Back in May of this year, Alchemy Networks, a digital network that produces urban lifestyle and celebrity entertainment with a focus on music, storytelling and urban stage plays, announced the launch of the Rap Battle Network. RBN will be one of YouTube’s first paid channels, providing a destination for hip-hop fans with an affinity for rap battles to watch their favorite artists engage in a lyrical fight of the fittest. With the world of battle rap growing to its current stature—there are currently leagues and competitions all around the world, from Philippines to the Caribbean—RBN will give viewers a unique look into the underground urban subculture. Simply put, their goal is to give subscribers not only an exclusive view of up-and-coming artists’ journeys to becoming the next big rap star but also provide them with a platform to expose the battle scene on a larger scale. To talk about the future of RBN, XXL got on the phone with Anthony Maddox, Head of Development at Alchemy Networks and Poison Pen and Math Hoffa, two well-known battle rappers, to discuss the future of RBN, how this idea came to fruition and what benefits an artist has with RBN. —Emmanuel C.M.(ECM_LP)
XXL: First I want to ask you about the background of Alchemy Networks. How did it start?
Anthony Maddox: We started about a year and a half ago, as part of YouTube’s Premium Channels, when they launched the 99 channels. We had two channels that focused specifically on the millennials; we then further branched out into ‘Rap Battle’ when we started to aggregate rap battle networks, which led, eventually, up until September of this year, when we actually launched a rap battle network under the subscriptions service with YouTube.
Why did Alchemy Networks get interested in Rap Battle?
A: I was speaking at a conference in New Jersey a while back, I think 6 months to a year ago, and one of my friends, who actually put the conference together, had a video of a rap battle, and I saw it and saw an opportunity in the space. It was a niche where there was a void there, and we saw an opportunity to create and build on that platform. Rap Battle, to me, is where UFC or WWE was 10 years ago. It’s a void in that space, and I think that there’s room for growth and taking it off platform, off of YouTube and putting it on television, taking it to bigger arenas. We’re looking at it as a real viable business, just off of the digital footprint of music. When I met with him, he had shown me a battle that happened, with this league called UWN in New Jersey. And then we actually had invested some capital into their second battle, which also happened to be with Math Hoffa. So it worked out, where we’ve done a lot of battles across the country, from Jersey with the second one we just launched, to Los Angeles.
With your background in digital technology, where do you see this going?
A: I think that initially, it wasn’t as sponsor-friendly as it was before; I think that the content now, and the MCs as well, are more conscious of the platforms that they’re on. I think that the platform is catching on. There are sponsors that would resonate with those types of brands. I mean you have liquor sponsors, you have audio sponsors, whether it’s headphones, you have liquid sponsors like Red Bull or Sprite and Mountain Dew, you have clothing sponsors. Our audience is 80 percent male, and their age range is 18-34. That’s the sweet spot. And that’s a coveted spot because that’s the millennials, and that’s the highest concentration of market penetration where advertisers want to hit. And Rap Battle specifically has the highest level of engagement, particularly on YouTube, where you have people watching videos all the way through. So it’s the high engagement, there’s interest in these MCs, interest in the platforms, so it has the perfect background for advertisers.
Math, from a rapper’s standpoint, what are your thoughts on this? Is this something you think will be beneficial and take battle rapping to the next level?
Math Hoffa: I did booking through these performances, and the leads that put them together. They are dedicated to pushing this closer to the next level, ’cause they all see the future in it; they all see the possibility of this thing growing to a bigger magnitude. You look at some of these battles and they get about a million views within a week and a half. I think what Alchemy is doing is going to push it to another level. I think with the all the battle rapping going on, everybody is getting involved, these are popping up all over the world in places like Australia, Germany, leagues in London, leagues all over the place. There’s a league in Trinidad right now. That’s wild. People battling in flip flops now—it’s crazy. [Laughs]
Do you see there eventually being a Super Bowl of battle rap?
M: Like a ‘battle royale’ at the end of the year? I see it going that way right now, it’s just a matter of branding a time of the year or setting a marker, because there are some leagues that have team battles or certain events that occur every year. They have a World Domination, they have this thing that they do in the summertime where they have battlers from all over the world come battle. Then in the Philippines, they have battlers from the States, they’ll battle dudes from out there and they have like 9,000 people in the audience, and their battles draw over a million views, easy. There’s a story to every battler, and when you battle it’s put out there; depending on how resourceful your opponent is, you know more of your life, more of your background is gonna be put out there, so it’s kinda like a soap opera.