In a dispute reminiscent of NBA players demanding trades in their 2nd contract or the fight for certain artists to buy their masters and publishing from their record label, here we are in 2023 having our battle rap equivalent to that with Eazy The Block Captain vs URL. The biggest star URL has been “created” in years and by far the most successful name since URL’s transition to the app. All of the biggest talking points in battle rap content creation and just general discussion all stem from this. The app vs YouTube & battle rap contracts discussions, are both byproducts of Eazy’s departure from URL.
But in several ways, this story is more than that. It’s about independence and doing what’s best for your brand. It’s about the chokehold URL has had on battle rap for the last 5 years, with no strong competition, and how that affects things. This even has roots in the nature of capitalism, arguing what’s more important: the corporation/brand that the figureheads built into an empire or the people on the ground doing the labor. It’s nuanced and complicated, by the end of the article some might leave still not knowing how they feel.
From the start though, I want to make something clear. As Quentin Moody, the sole writer of this article, I have no relationship with URL or Eazy The Block Captain. As will be seen in the piece, however, I did interview Eazy leading up to this. But I say all of this to say there is no bias here or desire to skew anyone’s perception of either party.
The Start Of An Empire
URL didn’t always dominate the battle rap industry the way that it does now. Honestly, you could argue that at points in time during the past decade, they were neck and neck with King of the Dot. But as URL started to run more and more events, leaving their home base of New York and taking URL all across the country, we saw the number of events per year from KOTD slowly decrease. And while URL deserves all the credit in the world for expanding its reach and taking the steps necessary to become the undisputed number one, a single entity having such control over the market has never been a good thing in comparable mediums of entertainment like professional wrestling and mixed martial arts. Both are places where battle rap has taken a ton of inspiration in terms of adopting the promo style and playing up characters, but also in how they conduct business.
UFC’s road to becoming the cultural juggernaut it is today didn’t just happen because of society’s acceptance of the genre and no longer being dismissed as barbaric like it was described in the 90’s. A significant moment in UFC’s dominance and the start of them having full control over the industry is the downfall and buyout of the Japanese MMA promotion PRIDE. Even if you’re a casual fan of MMA or not a fan at all, if I said names like Anderson Silva or Rampage Jackson, they might ring some bells. Other names like Lyoto Machida, Wanderlei Silva, Shogun Rua might as well. All of these people were talented and fought in PRIDE. The highest-attended event in MMA history also belongs to PRIDE. That’s the massive footprint PRIDE left on the industry. Once PRIDE started to crumble and was bought out by the UFC/Zuffa, other dominoes started to fall. Companies like WEC, Strikeforce, and several others would also be bought by Zuffa. It got to the point where there was a lawsuit and trial that went on for 4 years with the plaintiffs accusing UFC of monopoly-like practices. And when you see the pattern of buying out other leagues and even paying PRIDE’s former figurehead to take a 7-year non-compete clause, it’s hard to say there wasn’t truth to these feelings.
WWE’s rise to prominence is based on similar predatory maneuvers. In the 1980s, wrestling was still in its regional stages, WWE started poaching talent from across the country in its race for national syndication. All the names of that boom period of WWE, all came from somewhere else (Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, etc). As WWE exploded nationally and became a phenomenon in America, the regional era of wrestling and those companies died. Years later, the power struggle in the 1990s between WWE and rival company WCW crescendoed with the extremely publicized “Monday Night Wars” in the later years of the decade. It culminated with WWE buying WCW in 2001. In that same year, WWE also purchased the revolutionary and innovative ECW. In one year, the two biggest wrestling alternatives were gone and almost immediately the ramifications were felt. Nearly 20 years passed before All Elite Wrestling came into the picture and put some pressure on WWE. But in the time between that, WWE did what it could to snuff out other companies or scenes getting momentum like taking talent from New Japan Pro Wrestling and successfully killing the independent scenes in America and Europe by going on talent signing sprees and leaving independent wrestling barren in the 2010s.
One of the heads of URL, Eric Beasley, has gone on a media run recently. And one of the things he said that stood out to me was saying how URL has never blocked battles and that they’re enforcing contracts is not the same thing as a battle being blocked. And while there may be merit to that statement, that doesn’t answer other situations like allegedly blocking Hitman Holla vs Shotgun Suge from happening on Guerrilla Warfare where there’s no mention of a contract being the reason why URL stepped in. Or Hollow Da Don, Murda Mook, and Cassidy all saying that URL paid to keep them from battling on RBE. Does this necessarily make URL predatory or guilty of monopoly-like practices as WWE or UFC? Probably not. Even if Hollow and Cassidy are right and URL did that, the onus goes on them for accepting the money even though they entered agreements with RBE. But the reality is, only a league with complete control over the market can do that and if URL did that, that was them flexing their muscles and doing something none of their competitors could do and doing so for little to no reason frankly.
What URL, UFC, and WWE all have in common at this stage is that they’re the biggest games in town. That means if you’re a person who has ambitions of being at the top of any of these three fields, more than likely your goal is to make it to these platforms. Because of that, these three places all have their picks of choosing from the best talent in the world. 9/10 times a battler would choose doing a PG or Crucible tryout over a 1SK or GZ. And that’s not to diminish either 1SKs or GZs. The point is how much more work and in-depth scouting has to be done, when most upcoming star talent is already on URL’s radar or already under contract. And because of that, if there’s a battler who’s done enough to make it on URL, they’ve swam shark infested waters to get to where they got. It is true what they say on all their branding or what a vocal face of the brand like Tsu Surf says, URL is the NBA of battle rap. That brings us to the man causing all of this commotion: Eazy The Block Captain
The Chicken Or The Egg?
Eazy The Block Captain wasn’t one of the biggest names in his class. To be honest, a lot of people viewed him as a potential first-round exit in the first Ultimate Madness tournament. Don Marino is a name that’s easy for people to look over now, but at the time of UM1, he was one of the favorites in the tournament. In his Face-off against Fonz in the 2nd round, Eazy tells Fonz “You the favorite for some reason, and you see what I do to favorites.”
Eazy’s success hinged on him taking advantage of every opportunity. Yeah, the platform was big. Being part of the first Caffeine streams and carrying URL through the heights of COVID, but Eazy was probably the least-known name of the field and what he was known for was a controversial battle vs Nu Jerzey Twork, where the outside of the ring allegations overtook the material in the battle. Every bit of respect Eazy got on the brand in 2020 came as an underdog. He shocked the world with his win over Don Marino and became a cult favorite after his stellar battle with Fonz. Re-telling the whole Eazy run after that isn’t necessary. We all know how the story goes and that he winds up becoming not just the biggest star of his class, but one of the biggest names in battle rap period.
“The league is like the NBA. Playing in the NBA gives you the significance of something, but if you’re not a starting 5 player, then you’re on the bench. Who’s the 11th man on the Sixers? Yes he plays in the NBA but if you weren’t high scoring, defending or with high assists you’re not playing. I don’t care what platform you’re on, you’re not playing. People gotta understand that if I go out there and instead of 12-0 I’m 0-12. we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Eazy TBC could have been Glueazy” – Eazy The Block Captain
But who plays more of a role in that success: the artist or the brand that gave the artist a platform? It’s a conversation you’ll hear often when there are talks of musicians wanting out of their deals, wanting to rework contracts, or having the desire to own their publishing and masters. In recent memory, the Mase vs Diddy and Lil Wayne vs Birdman disputes come to mind. At the root of it all though, the point of contention remained: who mattered more? The fact that Birdman and Slim created a record label that gave a 9-year-old Lil Wayne a chance to leave New Orleans before other temptations got a hold on him and it was too late? Or that Lil Wayne put in over a decade of work, dominating the late 90s with the Hot Boys and still waving the Cash Money flag with pride after the group fell apart and eventually becoming one of the biggest rappers of all time?
And this specific idea of the “worker” vs corporate extends far beyond battle rap or music. It’s a question that matters when talking about general life in the workforce. Jeff Bezos gets to become the richest man in the world for coming up with the idea and concept of Amazon, but has done none of the physical labor in warehouses and driving trucks that have made the operations work for the last 20+ years. Meanwhile, the people doing that labor don’t see nearly the same share of revenue that Bezos or the other people working in corporate see. One can’t exist without the other.
Maybe this piece is getting a little too lost in the weeds, talking about the nature of exploiting labor in capitalism and correlating it to Eazy vs URL. But it all gets to the same core point of what is more important when a brand or performer reaches high levels of recognition: the platform or the artist? And in reality, the answer should be neither. Both sides need each other to succeed, but when that relationship gets fractured, that’s when you see things like what’s playing out right now.
Danny Myers, T-Top, T-Rex, Chess, K-Shine, Aye Verb, Calicoe, Big T.
All legends within the culture and one by one, they either lost to Eazy or couldn’t clearly beat him. With impactful rounds, memorable bars, and lines, one of the best rap battles of all time, and the clear wins to match, Eazy’s run is straight-up undeniable. And that’s only talking about inside the ring. Ever since returning home from his last stint in jail, Eazy did the work outside of the ring too to boost his profile. Doing streams and his Bar 4 Bar reviews before the success even came. Taking advantage of his faceoffs in UM1 just as much as he took advantage of the actual battles. Releasing Top Tier and having the battle rap world making their own diss songs left and right. He realized to become what he wanted to be, he had to do more than just rap well.
Hollywood came calling after the T-Rex battle and Eazy received a role in Bel-Air, playing the role of Rashad, the impetus for Will Smith’s move from Philadelphia to Bel-Air. The battle world went into a frenzy upon seeing Eazy in the trailer for the Peacock original. As much as it was a win for Eazy, it was a win for battle rap as a whole. But for as surreal and fulfilling a moment as that was, it’s a pivotal point in where Eazy and their relationship started to see bumps in the road.
In the time leading up to the debut of Peacock, Eazy The Block Captain says he went to URL and wanted to get the Chess battle dropped on YouTube as a way of getting people who might be hearing about him for the first time some of his recent work to watch.
Eazy The Block Captain is a student of the game. In order to be as successful as he has been, on some level you have to be. So when asked in our interview if he ever saw himself having to cross this bridge with URL, he said “I’m highly respectful and honorable first, I went to them and asked them for these things that would increase Eazy the Block Captain’s brand and they denied it and fought some of it” and that he’s always had contingency plans in place.
Eazy isn’t the first battler who’s opted to leave the URL and strike it out on his own to prove his worth. JC, Rosenberg Raw, Bigg K, Chef Trez, Snake Eyez, and Ill Will are all names who come to mind as people who were on URL and found their own paths to success and stardom. Eazy is by far the person with the biggest name and following at the time of leaving the brand though and the biggest difference probably is the fact that fans have him winning all of his battles.
Youtube & The App
The YouTube vs URL app debate has existed ever since the app debuted back in 2019. There was a time when vets and top tiers were calling newer battlers “app babies” as a derogatory remark and using it to discredit them. Newer talent who debuted on the platform in recent years clamored for YouTube drops and felt like if they had those battles uploaded on URL’s channel that their careers would have had different trajectories. And there are understandable cases for both sides of this, as an entertainer and as the league. With YouTube’s recent crackdowns on profanity and censorship and making stricter monetization policies, as a company, the move to your own app to house your content makes more than enough sense. The world was changing. The hub where battle rap had lived in the internet era was becoming less profitable and expenses needed to be recouped. As a company, the move was 100% objectively the correct thing to do.
Furthermore, it’s not like the app has failed at making new stars. Despite what criticisms one may want to make, the fact remains that the hottest new names in battle rap are all coming from URL and by proxy are products of the app. And it’s not just Eazy, it’s Fonz and Real Sikh who made Summer Madness and NOME appearances respectively last year. Swamp lived up to his potential and was on every big stage event of 2022. Jey The Nitewing has had his share of ups and downs during his career but he remains one of the most dominant people on the app in terms of his win-loss total. Even if all these people didn’t pan out as URL would have hoped, in cases like Sheed Happens, Kyd Slade, Saflare Sole, and Footz where it’s maybe too soon to say, those guys are still bigger names than whatever names that aren’t on URL that have come around in the last 4 years.
From the artist side, however, YouTube reaches a far more vast potential audience than the URL app could ever reach. The URL app has done great and has its fair share of subscribers, but YouTube is one of the biggest websites in the world that we’ve ever seen. EVERYONE uses YouTube, a large part of that being that it’s free. The URL app is a great deal at $8 a month, but not everyone who’s a subscriber to the URL YouTube channel is necessarily converting to being an app subscriber. A battle dropping on a channel with 1.45 million subscribers is a life-changing opportunity and level of exposure, and that’s not even factoring in a battle potentially trending or popping up in a person’s algorithm. The possibilities on a site like YouTube and what it can do for someone are endless.
YouTube views are also something that is widely accepted as an indicator of some sort of demand or popularity. Eazy has been very candid in speaking on how he would go into meetings and negotiations and despite having all these staggering statistics to show how popular he was on the URL app, it wasn’t as tangible or well received as it’d be if those battles had been on YouTube. It is worth mentioning though that other than his Danny Myers battle, all the battles of Eazy’s run have also aired live on Caffeine. That’s a privilege that none of his contemporaries can say they’ve gotten. Even adding in Caffeine viewership with this app conversation, the opportunity for new eyes isn’t the same as it is with YouTube.
The goals of the platform and the artist didn’t match, so when Eazy is offered the Hitman Holla battle on Chrome 23 collecting the biggest payday he’s seen and a chance to battle may be the most famous battler in the world with the battle-dropping on YouTube to boot, it’s hard to say no to that. And it’s even easier to say no when the artist feels like the brand doesn’t have his best interests in mind.
“I’m the artist. I have to be happy. In order for me to continue to perform at a high level I have to be happy. I’m not gonna perform for a person I don’t want to perform for. In business, it needs to be a 50/50 and I felt like I was getting zero”- Eazy
In the news of the Hitman Holla and Eazy battle being announced, soon after you saw tweets from both battlers alluding to attempts to “block” the battle. Despite all of that, the main event of Chrome 23’s anniversary card still took place and was a massive success for the league and for Eazy. But the question still remains, could all of this have been avoided?
Speaking for myself here, while I stated earlier I completely understand URL’s desire to switch to a subscription-based model, how protective they’ve been of app content can be rightfully criticized. There is value in the intellectual property of a rap battle. It’s something that can get replayed and watched over and over to analyze and find new things to enjoy. But after the initial demand and wave of excitement of something happening at the moment, in the weeks and months that follow, the value starts to decrease. And that applies to any and everything. In a fast-moving society where we’re on to the next topic in less than 24 hours, these things just happen.
There’s no harm being done to the value of the app to release several months-old battles on YouTube after the app received all of the first waves of traffic and attention. More so, there are plenty of reasons to use YouTube as a promotional tool or as a reward for people who had exemplary performances. In the UFC there is a submission of the night, Knock Out of the night, and Fight of Night bonuses. In the NBA there are pay incentives in contracts based on statistical requirements being met. During Beasley’s interview with Jay Blac, he mentions how with some YouTube drops in the app era they were met with complaints of “why did we have to pay for this battle when YouTube got it for free?” and citing that as a reason for why battles aren’t getting dropped.
I’m not doubting that some consumers have said that, but to be honest, it’s a very flimsy line of reasoning and a vocal minority complaining about a minuscule thing shouldn’t take precedence over the relationship with the battlers. Even if the company doesn’t want to release the whole battle, releasing a round is more than enough to at least show the battler that they’re appreciated or that you’re listening to them. It’s how humans work, we respond positively to feeling like our work is not going unnoticed. And when you have a battler like Eazy who’s having unprecedented dominance on the app and also has the only platinum battle to date on the URL app, a gesture like uploading a battle of his on YouTube goes a long way and maybe it doesn’t entirely stop him from wanting out of his contract, but at least generates goodwill that wasn’t had before.
On the topic of contract, it may be worth noting that longtime rival of Eazy, Nu Jerzey Twork, alluded to Eazy’s URL deal being for 5 years and Eazy states in his interview with QueenzFlip, stating he had “2 years left on his deal”. And if that is true and Eazy violated whatever clause lets URL have input on his off-league battles, then they’re within their contractual right to take action. The bottom line, they just are. Whether you think it’s right or wack, URL gets given that power when that contract is signed and they are well in their rights to protect their investment. Eazy also says during the previously mentioned QueenzFlip interview that he accepted the battle without telling URL and that may be the biggest indictment of Eazy of all if there is one. Even though Eazy and URL had these previous conversations and negotiations that hadn’t gone well, it would have been the right thing to do to let them know, at least so Eazy had all of his bases covered.
They are the place that put Eazy in front of the world and lined him up with every battle he wanted. From Eazy’s perspective though in speaking with him he saw how URL has done things with the likes of Murda Mook, Cassidy, and Hollow Da Don and public beefs with other talents. He felt as if that could happen to them then it could absolutely happen to him. In a sense, maybe Eazy’s thinking was striking first against them before they ever had a chance to retaliate given URL’s history. I don’t blame anyone who hears that Eazy didn’t talk to URL prior and thinks he’s at fault there though. The point remains though that if URL had done a better job in listening to their newest star, there’s a chance things never even get to where they are now. A classic tale of two things that can be true at once.
It’s been a month now since the Chrome 23 event with Eazy The Block Captain vs Hitman Holla. Since then we’ve seen plenty of videos made and interviews done about Eazy’s departure from URL. The battle is currently at 1.8 million views on YouTube after only 3 weeks of being uploaded.
The deed is done and the dust maybe isn’t settled, but is starting to dissipate. On Eazy’s side, the gamble is proving to be worth it already. He got a clear win against a legend, he got to capitalize off Hitman’s name value and take some of his fans, and he also got to prove how much Eazy’s name is worth. In speaking with Eazy, he expressed how he felt like the battle was a step in getting his brand the credit that it deserves and that the fallout of the battle with all these blogs and videos with Eazy’s name in the title is proof of his value. And it’s hard to argue against any of that.
One of the conversations coming out of all of this was, what does this mean for other battlers? Was there a chance for Eazy to cause an uprising of sorts among URL-signed talent. In Eazy’s eyes though, he feels like only superstar-level talent can do what he’s doing right now and the buzz for his departure is building. He’s probably right in that. No individual battler on URL who hasn’t already been on other leagues, would cause the commotion Eazy did. Collectively though, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that if enough people of name-value left and wanted to take their careers into their own hands we could see a similar effect. And the effect it would have on battle rap as a whole could be a massive tipping point in balancing the ecosystem of battle rap again. Intentionally or not, Eazy might be ushering in a new era of battle rapper empowerment.
For URL though, 3 years of work is suddenly up in smoke. The gradual build of Eazy to be the new torch carrier was successful, but now that he’s gone, the fruits of that development are something they won’t profit from for the foreseeable future. Eazy was the first star of the app era and there isn’t anyone on the horizon who even comes close. When you factor in things like Tsu Surf still fighting his case so he’s not available to carry the brand and sell tickets, Tay Roc is 50 battles in, Geechi Gotti has battled basically every big name there is to battle, Eazy was going to be heavily relied on in 2023 to provide interesting and fresh matchups on URL if things didn’t go the way they did. This undoubtedly will have major ramifications for the company and how they book events for the rest of 2023 will be interesting to follow.
Ultimately, Eazy The Block Captain vs URL is a story that not only possibly isn’t finished, but hopefully serves as a lesson and a reminder. A reminder that the morale and feelings of the battlers matter. That openness and compromise is what’s key to making any business transaction fruitful. That even in adjusting to changing times, as much attention gets paid on the new ways to make money needs to be spent on caring to understanding how your contracted talent feels. This YouTube dialogue isn’t new and will only be more present as time goes on now. During this fallout, URL dropped the first round of Danny Myers vs Charlie Clips from Redemption 2 on YouTube.
It’s funny timing all things considered, but nonetheless a step in the right direction and maybe a sign of changing times. The app and YouTube don’t have to cannibalize each other. There’s a happy medium somewhere in there and even though it’s accompanied by unfortunate circumstances in Eazy’s departure, maybe this is getting us one step closer to finding out what that medium is. For the good of the leagues and the battlers.