AllHipHop sits down with the man standing in back of the man, Eric Beasley. He breaks down how he and Smack met, how URL became the world’s most respected battle rap league and how the company made history with the legendary rock group, The Rolling Stones, even before the Drake deal.
AllHipHop: Can you talk about your history in business and how you were able to connect it to Smack?
Beasley: That’s a long story, but let me try to give you the shortest version of it. I started out working in the music industry many many moons ago. I got into doing radio promotion. Interning, then I did College radio, then I did radio promotion and I worked within the MCA/Geffen system for many years. From there. I went on to manage a rap group that had a single out that was really big.
That was like when I was young – like, my first real, I guess you can say taste of success. But the album didn’t really do well, so MCA merged and they took all the groups and got rid of Geffen Records, at least from the Urban side. So it kind of left me without a job and then the management didn’t really work out because the group didn’t go anywhere after the single. So I was left to start over from scratch again. From that point, I began to work with various producers that started to place tracks because I knew a lot of people from the industry. I was able to get producers’ tracks to Method Man, Redman, Lil’ Kim, Ludacris, Scarface, Kanye West and others.
When I was doing that, I was working with a group of people and I saw an edition of the S.M.A.C.K DVD. A friend of mine showed it to me, as I was trying to get artists that I was working with on the DVD. But there was no way to find Smack, and a guy who was mentoring me at the time — or got me into the music business —he was managing this group on Atlantic named Nappy Roots, and they had a video shoot. He invited me to this video shoot. As I’m walking into the video shoot, this guy is walking out of the video shoot and we bump into each other, literally. I say, “oh excuse me,” he says, “excuse me.” I’m like, “whassup, Beas” and he says, “Smack.”
I’m like, “oh s### yo homie, I’ve been looking for you, I’ve been trying to find you. We started chopping it up.
And I had told him about the people I was working with and he came up to the Bronx a day or two later. That’s where the infamous Cory Gunz video was shot with him inside the car on the S.M.A.C.K. DVD. That’s kind of like when the world really got to see Cory Gunz in action, that was from that day. From there, we just kept in contact with each other. I was doing interviews for those segments just ‘cause I knew what was going on. People liked the interview, so we just kept in contact with each other and started to kick it and work with each other from that point on. Then like Smack was technical terms of like shooting and the editing, he did all that stuff for S.M.A.C.K. DVD, but I knew a lot of people on the industry side, so I was able to help and assist with getting certain people that he didn’t know onto the DVD. He had already gotten some people on it that were already famous and poppin’ but there was a whole set of other people that didn’t know that I either knew or had access to. I had access to their management and things like that. So we just started working together and I proposed working with them and he was like, OK cool.
And then what happened was you were doing a business like that, you gotta run around, and you don’t know what it’s going to form into. It’s hard to get people who see your vision and are willing to see it through or stick it out until something happens. So I ended up just being in a situation where I was hungry and looking for something and I believe that it worked. So I was always someone contacting him, hitting them up and he saw that I had the same enthusiasm he did. So it made all the sense in the world and from that point on, we just started doing all the SMACK DVDs just coming out, coming out, ‘cause when I first met him it was only the movies. That’s when a friend of mine – well it was actually Cory Gunz and his cousin, Jims World, they told me about Lux. Lux was known as Pop at that time. He didn’t really go by Loaded Lux, but more so Pop Lux or whatever. That’s when we set up the battle with Murder Mook and Lux at the clothing store Uptown. From that point I was saying, you know people really like this battling s###, we should try to focus on it.
We were still getting all the big names like The Game, Eminem, Ludacris, these were all the people that we were interviewing. Kanye West, R. Kelly — stuff like that. But we started these little battles and over the next few years we did SMACK DVD until that kind of ran out, and in 2007.
When YouTube came out of nowhere, that really hindered everything because people were uploading the content off the DVD as soon as we would put it out. It just devalued the platform a great deal because artists could kind of push their own narrative.
Cameras were becoming cheaper and more accessible. So there was really no need for us because artists could just take their own things and put them out on YouTube, and then platforms like Worldstar started blowing up. It kind of put a real crush on the DVD market for us and the DVD market in general started to decline that year as well. Even for mainstream releases and movies. So we had to try to figure out another way to get something going.
So we tried a couple of SMACK2s, a couple of other different online things but nothing really stuck until we realized that there was one thing that was remaining exclusive. And that was the battle because a battle is like a fight. A boxing match that happens one time and that’s it.
Two guys are not going to battle on Monday and then say hey, let’s create the same exact battle with the same rhymes on Friday. On another platform. But if there’s somebody doing an interview, they’re gonna tell their story to anybody who’s willing to listen when they promote their album. If they have beef with somebody, they’re gonna get asked by every radio station they go to while they’re promoting their album.
Every kid with a blog is going to be asking them to spit on the couch and post it on their blogs. So interviews and beefs just weren’t exclusive anymore. They no longer had exclusivity, and they had no more value. The artists soon realized that they didn’t need another outlet. They could just post the stuff up, and other outlets would just share it. So it kind of really was a big blow to us, but we knew that battles people like, so that’s what we decided to form URL and do the first event on October 31st, 2009. Yeah, so that’s how it started.
AllHipHop: Do you think that your business acumen comes from being in radio promotion or being a manager or is a part of your home hustle?
Beasley: Having worked for Geffen Records, where they didn’t have an urban staff helped my hustle. We were kind of forced to wear multiple hats like A&R, promotion, marketing, a little bit everything. In regards to my work with Smack, I just kind of knew what I liked and what I knew other people would be into. It was the direction that I pushed, in terms of S.M.A.C.K. DVD because it was so raw and street, I instinctively knew that would grow.
Remember, there was no YouTube then. There weren’t a lot of websites then. It was like the “Bible of the streets.” So if you have that, and you have all these people, I just knew that I was gonna grow. But I definitely think that, a lot of the lessons that I learned along the way from working in the music business, I was able to apply.
I also utilize a lot of my contacts that enable me to push certain buttons to make things happen like get battle rap on big websites like This is 50 or AllHipHop.com. Getting guys on Funkmaster Flex. Getting guys on Sway In the Morning. Getting guys on Kay Slay and other Sirius radio shows. These were all contacts that I had prior to the URL.
I was able to utilize it to build the artists that were on URL. I did things just to bolster the brand. I worked to have that connection and that fusion between the two worlds (commercial rap industry and the battle rap industry). That and S.M.A.C.K. DVDs history as being like the realest out there on the street, helped us gain momentum tremendously.
All those things help.
A lot of it was me paying attention to similar business models like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, UFC. The UFC is the closest thing to URL in a mainstream market. We can have a similar story. We have something that people weren’t paying attention to and were a smaller audience.
And they have trouble legitimizing it and proving that it was viable. They kept pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing without never looking back not and not knowing if the company was gonna last. Not knowing how long it was gonna be around. They pushed until they finally had a fork in the road, and they made the right turn and turned things into a billion dollar company. And I believe that URL is the same in a lot of ways because there were a lot of companies that wouldn’t touch us or be sponsors for us. Now those same people are calling. You had people saying “Oh, it’s too rough” but now you have Dropped the Mic. Now you have shows like Wild N Out, where it’s almost predominantly battle rap. I mean, it is. It is different. It’s in a different format and delivery, but, they are hiring battle rap battles and they are actually having battles. This shows the influence of what we’ve been able to do, and how far it’s spread. So, the long answer is it is definitely my hustle. From me trying to get in the game. Me coming up in the business (even as an intern). Me walking down to the office when I didn’t have money to get there. Me hanging out late trying to meet people and going to music seminars to shake hands and trying to figure out a way to break into the business. Definitely gave me that hustle. And Smack, himself, is a hustler as well. So the two of us together … It just works.
Smack had the technical ability for the editing and shooting. And me having the contacts was a great combination that worked out really well.
AllHipHop: How did you guys finance it?
Beasley: You have to remember at that time, there was no there was no YouTube. The web was still developing. So, you know, if you have a hot product, you have all the top rappers on it, they are giving you exclusive interviews and videos, it simply is going to go. The gift and a curse was the bootleg industry.
When you have something that is hot, the bootleggers are all over it. We were able to get the master copies, sell them and distribute them to the mom and pop stores that had our own distribution list. It’s just the world we live in, the bootleggers would have us all over the place, in Africa, in different countries around the world, different territories, around the states. They became another distribution chain for us, so the S.M.A.C.K. DVDs were getting out everywhere.
When you have something that’s raw and organic, and people believe to be authentic, it’s just gonna take off even more. You have more rappers on it, or the top entertainers on it. It’s just an undeniable force.
We got lists and attended seminars and things like that … but a lot of times material was just so hot … it was in demand. So when you have something that’s in demand, it is gonna get bootlegged and you are going to get spread around. That in turn helped us become credible and more visible to the consumer. So when we did start the URL, we branded it SMACK URL. We were letting people know “He this is the same thing that you see on Smack DVDs. Now it’s just focused on the battle aspect of it.”
I was a huge fan of UFC. I saw the growth. I saw the marketing. I saw the push. I would apply everything that I would see on UFC to URL. Their trailers and promotions. Let’s try and get rappers to come through and integrate that whole thing. They would go out and talk about it. We’d get on certain websites that you would normally cover Hip-Hop. When a blog craze happened we got on them.
The material just being so raw and people seeing the acapella format for the first time on the S.M.A.C.K. DVD kind of made us the forefathers of the new wave of battle rap culture.
As a culture, we were the first one. We were the first place where they saw a certain level of authenticity.
AllHipHop: So while you guys weren’t the first battle rap league, how can you claim to be the forefathers?
Beasley: S.M.A.C.K. DVDs, in terms of what it was known for, we had rappers and we had battles on there, we kind of influenced Fight Club and Grindtime. They all came from watching Murda Mook and all those guys on S.M.A.C.K. DVDs first and then they kind of form their own things. Fight club had their own format with the pool table and the 60 seconds. Our stuff was more raw. We’d say, “Show up with your rhymes and you show up with your rhyme, and there were no all real time limits. You just rhyme until your rhyme is over. We’re gonna do three rounds.”
Those things were derivatives that were trying to capture the feel of what we had on the S.M.A.C.K. DVDs in regards to GrindTime and Fight Club.
The reason why URL stands strong is because that’s the first place where people saw it. People have been battling for years. We didn’t invent battle rap, but in the format that it is currently today. Once S.M.A.C.K. DVD dropped, rapping over beats became antiquated. From that point on, just never saw anybody go back to that … it just went out of style.
When you see something somewhere first, they just get the credit for it.
People respected the other platforms, but S.M.A.C.K. is the first place where you saw it. So then when we came back with URL and people knew that it was Smack and he’s hosting it … there is a certain feel that we can provide, that the other guys didn’t have. I’m not saying that their stuff wasn’t good, in fact it was great. I enjoyed it and I watched … and they had their own things that they did … that we didn’t do … I am not taking anything away from them, but in terms of battle rap and getting that feel and that grimy street edge … that’s what URL is and that’s what we have. We created that and we are known for that. So when we’re doing what we do and other people are trying to be in the marketplace and trying to be competitive in the place, it’s harder for them because they can’t do what we do.
AllHipHop: What was it like when you guys were created your initial roster?
Beasley: In the beginning, we were just looking around for guys to fill up the card to get a couple the battles on. We didn’t know how long it was going to last, after we did the first one. We did the first event, and then like a week or so later, Aye Verb called and said “I already got this event set up. Y’all should come tape it.” We went down there, taped it. We got the footage and shot it. It was a “win win” for us. They were making noise in their region and we had the cameras, and had the distribution, we had the name and the brand. So when we combined together, this made all the sense in the world.
AllHipHop: Aye Verb said he started URL
Beasley: (Friendly Laughter because he gets the joke) That’s not true. Don’t listen to Aye Verb. The URL started in New York City with Math Hoffa and T-Rex, that was the very first battle. The Aye Verb battle that he’s mentioning started afterward. They were already doing a battle and we added a few more battles to the card. I mean he was around in the early stages of URL, but he didn’t form the company. (more laughter). But it’s all good. If he says he founded URL, then alright Verb you started it. People have to understand that while they say that they started it … but these guys were paid to perform. When you say that you start something that means that you started something. Put the money up, you know when you offered something in exchange, some form of equity or something like that, but if you’re demanding money for performance … You know … you were paid and facilitated the act … then well, you know. I mean, they definitely vital played a part in it because they were talented. We needed new talent or we needed to utilize their brand and their talent … just like they needed ours.
I needed Aye Verb’s talent and the guys from his region’s talents to have some variety … just like they needed the SMACK brand to authenticate. It said that they were “official.” They were on SMACK.
(Ed. Note SMACK is the brand. S.M.A.C.K. is the DVD. Smack is the man)
AllHipHop: Was URL the first league to franchise cards?
Beasley: I would say so. I know GrindTime had some names, but I’m not sure when they started to implement those names and attach them to events. But I mean, I would always want to have a name because as I said, I was a huge UFC fan and if you look at the early UFC, they had numbers, but a lot of them had names like “Redemption” or “The Final Get Back.” There were always like, names of the events. So I thought that we should name the events. I thought that we should do trailers. I thought that we should have round splitters, tales of the tape. I would say. All of those things we discussed Smack, Cheeko and I wanted to give a sports feel. In the beginning people would say, oh, you’re doing too much just let them battle. Then, over time, people were saying “Oh, the trailers. Oh my God! This is what we want to see.”
It is the build-up. It is the energy. It is the hype.
It makes it more important. And it makes the emcees know … “Oh s###, I can’t play around. This is serious. As we would move on, we started to do more things to make it feel more serious like face-offs and press conferences, you name it.
We were always coming up with different ideas, just to give it that sports feel, to make it legitimate.
AllHipHop: What was the first title?
Beasley: The first one was the “the Midwest Massacre.” That was the one with Aye Verb. It was the second card, but the first with a title.
The first one was crazy because we had ciphers in the middle of the show. It was crazy. But as we grew and got more popular we figured out what works for us.
AllHipHop: What are some of the biggest moments that you remember and how did they differ?
Beasley: Moments like NOME I, where we had a car named it and I remember we had it at this club called Santos down in New York City. That was one of the things that we always try to do, is get into clubs or places that you did not expect that a battle rap event would happen. People at the time thought that battle rap would be going to be on the Lower East Side in a basement with an illegal liquor license or something like that. I would always try to go out to these legitimate venues where industry events would be because I wanted to show the power of battle rap, pack building and show how we can pack the buildings and stuff like that.
We were mostly doing stuff at a place called the Voodoo Lounge on 66 something street … it doesn’t exist anymore … but it was a small little spot … fitting like 100 people and change in there.
So we come up with NOME. It is the year’s end. We are thinking, “How many people are going to show up?” I was snowing that day too. I said “Oh, you know, we would probably get 100 to 200 people and that would be good.” Before I left my house, I was getting calls, like “Yo, people are out here and the lines are down the block and around the corner.” I was in my hotel. I saw other people who flew in for this. We weren’t even selling advance tickets, it was all door money. When I get downtown, like hours before the doors open and the lines are like down the block and around the corner.
That was the first time that we’d ever seen that. It was so crazy. Like the police department had come and they were like, “Whose event is this?” and I was like “it is mine.” They said, “Who is performing out here? Why are there so many people out here?” I was like “it is battle rap, with URL.” They couldn’t believe it. We probably left as many people as outside, as we let inside. So many people were outside that wanted to spend money with us, but they couldn’t because of the capacity. That place might have done about 500 to 600 people but we were at full capacity. It was a bunch of artists, Waka flocka, Juelz Santana, a whole bunch of rappers were outside trying to get in and they couldn’t get in. From that point, that’s when we knew we had to get something bigger.
The next event was Summer Madness I and we were able to get Webster Hall.
NOME, you know from then on, we did one more in Chicago and it was like a medium size. It wasn’t that crazy. But then after that, it was over. NOME III to NOME X – Sold out. 1000 + or 2000 people, every time.
AllHipHop: So you took it from basically a DVD magazine and made it into an actual industry. Now there is battle rap media, spawned from people admiring you, there is battle rap fashion. What did it mean to you?
Beasley: It’s a great thing. It’s a real achievement to me personally because I love to see other people be successful. I love to see guys selling their own merch. Or having successful albums and making good music or getting all kinds of deals. So that’s really what it was created for. It is dope for us to be able to just do URL. There was a time, even after we started URL, when I was still hustling beats and selling stuff. Now for the last few years, I’ve been able to do URL soley. And it has been successful enough for me, not have to do anything else. I believe that is an achievement, especially when you have something that nobody believed in was viable. When you say battle rap, it is something that may have been done once a year at a mix conference, but it wasn’t something that was done all the time like a sport. Where guys could have a career or field in that. So, this means a lot to me. Seeing people making a living off the battle rap and guys making their own companies Seeing media outlets being formed like HipHopisReal and !5 Minutes of Fame.
Guys really making careers reporting off of what we do. They’re able to have their own platform to make their money and make a living off of the energy that we create. So, you know, I think that’s insane. One thing that has always been important to me is to have some kind of legacy within Hip-Hop. I am a huge Hip-Hop fan.
So, I don’t necessarily know in the mainstream music business. I mean, I’ve had some success and I’ve had some placements and I’ve worked with some big names before you like Kanye, Lil Kim, Scarface, people like that … but to be in a field that I am directly responsible for creating … flourishing in that field … Being a leader … and enabling other people to make careers off of our platform to go to other platforms like Wild ‘N Out or to get acting jobs, or successful music careers like Tsu Surf … is something that I’m really proud of. When it is all said and done and goes down in the books, and you talk about battle rap, the first thing you are going to say is URL. There is no way around it. Battle rap has come and gone and different stages throughout Hip-Hop, but this is the longest that’s ever been. We’ve done the biggest events consistently that there has ever been in battle rap, we’ve sold the most tickets than anyone. There are just so many things that we’ve been able to do that have made history … and not just battle rap history.
In venues like Webster Hall, we have tied in attendance with the Rolling Stones. They’ve had so many big names, like Jay-Z and Nas, to go through Webster Hall and to say that the biggest is URL in terms of Hip-Hop and they are tied with the Rolling Stones and the Killers. We have the most sales in Irvine Plaza’s history in terms of payout for a promoter, that’s us URL. We’ve brought the most people out for the highest price in that building. We’ve sold Irving Plaza out at least 10 times.
So to have those different benchmarks and those different milestones, is dynamic. Then we are traveling to places like London and that’s sold out. We’ve gone to Houston and that’s sold out. North Carolina and all kinds of markets throughout the nation and internationally … the same results … sold out. We did this independently. This is before our partnership with Caffeine. We’ve set up our own online platform, our pay per view platform and then turned around to set up an app which is essentially a Black-owned streaming service where people are paying to come in and watch exclusive content that we create is amazing to me.
Like I would have never thought that people would not only watch our stuff, but to actually pay for it and sell it independently, without investors. We did this without any help. Just solely grinding and putting forth our own dollars to make something happen is amazing.
Now, linking up with caffeine as a partner is going to propel us to the next level.
The most important part of me is not the money, it is more so about the legacy. Knowing that when you say battle rap, you have to say URL.
When my daughter grows up, she will be able to say that my father started that.
When people look back, I know that will be directly credited for battle rap being as big as it is today because we’re the ones that went and got us into the biggest venues. We’re the ones that got the most attention in the press. We’re the ones that were able to get the artists on the bigger platforms, like Hot 97, Sirius radio, the BET awards, MTV. All kinds of stuff that nobody was ever able to do (with it being as raw as it is). We did it with the language, with the rawness, with there really no sacrificing our integrity or changing anything. We did it our way. We kept it raw, rugged, street and hardcore and we were still able to permeate mainstream media. So much to the point there are shows out there imitating us using Ben Affleck battling Halle Berry and setting it up to look like a URL battle.
AllHipHop: You’re becoming a platform where people are duplicated by people imitating you in your space. Now you have competition. But also you guys are also leaders in the space, partnering with other leagues to help them become successful. Can you talk about that?
Beasley: Yeah, I mean the smaller leagues we definitely need. Those are the first platforms that a lot of our emcees touch. Then when it gets to points where they need to elevate, go to the next level and become mainstream within the battle rap industry, they always seem to point to URL. So it’s always important for us to foster those leagues and keep them around for their development. They are like essentially scouts for us. I personally advise a lot of guys on how to move and handle certain issues and certain precautions to take certain ways to deal with artists, so that they can be effective and not get taken advantage of.
Even showing guys how to promote and how to market. You know, all those things are conversations that I have often with a lot of smaller leagues. We have sometimes offered our promotional outlets to help them push things along.
Also, by elevating some of their talent, and then allowing the talent to return back to the small league from which they originated to help bolster ticket sales and visibility. We even help with streaming. For those leagues it is a plus as well.
It’s so much that we do and when we are working with some of the smaller guys on the come up. Now they have an understanding where they know and understand. Again, similar to UFC and the smaller mixed martial arts organizations where they get their guys. So they fill a void and they make money there. And then those guys are doing that here and getting their guys ready to come to URL … to really take it to the next level … they then get to come to the Proving Grounds, The Crucible and now Ultimate Madness. These are all things to build these guys profiles and make them the stars of tomorrow.
AllHipHop: Battle rappers say that the URL has literally changed their lives. How does it feel to know that you help people to be able to live?
Beasley: I’m thankful for all of those guys because without the talent, without their participation in it, without them blessing us with their talent on our platform, we wouldn’t be able to be who we are. But it definitely feels good to know that we play a part and helping others facilitate their dreams and goals. That all goes back creating our legacy. Being able to say we built something. Russell Simmons can always be like, I’m Def Jam: that first real Hip-Hop label for the street. He’ll always be able to have that ability to say, “I’ve changed lives, I gave people careers in business, I made stars out of people no one was giving opportunities to.”
I kind of feel the same way about what we do at URL. I feel that we give tons of opportunities to people that no one was paying attention to.
When I was working at Atlantic Asylum, when URL first began. I had an A&R job, and I would bring the guys up, and we would shoot a show called The Strategy Room, which is like an interview show. It’s like the first URL, and I would have everybody come up there. Remember the infamous video of K-Shine and Tsu Surf arguing and they’re like in the conference room? That was up in my office in Asylum.
I would see people and could just hear them talking, snickering, like, “Oh, what is he doing? Why is he messing with these guys? That’s not gonna get any money.”
I’m not saying that. We weren’t trying to make money but we didn’t know if we were going to make money. YouTube didn’t even have a partnership yet, where you could actually monetize on videos. That was like a crazy concept and itself.
Really all that you had was ticket and door money. We didn’t even think about pay per view or other revenue streams. We just knew we liked it, other people like this, and that there was a way for it to be successful if we stay focused.
And we knew that eventually, if you have a passion, you’re gonna find a way to monetize off of it and turn it into something. Yeah, feels great to be able to be a part of helping somebody see their dreams through.
Our legacy is more than just the influence, but by creating a big industry we have to show what that looks like. Having meetings with our employees flying and around them all around the country. Our having to bring the whole operation to Houston. Bringing the whole operation to London and putting people on airplanes for the first time. Making guys get passports and taking them out of the country for the first time. Bringing them to Funkmaster Flex to rhyme, a privilege that is usually reserved for someone that has sold albums. Putting people in the BET Ciphers, not to battle, but to rhyme. Breaking down doors and getting new artists on 106 and Park on BET. And them changing the whole format of their show to fit our needs. Taking over the 2019 BET Hip-Hop Awards, and being the most popular segment on the entire show. We are hitting these milestones all the time. I take it all in stride, but I’m definitely thankful about it and enjoying the journey the entire way. And this is not an arrogant thing, it’s just letting the Hip-Hop world, our world, know that we’re going to do this something that people thought could not be done.
Still, I feel like with all that we have done some there is still so much more that we still have to conquer.