A dude clutches an unopened Henny bottle.
“Did Drake give that to you?”
“Yeah. And I keep a Bible in my car so you know it’s really real.”
Still riding high, in birthday mode, Drake celebrates at the latter part of October 2021. But, this is no ordinary birthday party in Long Beach, California. His aides bring out Hennessy bottle after Hennessy bottle, with a seemingly endless number of translucent plastic cups for the roughly two thousand people inside the impressive Thunder Studios.
Keep it a buck. Drake is the biggest rap star in the game, hands down. But on the night before Halloween, the multi-million record seller, and multi-million dollar man is seen mingling in a weed-smoke, capacity-filled battle arena swigging Henny with regular fans and battle emcees. Cameras, helmed by Caffenine’s team, swivel and twist to get shots of Drizzy’s every move. This ain’t even Drake’s show, party or concert. This is URL, the Ultimate Rap League, and it is one of the hottest tickets in Hip-Hop right now.
Drake, the business, moves wisely and strategically. So, on the surface, this is a passion project, fun and perhaps even charitable. Under the surface, one of the most important, reciprocal relationships has emerged. The die-hard West Coast audience concurs, almost in unison: “Drake is GOOD here” and “Drake aiight with me.” To the outsider, he’s instantly a champion of the hungriest, grittiest MCs in Hip-Hop – the battle rapper. URL is synonymous with brutality, where bars are like bare-knuckle boxing. It is also a far contrast to the perception of the Canadian phenom.
The Ultimate Rap League, founded in New York City, is now run by Troy “Smack White” Mitchell, Eric Beasley, and Jean “Cheeko” French, three unlikely executives that have managed to rise as the dominant, most powerful battle rap league. Drake is hardly the first notable to become a fan of URL. Jay-Z, Diddy, Method Man, Busta Rhymes, Nick Cannon, French Montana, Beanie Sigel, Jay-Z, Bow Wow, Mos Def, Jadakiss, Lupe Fiasco, boxer Adrien Broner, hooper Kevin Durant, comedian DC Young Fly, and numerous others have shown their love and support of URL. Tonight in Long Beach, Lil Mama and Mckey Factz are in attendance, and Freeway and Cassidy are on hand to announce a rematch to their impromptu in-studio battle from 20 years ago, to which Freeway was on the losing side.
Drake’s involvement is different than those in the past.
“Drake’s Til Death Do Us Part” epitomizes the lengths of the commitment and respect Drizzy has shown Smack, Beasley, and Cheeko. Not only did he help facilitate the deal with Caffeine, the live streaming app, but he’s now an active participant in the culture of battle rap. No longer a mere spectator, Drake is now a part of the story that could yield everything from higher payouts to more mainstream notoriety. There’s even talk of a million-dollar battle. But all is not perfect.
In the aftermath of the “Til Death Do Us Part,” Murda Mook – who dropped off the card – complained that the 6 God was now taking more than he’s giving. “This is supposed to be for us, our culture, we lit,” he said on Instagram Live. “We just giving our sh#t up like that? Oh man, sh#t getting crazy out here.” Furthermore, he alleged the rapper did not create the battle card himself, as was advertised. Regardless, Drake’s tenure stands, as a fan and a businessman.
Drake said in a statement: “I’ve always loved URL and admired what Smack and his team have been able to create. It just wasn’t easily accessible. It’s exciting to be in a position where I’m able to bring Caffeine to the table and help provide URL with the tools they need to elevate the viewing experience and make it more accessible to fans.”
Drake is smart as hell. And so are the URL guys, building their platform brick by brick since 2009.
Both entities are assuredly successful without each other so they definitely do not need one another. Still, they have infinite potential together. Drake’s tentacles now extend deep into the most authentic part of Hip-Hop – the battle. And URL now gets the press and pageantry that was once regulated to the underworld like illegal fight clubs.
If you are not a rapper, the business of Rap and Hip-Hop can be tricky. If you do innovate or, more importantly, disrupt, the sharks will come. In fact, they tend to eat young companies wholly or blackball them when they are not working to enrich the already rich. URL has bypassed tradition while gaining more favor with one of the music industry’s titans. Despite his critics, Drake gets respect for being a good guy that certainly could have tried his hand at a battle league like Eminem or Snoop. But no, he chooses to partner up with URL, as Smack, Beasley, and Cheeko maintain ownership.
That’s Hip-Hop. Henny for everybody.