Drake's History With Battle Rap

Drake has been involved with the battle rap scene for over a decade, doing everything from co-hosting events to almost battling in 2015. Here's a history.

Drake battle rap

Image via YouTube/Ultimate Rap League

Drake battle rap

How big of a battle rap fan is Drake? Last week, battle rap media personality Heavy Bag raved on his Restore Order show that the Toronto rapper once walked up to him backstage during a mid-2010s event and recognized him from the battle rap outlet he worked for—which is something only someone deeply in tune with the scene would know. 

The battle rap world feels secluded from the mainstream rap industry a lot of the time, only getting the attention of the general public when rounds go viral—or when well-known entertainers like Drake, Eminem, Method Man, Joe Budden, Nick Cannon, and Cassidy break bread with the culture. This weekend, Drake will be at URL’s NOME XI, rewarding the winner of the platform’s 16-person Ultimate Madness 3 tournament with $100,000 out of his own funds. 

Drake rarely appears at events these days, but his presence has been felt in various ways. In 2020, he partnered with Twitch competitor Caffeine and signed a multi-year deal with URL to bring the league to streaming and help make it more accessible to fans. Live URL battle events have been the backbone of the app, as have the numerous shows hosted by URL battlers. Celebrity involvement in a fringe community can be harmful, but Drake has only helped battle rap leagues like URL and the Toronto-based KOTD (King of The Dot) thrive, which is a credit to him. 

His support for battle rap has been public knowledge since 2009, when he told Nardwuar about Toronto rapper and journalist Mindbender being at KOTD events (a rare instance of a Nardwuar interviewee dropping an obscure reference). Drake has told The Village Voice that Take Care recording sessions were stirred by battlers like Hollow Da Don and The Saurus, noting, “It gets me excited in the studio, to watch these rappers, to see them rap for a whole different cause.”

In 2011, he struck up a formal relationship with the KOTD league, calling himself an “official King of The Dot representer,” co-hosting and funding events, and maybe almost battling at one? Since around 2015, though, he’s mainly dealt with KOTD rival URL, which is widely regarded as the biggest and best league, due to its lineage and amount of “homegrown” stars. 

Here’s a timeline of Drake’s involvement with the battle rap culture, highlighting his most impactful contributions, from helping events happen to aiding battlers in their time of need.

2011: Drake co-hosts KOTD’s ‘Flatline’ event

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Drake decided to affirm his “official King of the Dot representer” title by showing up to (and co-hosting) the league’s Flatline event, which he put up six racks for. Co-hosting in battle rap is a ceremonial role that consists of taking over the normal host’s job of introducing the two battlers and standing front and center as they trade bars. It’s a club appearance-adjacent move that’s mainly about leagues wanting the optic of a star onstage with the battlers.

The battlers in the main event were DNA and Dizaster, who are two of the battle rap world’s best freestylers (most modern battles consist of pre-written raps) so they took advantage of Drake’s presence to name check him and try to sway the crowd with bars like DNA’s, “I hate you bitch / Flew all the way to Canada to put you in a wheelchair...Drake you bitch!” Drake’s Flatline appearance is viewed as a big look for KOTD which brought new eyes to the league, and battle rap, as a whole. 

2013: Drake co-hosts KOTD’s ‘Blackout 3’ and OVO sponsors their ‘World Domination 4’ card

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In March of 2013, Drake attended another KOTD event, co-hosting the final two battles at KOTD’s Blackout 3. Later that summer, he tweeted that OVO was an official sponsor of KOTD’s World Domination card. KOTD owner Organik said during a press conference for the event, “The Drake sponsorship was something that Drake had proposed to me one day while we were talking. He is a huge battle rap fan and one of, if not the biggest supporters, KOTD has. The OVO sponsorship helped us make the event the monster it is today.” The VMAs kept him from being able to attend the event, but he released an apology video thanking fans for tuning in.

King Of The Dot is forever the movement @OrganikHipHop

— Drizzy (@Drake) July 13, 2014

In July 2014, Joe Budden battled Hollow Da Don as the main event of the Eminem-backed Total Slaughter battle. The event followed a reality show, in which eight battle rap stars battled for the right to be on the card (which also featured a rematch between legends Murda Mook and Loaded Lux). 

Total Slaughter was a polarizing moment within the battle rap world. While some thought the Total Slaughter experience was a good look to grow the culture, some critics felt like the reality show’s $1,000 payments to battlers were too low, the event’s stage set wasn’t true to traditional battle rap events, and the crowd wasn’t a diehard battle audience. In short, it felt a bit culture vulture-y to some. Drake decided to chime in on the night with a tweet affirming KOTD’s superiority, a move that could be considered shouting out the originators over the imitators. 

@Drake reportedly preparing to do battle with Murda Mookhttp://t.co/GDjYIp8djA@MurdaMookez pic.twitter.com/KfqpAAbSZ4

— HipHopLately.com (@HHLately) October 23, 2014

In battle rap, the face-off pic, where two artists stand across from each other, boxing-weigh-in style, is a gesture to let fans know a battle is on the way. Drake is enough of a fan to know that. So when battle rap legend Murda Mook posted a photo of him standing across from Drake, speculation ran rampant in August 2014. Mook has revealed that he told Drake not to take the picture if he wasn’t serious, so Drake must have been intent at that point that he would battle Mook one day. Mook later said that the two were “getting it together,” and he and Dame Dash even asked Floyd Mayweather to put up $15 million for the battle.

2015: Drake helps set up KOTD’s ‘Blackout 5’ card

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Soon after, Drake announced plans to help fund KOTD’s Blackout 5 event, a card he called at the time “probably the best battle rap card of all time.” Was it because he’d be on it? According to KOTD owner Organik at the Blackout press conference, Drake wasn’t going to battle, but his contributions to the card were “the beginning of something huge for all of us.”

At the same press conference, Drake said, “I would love to enter the scene” as a battler. “It’s tough for me because it’s sort of a no-holds-barred, competitive interaction. The problem is that I have to go back to my life after that too. So I’ve always struggled with that as far as battle rap goes.”

2015: Drake almost battles Mook (and half of battle rap) at ‘Blackout 5’

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Drake had previously missed a KOTD event for the VMAs, but this time, he skipped out on the Grammys to attend Blackout 5. That move raised many people’s antennas, given the previous Mook rumors. Some pondered: Would he really skip the music industry’s biggest award show to merely watch battles, or was he going to pull off a surprise battle?

It’s anyone’s guess how close it came to actually happening. Murda Mook said on The Breakfast Club in 2015 that Drake asked him on the spot about doing a one-round battle that night (the standard battle is three rounds). Mook says that he didn’t have bars created on-hand for Drake, but asked for an hour to write, then went off to the side at the event and put a round together.  

Fellow Harlem battler Head Ice recently said that he and a slew of other top battlers huddled with Mook and were about to (lyrically) “jump” Drake, feeding him bars so he could have the best round possible (Mook still hasn’t addressed Head Ice’s recollection of the night). No matter how Mook’s round came together, it didn’t matter—he says Drake’s team came back to him and told him that they wouldn’t approve of him getting onstage. 

Months later, ghostwriting accusations came out about Drake, which might represent too much battle rap ammo for him to consider getting in the ring at this point. But it would’ve been cool for many to see him take his passion for the sport to the furthest extent by actually battling. 

2015: Drake goes to URL ‘NOME 5,’ jokes about Murda Mook battle

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If you’ve read this timeline all the way through, you’ve seen that Drake was Mr. KOTD at one point. That’s why it was somewhat surprising to see him show his face at rival league URL’s NOME 5 (Night of Main Events) event in the spring of 2015. He was technically correct that URL, which evolved from the classic SMACK DVD, was “the biggest arena” in battle rap due to its concentration of big name in-house talent, but it was interesting to hear him credit URL as the superior league in light of his previous support for KOTD. The two leagues have the kind of relationship that two rival radio stations do. They deal with the same artists, but generally don’t do business or acknowledge each other unless they’re throwing shots. Nevertheless, Drake began his public relationship with URL onstage at one of the league’s biggest annual events, shouting out the culture and sidestepping Mook rumors by joking that the battle rap legend (who was onstage next to him) had to battle fellow battle rap star Tsu Surf first. 

2018: Drake tells LeBron he ‘studies rap battles for a living’

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Drake has been in his fair share of lyrical clashes with rapper peers, and he has a solid diss catalog of tracks with memorable lines. He even likened his 2018 back-and-forth with Pusha-T—where the coke rap ingenue made light of his producer 40’s MS on “The Story of Adidon”—to a rap battle while expressing that he felt Push crossed a line.

“I study rap battles for a living,” he told LeBron James during an episode of The Shop. “When you mention defenseless people who are sick in the hospital, who have passed away, I just believe that there’s a price you have to pay for that. It’s over! Someone’s gonna fucking punch you in the fucking face. The shit’s done, the event’s over. I wanted to do other things. I didn’t want to further your career by rapping back to you and having this exchange.”

No one can agree on where “the line” is in the battle rap world, though. The only thing people can agree on is that everyone has their own line that they should express with their opponent before the battle. But in the rap industry, there are no pleasantries or sportsmanship before the bars fly, so it’s not the neatest comparison. 

Excited to announce this major step forward!! I managed to get @urltv and @caffeine linked up with the objective of making battle rap easier to access in you home or on your mobile device and it’s FREE to watch battles once you sign up. Greatness Simplified. pic.twitter.com/0XqosqiN1Q

— Drizzy (@Drake) February 11, 2020

Last year, Drake solidified his relationship with URL in a major way by linking the league with streaming app Caffeine. The deal was part of his multi-year agreement to help bring content to Caffeine. The move to Caffeine helped URL revolutionize their model to the delight of fans, as they shifted from charging $50-ish for streaming access to events to streaming them for free on Caffeine. 

URL has also helped Caffeine, as co-founder and CEO Ben Kreighan raved to Bloomberg, “Our anchor content is battle rap. It’s working super, super well.” The league’s profile helped the platform raise $113 in investments last July, which further legitimizes that battle rap isn’t just some hobby—it’s a bustling business. Drake’s role in the Caffeine deal will likely be the biggest fingerprint he leaves on the battle rap culture. 

It’s been said that Nu Jerzey Twork is one of Drake’s favorite battlers. The New Jersey-based rapper is electrifying when he’s on his game—but he suffered a major life setback when he got into a serious car accident in late 2020. Drake was one of the people who looked out for him while he recovered by donating to his GoFundMe, which Twork saluted. 

In late 2020, Drake shouted out one-time (almost) battle rap rival Murda Mook after his battle with Tay Roc, which is widely regarded as one of Mook’s best showings in years. Drake DM’d him and told him it was “some of the best battle rapping I ever heard,” and also called the bars “soul snatching confidence crushing stomach dropping poems.” I guess he liked them.

Drake hasn’t been seen at URL events since facilitating the Caffeine deal (possibly due to COVID protocols), but he’ll be in attendance for NOME XI, one of URL’s premier events. This year’s NOME is a two-day event which will also showcase the final match of their Ultimate Madness 3 tournament between LA’s Geechi Gotti, arguably the hottest name in the scene, and Arizona punchline god Rum Nitty. Drake will be giving $100,000 of his own funds to the winner.

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