Troy “Smack” Mitchell has dedicated his entire life to keeping hip-hop alive. He recalls being introduced to the genre as a kid following in the footsteps of his older brothers. The sleek rhymes and boom-bap production style of the late ‘80s drew him in, and in that major turning point in his adolescence, Troy started to marvel at what was happening around him. The golden age of hip-hop birthed a cultural movement that introduced a new way of thinking, a new tool of expression for the youth in underserved communities. As the genre started to take form, pioneering acts like Run DMC, The Fat Boys, Curtis Blow, KRS One, Scott La Rock, Beastie Boys, and others influenced Troy’s taste in music. But the people in his “Shadyville” community are what motivated him the most.
“There are a lot of hip-hop entrepreneurs that I grew up watching,” he shares. “To name a few, I got Sha Money XL, DJ Clue, and DJ Envy. Me and Envy were basically in the same class for the first six years of school. From first to sixth grade.” Troy was inspired by his peers and their accomplishments and instantly became determined to have his own. From there, he masterminded a plan to turn his passion into profit, but he didn’t have a clue on how he would connect the dots. He would soon realize that what he needed most (outside of DJ Clue’s rolodex of store connections) lies within innovation. “I would sit back in the crib, listening to their mixtapes and think, ‘Damn, you know what would be dope… if I could see Jadakiss on his block – laying down what he was spittin’ on a Clue tape.’ And I took it up a notch. I wanna be there while they’re making the songs that we’re listening to.”
Troy wasn’t set on reinventing the wheel, he was determined to take it to the next level. This sparked an idea that would single-handedly lead to a paradigm shift in the underground hip-hop scene of the early 2000s: the SMACK DVD. But more importantly, this is when Troy started to become “Smack” – the original content creator. The SMACK (Streets Music Art Culture and Knowledge) DVD is a hallmark in hip-hop culture and the rawness of its classic rap battles have captivated fans around the world. Every ghetto, brick and ‘burb has acknowledged SMACK as the go-to source for battles, beef and exclusive content. Smack had unprecedented access to some of the hottest artists in the game and his cutting-edge shooting style changed the world’s perception of hip-hop as a lifestyle.
It didn’t take Smack long to turn a profit. In fact, he was out of the red by his second DVD and it was off to the races after that. “SMACK DVD was known as the bible of the streets when it came to hip-hop culture,” he avows. However, the amount of time it took to piece together one SMACK DVD, which is an estimated three months alone for filming the content, posed a threat to Smack’s business model. As a one-man band he was tasked with orchestrating projects from start to finish. Taking on all of the responsibilities took a toll on Smack, and in return this had an adverse impact on his turnaround time. And to make matters worse, the internet happened, and everything Smack thought he knew went out the window.
With a digital renaissance underway, Smack had to make changes in order to adapt with the times and keep his business afloat. Taking a page from Worldstar’s blueprint, he started uploading his content online except he scaled back on how much access he was giving fans. Instead of spending countless hours tracking down artists and traveling around the world to capture rare moments in hip-hop, he started creating them. With a singular focus on maximizing content performance, Smack took the best part of his acclaimed DVD series (it’s historic rap battles) and uploaded it to YouTube, introducing what would later become the Ultimate Rap League (URL).
Over the years, Smack’s brainchild has blossomed into the marquee event in the battle rap community, and its annual showcase, Summer Madness, is their version of the Super Bowl. Since 2011, the event has skyrocketed in viewership, with last year’s spectacle on Caffeine – an independent live streaming platform – attracting over 2 million viewers. Needless to say, Summer Madness has grown into a cultural phenomenon amongst battle rap enthusiasts of every color and credence. And with the URL’s long-awaited Summer Madness XIII (SM13) face-off taking place this Sunday (Aug 27) in Houston, Troy “Smack” Mitchell has his mind set on accomplishing one thing: giving an opportunity to “the most hungriest artists.”
The electrifying showdown will be broadcast live exclusively on Caffeine, via the URL channel. Full replays of Summer Madness XIII will be exclusively available for streaming on The Ultimate Rap League’s App. Prepared to go to war are the following matchups: Tay Roc vs. Ave, T-Top vs. John John Da Don, DNA vs. Jerry Wess, Fonz vs. Shotgun Suge, and Nu Jerzey Twork vs. Hollow Da Don.
Ahead of the madness this weekend, Dirty Glove Bastard caught up with the Shadyville savant to talk about battle rap’s role in the evolution of hip-hop, the SMACK DVD era, creating the Ultimate Rap League, not getting the credit he rightfully deserves, SM13, and more.
URLTV SUMMER MADNESS COMING AUG 27TH
DGB: Talk to me about the first time you were introduced to hip-hop.
Smack: Ah man, that goes all the way back to the late ‘80s. Growing up as a kid in Brooklyn, New York, I was raised in Queens, and I was just a fan of the culture – a fan of hip-hop music: Fat Boys, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, UTFO, Curtis Blow, KRS One, Scott LaRock. I naturally gravitated towards the artform of rapping. The beats basically drew me in. I got older brothers that were hip-hop fans too, and by following in their footsteps, they had me listening to the early pioneers of hip-hop as a young boy. It was just always in me. When I got of age, I just wanted to apply my contributions to the culture of hip-hop.
DGB: Is this around the time that you start vlogging rappers and rolling out your Smack DVD series?
Smack: Yeah, absolutely. Even before that, in high school, we used to setup battles in the lunchroom. I don’t care what class you had on your program card, you need to be in the lunchroom ‘cause this person and that person are going at it. I was right in the middle of setting up and having bets on everybody. After that, when technology caught up with the time, I wanted to continue doing what I did in high school so I created the Smack DVD. I just had a vision of creating a video mixtape. I grew up in Shadyville, Queens – from my neighborhood, there are a lot of hip-hop entrepreneurs that I grew up watching.
To name a few, I got Sha Money XL, DJ Clue, DJ Envy – me and Envy were basically in the same class for the first six years of school, from first to sixth grade. [DJ Envy] is one of my biggest motivators because all of his accomplishments make me more hungry and make me feel like I can’t get left behind [laughs]. [DJ] Clue was one of them people who taught me how to hustle. Looking at what he did with the mixtapes and how he distributed them around the world while being independent. I seen it firsthand. He even gave me a store list for what I was doing. In this culture, a lot of people don’t got originality. In my neighborhood, everybody was running through the same three doors: either you was a DJ, you was a rapper, or you did beats. Those three doors, everybody flooded it. Me, I went through the side door.
DGB: What was your defining moment as an entrepreneur? Can you recall a specific moment when things started to change for you?
Smack: Just seeing the success that DJ Clue, Envy, and Steve Stoute had – that’s another mogul that’s from my neighborhood. Seeing the success that they had made me believe in myself. And us all going to the same school… Clue didn’t go to the same school as us but Steve Stoute, Sha Money XL, and DJ Whookid all went to the same school as me.
I fell in love with the culture when I was a young boy. Seeing ‘em pull up in big body benz’s, and they gettin’ this shit from hustling their product that they created. And I feel like I was realer than all of ‘em to keep it real with you. Real talk, no disrespect, I love ‘em to death but it is what it is. I just felt that I could take shit and make my own presence felt in this culture by not doing what everyone else is doing. Bringing my own style to the culture and being original. I felt like I could make a statement and that’s always what I strived to do.
I never followed nobody’s wave. When I used to listen to [DJ] Clue’s tapes, he was the number one (and I might be a little biased because him and Envy are from my neighborhood, so I ride), but they became worldwide and famous from creating mixtapes. I would sit back in the crib, listening to their mixtapes and think, ‘Damn, you know what would be dope… if I could see Jadakiss on his block – laying down what he was spittin’ on a Clue tape.’ I took it up a notch. I wanna be there while they’re making the songs that we’re listening to.
DGB: How were you able to develop such key relationships early on in your career and get in rooms with some of the biggest artists at that time?
Smack: Just being hungry. Just wanting it, man. That desire. You gotta put your will power in anything that you do. You gotta believe in yourself. That’s one of your spiritual powers, belief. And I teach the youth, yo – you gotta tap into your spiritual powers. I call ‘em spiritual powers because you can’t go by desire, it’s in you. You just gotta learn how to tap in and bring it out. You can’t buy belief, it’s in you. You gotta meditate, get in your zone and bring it out. I knew how to tap into certain qualities that are in me. My motto is, ‘Plan B is to enforce plan A.’ That’s the mentality that I have, always, in anything that I do.
And these dudes were from my neighborhood, I know them. So, I’d lean on them. ‘Yo, what you doing?’ ‘Yo, we over here.’ ‘Oh, aight, I’m pulling up. I’m bringing my camera.’ Just capturing one piece, doing it, cutting it up, chopping it. And I’m doing this by myself. I taught myself how to edit. That’s the desire. I never went to school for none of this shit. I just had the interest. Once I saw that the times had caught up with technology, and you can actually purchase a camcorder and import all of the content you captured on your camera into a computer and make edits. That’s like a video DJ. So, I learned how to do videos: taking a track, importing a song into a computer, dropping the audio that you had on your camera and just putting the music that you imported from a CD to the footage, and then making it look like video. Now, I’m doing videos for all types of real dudes in the hood ‘cause I was in the streets and I was outside forreal. I had the opportunity to showcase a lot of real people in the country. Not just in New York… I was global. I had family all over the country. That’s why SMACK (DVD) was so dominant ‘cause I repped all the hoods in America damn near.
DGB: I think it’s so powerful how you’ve established a sense of community in these different markets. Everybody wants to be a part of something, but when you can make someone feel accepted for who they are, I think it makes a shared experience for all parties involved. And that’s the magic of the URL — building community, and going forward in that. Talk to me about that transition from the SMACK DVD era to the URL. What was that process like going from creating digital content to putting those artists in the same room?
Smack: The process was kind of hard. SMACK DVD was known as the bible of the streets when it came to hip-hop culture. I like to consider it analog [laughs]. Analog means physical copy, tangible, it was something that you had in your hand. You could put it on a disk format and actually purchase it, have it in your hand and actually play it in a DVD player and watch it. When I had to make the transition to digital, it was different because now everybody is basically getting their information and going online. So now, I had to basically create a way where I captured everything I was capturing and just put it online or create a place, which was a website, where people could come to, a destination, digitally, where people could have access to the content. It took me a minute to actually accomplish that goal – like two years. And l lost a lot of opportunities during the course of those two years. But I still did it. Just finding the programming. This was like 2005-2006.
Finding a program to build a website where you can actually host videos. Now, that sounds simple but back then it was damn near impossible because the technology wasn’t out like that. The bandwidth wasn’t available to the average person. It took me a minute to compete in that space. I think Worldstar beat me to the punch. At the end of the day, they figured it out. They came with a different style, a different format where they had a location where they could post hip-hop content, but they wasn’t out getting the content on their own time. See like me, I was flying around, camera in hand, putting that pain in – where they was basically saying ‘Forget all that – we just gon’ grab everybody’s content and put it all in one location. If it’s anything dealing with hip-hop culture that has some type of substance, we just gon’ put it on our platform. But what we gon’ do, we not gon’ sell no physical copies. We just gon’ sell real estate.’ They got millions of people coming to the site, so, that was ill. The timing was perfect and that shit took off. So I had to create something else.
At the end of every DVD, we used to end it with classic hip-hop battles. The battles was one of the most popular features on the DVD. I used to have A-Class celebrities on the cover of my DVDs – from Eminem to 50 Cent, Fat Joe, Jay (Z), Jadakiss, Kanye West, Ludacris. When I used to have these dudes on the front of the DVD, people would get the DVD and the first thing they used to do was go to the back of the DVD and watch the battles first. That was one of the popular features. And then when technology caught up with time and everything started to be accessible, artists started to become more accessible because cameras came out on cell phones. People would see artists in barbershops and run up on ‘em, take it, and post it on their website. They only care about the traffic, so it’s a different game that we’re playing now. I couldn’t compete with flyring around the world for four months to create and collect different pieces of different artists. By the time I put my DVD together, it took three months. All the content was old.
DGB: How did you adapt and find time to capture the content and get it out into the world in a timely manner, while staying true to the system that you created?
Smack: As you can see, I stopped SMACK DVD and stopped basically interviewing artists. I just focused on battle rap, because battle rap can’t be recreated. Once you shoot a battle, it’s shot, it happened, it’s done. It’s something that either you was there or you wasn’t. I had to focus on the entertainment of hip-hop which is battle rap, and I formed a league around it. Building that up, which is the URL, the Ultimate Rap League, and I started that in 2009. I built a YouTube channel with over a million subscribers over the course of 10 years. From there, I graduated from YouTube and started my own streaming platform, which is URL TV.tv app. It’s behind a paywall now: I got my own Netflix or my own Tidal or whatever you wanna call it. My own streaming company where I house my own content. I’m not really tapped in with what’s going on out there but in hip-hop, I was one of the few people that took his content off of YouTube and created another outlet where me and my brothers created our own streaming company, independently. No major backing; no underwriting; none of that. We started our own streaming platform where we produce all of the content. Our own community, our own subscriber base. We basically house battle rap content and pay a community of artists that have a certain skill set that really entertains the hip-hop community. It was a long road – we was on YouTube for a decade, from 2009 to 2018. YouTube partnerships are cool but they don’t really break bread like that. They give you pennies on the dollar. We didn’t wanna depend on another company. We wanted to roll the dice ourselves and have the control in our own hands.
DGB: What do you feel like is battle rap’s role throughout the evolution of hip-hop? The genre turns 50 this year and all I hear about is artists being celebrated for their contributions to the game. But I don’t hear much homage to battle rap as an art form, which is just as important to the culture as the artists that create the music we consume.
Smack: I feel like battle rap is definitely one of the art forms without the overall culture. We got beatboxing, breakdancing, DJing, graffiti, and battle rap has to be there. I dedicated my life to representing this art form known as battle. That was my mission. And it took off. Now, when you see all these other people or leagues coming out, companies tryna do the same thing that I’m doing, they actually helping me with my mission of creating the presence of this artform. That’s why I don’t feel like I have any competition. It’s all good. But at the end of the day, they’re still assisting me with raising awareness about battle rap. Me and my team single handedly created a new industry within hip-hop culture where people who used to do this stuff for me, battle rap, are now getting paid; traveling the world; basically doing something they love to do and feeding their families. Nobody used to get deals for battle rapping. This is something that you would do in the streets, in the barbershops, in the parks, there was no opportunity out there for battle rappers. Now, people are making a career out of battle rapping. There are people who actually feed their families off of something we started. We started something that needs to be recognized and saluted, be appreciated, be preserved, and be respected because it’s one of the last forms that truly represent real lyricism – and that’s what hip-hop is based on. And there was battle rap before Smack DVD but everything was on beat. ‘8 Mile’ style. But when it comes to acapella and round for round, we started that.
DGB: What has helped battle rap continue to grow in popularity over the years?
Smack: I just think it’s the consistency. People don’t know what they like until you show ‘em. That’s what my team has been able to do inside this culture. Being consistent over the last 13 years. With this Summer Madness that’s coming up, for those that don’t know what ‘Summer Madness’ is, it’s like the superbowl of battle rap. It’s battle rap’s biggest event. Staying consistent for the last 13-14 years is what has allowed people to learn about the culture and accept it as its own industry within hip-hop.
DGB: The URL started in 2009 but Summer Madness didn’t officially start until 2011. What happened during that two year gap?
Smack: It took me a minute to grab and get the attention of the people. It was a grind. We had to market the MCs that we had on our roster for like two years straight just so people could buy into the personalities and characters we was creating on our platform. Showing the different skill sets, showing the different styles, showing the different personalities that these dudes have. It took us a minute to gain the attention, the notoriety of the public so they could accept it and start to follow it. You know how hard it is to get somebody to press a follow button? Even though it’s there, it’s available and right there in people’s faces, it’s not easy. I feel like we convinced a lot of people that battle rap, URL TV, is real hip-hop.
DGB: How has ‘Summer Madness’ grown into becoming the marquee event of the year that everyone looks forward to? Is it the lineup or is it a combination of things?
Smack: It’s the lineup; it’s the experience. If you’ve never been to a URL event, it’s a bucket list thing to check off. You gotta have that on your bucket list because experiencing an event live is so different from watching it on TV or online. When you’re in the building and you’re hearing these dudes hitting crazy punchlines and the crowd erupts, it’s hip-hop in its purest form. The mecca of real hip-hop – hip-hop is based on competition. Hip-hop started as who had the illest beat, who could rock the mic the most; who could bring the most people out. [Battle rap] is the purest form of competition. At the end of the day, it’s a collective of different things that make it a priority to experience battle rap.
DGB: What are you most excited about with this upcoming event? It’s the thirteenth run, it’s hip-hop’s 50th birthday, and August is Black Business Month. Seems like ‘Summer Madness’ couldn’t have happened at a better time.
Smack: I put the most competitive card together. This year, I wasn’t really concerned about high-profile names. I wanted to give an opportunity to artists that were putting on; that were the most consistent; that were the most competitive during the course of the last year. 13 years straight I’ve been doing this event, so I wanted to give the opportunity to the most hungriest artists that was doing they thing the prior year to have an opportunity to be on this Summer Madness card. It’s going down, August 27th, Houston, Texas. It’s gonna be a movie. pay-per-view will be available. You can go to caffiene.com, on their website and purchase the pay-per-view. But yeah, it’s something I wanted to do differently but putting good matchups together where you don’t know who’s going to win. It could go either way. The competition and competitiveness that’s going to be on display August 27th in Houston is gonna be crazy. This one is gonna be one of them ones. I’m excited to see who’s gonna prevail at this year’s Summer Madness.