attract,” says Smack. “We’re in talks with more sponsors right now. I don’t want to say names until they cut a check. If anybody is interested we can definitely have a conversation.”