Ultimate Rap League’s Troy ‘Smack’ Mitchell Breaks Down the Beauty and Rebirth of Battle Rap

Depending on who you talk to, you cannot be a true fan of rap music if you don’t understand its origins. As a relative to hip hop, rap prioritizes the rawness of wordplay when coupled with the right conductor. In the same vein of the sub-genre, battle rap specifically relies on the art of delivering a fire set of bars that will hit where it hurts in order to win proper bragging rights.

In this spirit, Ultimate Rap League (URL) was birthed to not only provide a valid space for battle rappers to be given visibility and compensated for their artistry, but it has also breathed new life into this once dormant art form. Over the past 14 years, URL has established a loyal base of battle rappers and admirers alike to bond over a shared love of the genre as sport.

Troy “Smack” Mitchell—URL’s dedicated founder—talked about the resurgence of battle rap and the excitement erupting over Ultimate Rap League’s Summer Madness 13 competition happening this month.

EBONY: How did Rap and Hip Hop find its way to you?

Troy “Smack” Mitchell: When I was growing up as a kid, I was a super-duper hip hop fan. I had older brothers, so they were responsible for introducing hip hop to me when I was very young. I was six or seven years old, listening to the Beastie Boys, Run DMC, LL COOL J, Kurtis Blow and KRS One. On the weekends, we would spend the nights recording the tapes and music on the radio to play it back all week. I’m from that era. That’s how far I go back with recognizing all the love that I had for hip hop.

What is unique about the energy of battle rap that is different from every other sub-genre of hip hop?

The energy of battle rap speaks to lyricism. Back when hip hop started, dudes were going to the park or going to parties to see who could rock the crowd the most. As time passed and hip hop started to elevate, we lost the emphasis on lyricism.

But additionally, what makes battle rap unique is that it is competition based. When we started the Ultimate Rap League (URL) in 2009, the mission was to create the first sport form of hip hop entertainment. This was an art form that people used to just do for a hobby. Folks never used to get paid to battle rap, and it wasn’t even cool to do at one point. Battle rap was actually dead. I feel like I’m the person responsible for reviving interest in battle rap as we know it today—a cappella, no beat and just battling with lyricism. With URL, we wanted to focus on the penmanship, the craft of how people are putting the material and the words together. That’s what my team and I focus on and that’s what we represent. We took on the charge of bringing the notoriety and the respect that I feel like this art form deserved to have.

Battle rap is also a performance. You’ve got to give these artists extra special appreciation for their being able to execute the material that they put together in front of thousands of people. That’s another that’s a skill set inside itself to remember and recite your own material in front of a crowd without messing up. You must be so in sync with the crowd that when you hit a punch line, everybody goes crazy.

In your opinion, what makes a formidable battle rapper?

First and foremost, you got to be original. There are so many battle rappers now because the industry of battle rap has grown tremendously since the inception of the URL. Voice projection and being a crafty writer is also key. You have to make people interested in what you’re saying with urgency. These dudes are doing homework and research on their opponent. They are researchers because they are trying to verbally annihilate their opponent in front of millions of people in the world. It takes a certain skill set to be a battle rapper, and that’s one of the things that I feel like is most important to know. Some of the best lyricist or songwriters in the game right now can’t do what these guys are doing. The culture itself will crucify you for recycling bars or stealing somebody else’s material. That’s not accepted in this culture of battle so these rappers need to be praised and recognized for it.

How is Summer Madness 13 bringing the heat this time around? What can fans of the battle rap culture look forward to witnessing?

It’s going down August 27 in Houston, Texas and we’re so pumped for it. This year, we’re focused on providing opportunity to the artists that were most consistent. This year, we have some long awaited grudge matches that just never happened and are finally coming into fruition. The fans are going to have a chance to finally see necessary conversations had between notable battle rappers like DNA and Jeremy Wess for example. Every battle is very competitive, and it’s going to be a really exciting event. For each Summer Madness, people think that we just prioritize high profile names, but I’m looking for quality. I’m looking for good content, and that was the thought process behind putting together the Summer Madness 13 card this year.

Tune in and stream Summer Madness 13 live on URL’s Caffeine page via www.caffeine.tv/urltv/profile on Sunday, August 27th.

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Updated: August 21, 2023 — 3:01 pm