First, the video. Warning: Contains some naughty words, features at least one woman in a bikini and includes some jabs at defendants in high-profile Army criminal cases. May be inappropriate for viewers who are under 18, at work or don’t appreciate the occasional veggie MRE joke.
Now, the back story: The video comes from the team behind Article 15 Clothing, with the rap itself written and performed by Mat Best, who served with 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, before separating as a sergeant in 2008.
“It’s not very specific to a very small community,” said Best, whose penned previous rap battles featuring special operations branches. “It’s so more people can enjoy the content.”
There’s also a friendly family feud: Two brothers, father and grandfather with Marine Corps service. Best said he went a different direction with his enlistment when he saw the Army Rangers showcased in “Black Hawk Down.”
“I said to myself, ‘I want to do this,’ ” he recalled.
During down time while working overseas after his Army service, Best got the idea for his first video, which became a modest success at the expense of a large stuffed teddy bear. That picked up 30,000 YouTube views in about a week, he said, opening his eyes to the medium’s potential. Best’s YouTube channel now features 10 clips that have cleared the 1 million-view mark (Warning: Some of the videos make the above rap battle seem about as tame as a DoD News segment).
The company’s chief marketing officer, Jarred “JT” Taylor, said Article 15 took shape because the group wanted to produce its own gear rather than make videos for another apparel company. It now employs Best (the CEO) and six other prior-service workers, including Taylor, who served as a tactical air control party airman in the Air Force before leaving as a staff sergeant after 11 years, and Vincent “Rocco” Vargas, who served with Best as a Ranger and remains in the Army Reserve.
Taylor explained that the Article 15 name symbolized how he felt the group would be seen by the Defense Department establishment.
“We thought that we would be labeled as the hoodlums of the military,” said Taylor, whose duties include shooting the videos and serving as Best’s producer in studio recording sessions. “We figured [Article 15] being the NJP punishment, it would be fitting to us.”
While the group does poke fun at familiar targets (everything from red tape to reflective belts), Best said Article 15 isn’t meant to be anti-establishment: “We’re just pointing out the dumb stuff you have to do. That’s something you could do with any job.”
The El Paso, Texas-based group has friends on Fort Bliss, Taylor said, and a strong following among some in the senior enlisted community. They’ve also expanded beyond a clothing line and a series of video clips, partnering in a coffee venture and starting up a whiskey business: The Leadslingers brand is available in some Florida locations, Taylor said, with plans to spread across the South and nationwide.
And they’ve gone Hollywood, sort of: Taylor did some red carpet work at the MTV Video Music Awards for We Are The Mighty, and the group is in talks regarding several projects, including feature-length productions.
“Everybody that we’ve met there has been nothing but supportive,” Taylor said of the entertainment mecca, but added: “At the end of the day, we have our audience. If [a studio]came to us, even with hundreds of thousands of marketing dollars, they’re not going to reach our audience better than we do.”
They give back to that audience with quarterly charity events, including a recent video featuring Taylor, Best and Vargas paying off bets after piling up $25,000 in donations on a $15,000 fundraising goal. Spoiler alert: Taylor takes a stun-gun shot in a cringe-inducing location. The money went to GallantFew, The Raider Project, and the All In All the Time Foundation.
“That’s a big thing for us,” Taylor said. “As we grow in popularity, we will always use that to help other organizations that are helping vets.”