An online battle rap community has been growing by the millions since the pandemic hit. Drake made a special appearance at the latest event and gave a $150,000 prize, drawing excitement and more fans.
The Ultimate Rap League, or URL, is an online battle rap channel hosted by streaming service Caffeine. Viewers go to Caffeine and then have the option of watching live URL content and sharing live reactions during battles.
Since URL’s February 2020 launch on Caffeine, nearly nine million viewers have tuned in. Almost a year and a half later, URL is gaining momentum with the size of its fan community, the prestige of its supporters and the artistry of its MCs and battle rappers.
NOME XI, otherwise known as The Night Of Main Events, is one of URL’s most highly anticipated events. The live show aired mid-June, garnered hundreds of thousands of online viewers and featured an in-person crowd too.
Drake made a guest appearance at NOME XI, which was his first official appearance on Caffeine although not his first time at a URL event.
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“I’ve been emotionally invested in this for a long time,” Drake said at NOME XI. “I just think the world needs to see all of these individuals. Obviously, I do a different version of this [rap], but I idolize a lot of these guys. And they inspire a lot of things that I do, decisions I make.”
“Watching all these insane conflicts and schemes and all these things… it’s obvious that we study what these guys do,” Drake said, talking about the relationship between popular rap and battle rap. “Everything in the rap space is competitive. This [battle rap] is the truest form of that.”
Prize money for URL’s Ultimate Madness competition was set at $100,000. Then, Drake pulled stacks of cash out of his pockets and raised the stakes to $150,000.
The streaming platform Caffeine launched November 2019, shortly before adding URL to its offerings. Since URL’s launch on the platform, nearly nine million viewers have tuned in for various events and streams. Caffeine’s chief content officer Tori Socha attributes to interactivity.
“It’s one thing if you watch clips on VOD (video-on-demand platform) after the fact. It’s another entirely new experience for fans to interact and engage in real time,” Socha said. “When you’re watching a battle rap event, at home, you can vote on who you thought won each round. You have a direct say in how you thought the battles went.”
This means viewers influence the content in real time, which may be why the average watch time is relatively high: 90 minutes. NOME XI’s average watch time, however, was 160 minutes.
Before URL was on Caffeine, it was pay-per-view and had a much smaller audience. Now, events are online, free and produced by Caffeine—even during the pandemic. Because of these broken down barriers and an interactive platform, viewership is booming.
Since May 2020, for example, unique viewers have increased by more than 518%.
“Our team envisions URL becoming a household name like the UFC or WWE,” URL co-founder Eric Beasely said in an email. “The same way that Dana White or Vince McMahon catapulted their sports brands and athletes into the mainstream, is the same way we want our brand and lyrical athletes to be recognized.”
Beasely also said the URL team is looking into starting a foundation to give back to the communities where many battlers and owners come from.
“The future of battle rap as a whole is bright, provided everyone stays focused on the art and does not abandon the foundations of it at the first source of success. URL has always focused on being great, legendary, iconic,” Beasely said.
Season two of URL is confirmed. In the meantime, Caffeine is planning on launching additional content related to sneakers and street dance.