AllHipHop Presents: "10 Steps to NOME X" featuring Smack White
Kershaw St. Jawnson
All one has to hear is his trademark bilabial sound roll in the mic before a battle and you know that the show is about to start. The feeling is like being at a WWE event for the first time, the room has electricity in the air and the audience is abustled with excitement. The lights are moving around and then you hear his name, SMACK —crack through by sound, space, and time. You are actually there … a live Ultimate Rap League (URL) event. It is something everyone in their lifetime has to experience.
But now, with their new partnership with OVO executive and artist, Drake, and the new streaming service Caffeine TV, the same powerful experience is captured for fans for free online. Wait … the same show that people have spent upwards of $200 a ticket to see in person or $65 to witness via pay per view is free for all who care to watch? That’s impossible. No … it is what he does. Troy “Smack White” Mitchell has been creating and shaping, remixing, and re-interpreting the game for two generations now.
Tsu Surf mentioned that his father and he used to watch the SMACK DVDs together. Both Geechi Gotti and Daylyt said that they would watch the DVDs in California in the early 2000s, with no advanced distribution model but the sheer potency of hood currency, the revolutionary and digital magazine traveled close to 3,000 miles to hoods like Compton, Watts, and Inglewood.
Queens Get The Money, a borough wide-slogan, might seem to be an appropriate slogan for the grind. But money has never been the motivation for the man considered the Russell Simmons of Battle Rap. Smack wants to be a legend— leave his mark indubitable ways. The DVDs and URL are just the beginning of the legacy sparked by this kid from Queens. Check out in his own words why he joins the single name club of notoriety.
AllHipHop: It has to feel great for you to be in this space right now.
Smack: Yeah it definitely feels good to be with the space that we are in, right now. Being able to work after taking a couple of months off. Not being able to do a lot and being locked in the crib. So, to get back to some type of normalcy feels good.
AllHipHop: it seems as if you've never been locked has never happened to you. For the last 15 to 20 years, you have been running around preserving the culture and making people famous in Hip-Hop (commercially and through battle rap).
Smack: My career feels good. I definitely participated in helping a lot of emcees both in and out of battle rap culture complete their objective of making themselves mainstream as much as possible through my outlets and my platforms that have developed over the years. One of them being SMACK DVDs and the other URLtv platform. Being able to participate in helping these emcees in establishing their identities with their careers by doing the things that they love to do, I feel amazing. I feel great. I feel like it is my calling to help these guys and ladies get from point A to point B. I am the liaison between the underground and the mainstream. When you jump on a SMACK DVD or the Ultimate Rap League platform the visibility that you get from the fan-based that I developed for being on the ground for so many years and people recognizing my platform as a gateway or a place we can get to see the next big emcee coming out or somebody that you may not know ... that got incredible rapping abilities or incredible swag or cover up credible talent when it comes to making music or performing in front of crowds, it feels amazing.
AllHipHop: If you consider the trajectory of Russell Simmons’ career and contribution to Hip-Hop culture, there is a parallel with yours. He ran the street initially with DJs and new rappers, getting them on and then transitioned into creating Def Jam, a label that defined top quality rap music for the world. While he did not create commercial rap music, dammit he set it on course 35 years ago to be the most influential genre of music in the world (dollars and culture-wise).
When you think about Smack … considering the DVD and the battle rap league … you too can be viewed as the Russell Simmons of battle rap. Is that a title you take proudly?
Smack: I look up to Russell Simmons. He is definitely one of the founding fathers of Hip-Hop. He is possibly the number one Hip-Hop ambassador for us. As an ambassador, when it comes to the culture of Hip-Hop, he has open doors for others. He is one of the few figures in Hip-Hop, on the business side that people in the culture have actually followed their lead. We can stand on their accomplishments and extend their legacy further by following their lead. Russell Simmons came into the game working with DJs and managing artists branched off and created his own record company, Def Jam. Incredible. Then he opened the door number with clothing and started Phat Farm. As you know younger guys coming up into the culture, we look at Russell as the leader and what opportunities are possible for us to take advantage of.
So, you see Sean Combs following his model with Bad Boy and Sean Jean. Then you see Jay-Z with Roc-a-Fella, Roca wear and now RocNation. These are the ambassadors of Hip-Hop that he inspired that continue to open up doors for those coming after them. Like Russell, they are actually expanding and creating opportunities for others inside this culture. So having the title of Russell Simmons of battle culture is an honor. It is a blessing and also a heavy responsibility because I too am in a position where I'm opening up doors. I'm linking up with strategic partners and corporate companies trying to expand and bring this whole art form to a worldwide audience. I am excited to have this with my partner, Caffeine. Me being on programs like Rhythm and Flow with Cardi B, T.I. and Chance The Rapper. It’s basically broadening the horizons and the audience of battle rap culture. I feel honored to be looked upon in that light.
AllHipHop: Can you share three snapshots of your career that were pivotal in you becoming this gateway for the culture?
Smack: The starting of SMACK DVD? I used to tell people about what I was about to do and many people didn’t grasp the concept of what I was explaining to them. Many people didn’t believe in the vision. That's basically a pivotal moment, #1. Pivotal moment #2 would be the creation of the Ultimate Rap League (URL). When I had to sit down and restructure my whole movement. Where it went from physical distribution of the DVD to digital distribution of our content. Trying to get the ways to have your content monetized online was a pivotal moment too. I mean I had to restructure and re-establish a whole brand. I did that successfully you know all made it a household name and now is worldwide.
Pivotal moment #3 is basically linking up with Caffeine. To actually allow the content to be available for the masses for free. That is powerful.
AllHipHop.com: What made you look at battle rap and say, ‘that’s the next move?’
Smack: Battle rap was always something I loved. I always loved the art form. I came up in high school battling each other in the lunchroom. I mean everybody doing ciphers and someone making a table. It has always been there. I fell in love with the competition aspect of it. It was something I believed was necessary to represent on my platform so that the art form would always have some type of representation. That's what I did with the DVDs. We always had a classic rap battle. People used to even buy the DVD and go straight to the back to see the battles. I would have a mainstream artist on the cover, Eminem, 50 Cent, Kanye West (anyone you can name) Camron, Ludacris, The Game — these dudes would be on the cover and they would have the featured story on the project, and people would actually open and go straight to the back to watch the battles first. That was because they were so exciting.
I always felt that to represent the culture on a platform once I got notoriety in the world and everybody started to get familiar with the brand. Basically, battle rap as we know it today is from people watching the SMACK DVD format. We changed everything.
Before SMACK DVDs there was battle rap, it was battles on beats, like when you watch Eminem’s 8 Mile? We introduced straight acapella … no beats … round for round. We made it into a sport.
We made it three rounds and timed those rounds for three minutes. We actually made the first official Hip-Hop sport.
AllHipHop: We know that you are responsible for creating battle rap as an industry and you are responsible for creating stars out of the artists on your roster. But you're also responsible for mentorship, working as like a big brother to other leagues. Can you talk about that?
Smack: I am who I am. If you show love to me, I will show you love. Because I feel like I am only in competition with myself, trying to always do what I always do and be great, I am secure enough to work with others. Me helping others is helping to keep battle rap culture alive. I can see that they are influenced by what I am doing and they take elements and do it their way. 15 years ago, battle rap was almost dead. This was not even developed the way it is now and it got to a point that people were now at an all-time high, because of the energy and concentration, now you can see it everywhere. You see it on MTV with Nick Cannon’s Wild ‘N Out. They have some of the battle rappers that came through URL like Conceited, Hitman Holla, and Charlie Clips. You have shows like Drop the Mic, where the Hollywood stars are battling each other and Rhythm and Flow on Netflix and Jermaine Dupri’s Rap Game. I feel like we are responsible for the influence on all these different platforms. They get their energy and concentration from all of us.
When you talk about the Queen ring and We Go Hard and some of the other leagues that we rock with, I feel like it is our duty to actually represent this artform from many different paths. We have Queen of the Ring and they represent the female version of what we do when it comes to this art form of battle rap. The ladies are dope and have talent that needs to be represented. We bring our machine to these platforms. We link up with them and we give them the necessary push that they need to stand with us.
AllHipHop: What celebrities or influencers that shocked you by being a fan?
Smack: I mean I'm not even surprised anymore. If you are a fan of lyrics, poetry, or any performing arts, you are going to appreciate battle rap. If you are a fan of competition, you are going to be a fan of battle rap because it encompasses all that in one. It is an aggressive competition and a snaps battle or a “Your Momma” competition. They have all of those elements wrapped up in one.
AllHipHop: You have made an industry where the rappers on your roster don't have to record to be successful. Some of your veteran artists are more financially rappers you hear in the club or radio. You could actually teach a class to some label people, commercial artists. What would you teach?
We basically created a new industry with the Hip-Hop industry, with the that we put intentional structure around battle rap. We took something that people were not getting paid for, organized it, and packaged it up and got it to the level where we generated money from ticket sales and merch. We worked to develop different sorts of creative ways to generate income and implemented into a culture that we love. We invested in it and it paid off. We created an industry where now the dudes that actually do the performing art of battle rap can get paid and travel the world and put food on their tables. They can take care of their family. That’s amazing.
AllHipHop: If I were asked to do a class on building industry it would be on brand building using SMACK DVD and the Ultimate Rap League as examples.
Smack: I would talk about building a brand and marketing a brand and how to turn it into a company where you can see income from it.
Number one thing I will say, this is a free game, is that you have to create a name that is going to automatically connect with the people instantly. So, as soon as they hear the brand, they will not know what it is. Take my name, SMACK. It stands for Street Music Art Culture and Knowledge. I flipped my name into my business. That was my name in the streets, Smack. Everybody knew me and so I was like, I am gonna rep my name, I'm not gonna spend money building something that up that is not me. So I made my name and my business famous. The same thing with my other successful brand, the Ultimate Rap League. Every time someone hears the characters of Ultimate Rap League, URL, they easily remember it. You hear it one time and you say, “Hey, let me just type in URL.” Everybody knows those three-character, but I flipped it into my own business. So when people don’t think about the three characters of a website when they hear a URL and they think of battle rap, then we have accomplished our objective. We’ve made our name more popular than the world wide three letters that you go to look up a website.
AllHipHop: Where have you not had a battle event that you want to?
Smack: There are a few places. I would like to take the league to Africa. Our fanbase is so large out there, we just have not had an opportunity to go. I wanna go to South Africa or Ghana to show them we really appreciate the support. I want to definitely go to Canada. I also want to do certain things in front of landmarks around the world, like the pyramids and the Eiffel tower. My goal is to give us a polish and diverse experience.
AllHipHop: Let’s talk about the actual artists and what it takes to be a star or successful battle rapper on URL.
Smack: Oh, they definitely have to have performance. YOU NEED TO KNOW HOW TO PERFORM. Like I said earlier, this is definitely the performing arts. There is no difference than having to get on a stage and rock the crowd if you got a hit song. You have to have crowd control. This is no different than Kevin Hart and doing a stand-up routine. You have anywhere from 3,000 to 50,000 people you have to catch the attention of. These are qualities that you're gonna have if you are going to perform on the world’s most respected emcee stage. You need to have voice projection.
AllHipHop: I'm gonna name some artists and I want you to give me one word to describe them in your opinion.
Tay Roc: Aggression.
Miss Hustle: LyricalMiss Hustle: Lyrical
Geechi Gotti: Realness
John John da Don: Relentless
Jey the Nitewing: Unorthodox
Jaz the Rapper: Endurance
Murda Mook: Elite
Tsu Surf: Witty
Charlie Clips: Comedy
Nu Jerzey Twork: Electrifying
Loaded Lux: Complex
SMACK: The Goat
AllHipHop: Let’s talk about your business partners: Beasley and Chico. What is it like having brothers that you can count on for business? What makes the URL executive team work?
Smack: We all have different perspectives on certain things, but like at the end of the day, we have the ultimate goal that we are all trying to accomplish. We all share the same ultimate location that we are trying to get to. So it is good to have a group of people that you can work with. That you can rely on and depend on.
AllHipHop: Your partner for this season: Drake and Caffeine TV. How did that come about?
Smack: Drake has been a fan of the culture for so many years. Drake and I have a relationship. I met Drake a couple of years back and you know he's always been a supporter of the SMACK DVD movement and also when I made the transition into the URL movement. When we would speak, he would always ask how he could support growing whatever I was doing, how he could play a part to help everything that I was doing. We used to just go back and forth, and we came up with the concept of how to make the viewership of battle rap that bigger. He is so much of a fan, he used to buy all of the pay-per-views, he just wanted to see how he could make the experience better from a fan’s perspective. We would talk and he would say, “Hey, I bought the pay-per-view and it was good but I thought that this should be like this.” He would come with a lot of constructive criticism on how it could be an easier process on the signups or matter of fact, “let's make this sh*t for free. Let's link up with a company that can make the content available where fans won't have to pay a cover charge.” He said he felt that we could get more eyeballs on the content if fans didn’t have to pay.
That’s when he proposed that we find a partner that makes sense and that will help us do that. And he did it. We linked up with Caffeine. I sat down with the CEO. From there, there was no looking back. We put the whole infrastructure together and then we launched in February.
AllHipHop: Will you still have large events like you have in the past? Do you miss it?
Smack: Yes, I miss it now. I mean that aspect of it ain’t going nowhere. We just can't exercise it now because we are in the middle of a pandemic and properly socially distance from each other.
AllHipHop: Are you saying that even with the partnership with Caffeine … in the future … after this coronavirus is over … we could get big events again?
Smack: Definitely. Without question! All these little events that we are doing now are just 'cause of the corona's situation. We have to keep a small crowd and be socially responsible for our personal health, first and foremost, before we can consider packing out a building with, you know 1000 plus. But soon as we can get back to doing it and it makes sense, we will.
AllHipHop: So what’s next for Smack?
Smack: I am working on new projects here and there, but I am basically taking our brand to the next level. I can’t really expose my hand but we are definitely working on a few more things. Just watch.