Verzuz is an American webcast series created by record producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, that airs on Verzuz TV. Verzuz was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic as a virtual DJ battle, with Timbaland and Swizz Beatz facing off in its first iteration through an Instagram Live broadcast in March 2020. The series invites two musicians, predominantly R&B and hip hop, to highlight their discographies in two 10-song rounds during a three-hour session.
Episodes include battles between producers Teddy Riley and Babyface, singers Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, Brandy and Monica, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle, and rappers Ludacris and Nelly, as well as Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane. On March 9, 2021, the series was acquired by TrillerNet
Beginning of Verzuz
Verzuz began as an impromptu broadcast before taking on the form of a brand, adopting a logo and official social media accounts with subsequent matches. The Verzuz brand gained its official trademark in April 2020, as registered by Timbaland. In August 2020, after a bidding war, the series began a partnership with streaming service Apple Music and social media platform Twitter, integrating Apple’s audiovisual capabilities with Twitter’s social-engagement aspect, a first for the former.
The idea of creating a live battle was conceived by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz in 2017, which led to a ‘producer clash’ battle during a Hot 97 Summer Jam concert in 2018. The live show consists of two challengers in the entertainment industry who compete with their best hit record. There are no actual winners chosen. In an ABC News interview, Swizz Beatz stated “The people won, the culture won, music won” in reference to the music sales and online streams gradually increasing due to both newfound interest and curiosity. Though no winners are selected, Billboard magazine has released scorecards and breakdowns of the battles and selected winners based on these observations.
The Verzuz webcast became an online streaming show during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first three Verzuz matches surpassed a million views, The Ashanti vs Keyshia Cole Verzuz was the most watched webcast with over 6 million total Instagram viewers, breaking the Jeezy vs Gucci Mane record which held over 5 million in total viewers and Brandy vs Monica record, which was the first live stream webcast to pass the million mark with over 1.2 million concurrent in-stream live views, but totaled with over 4.2 million visitor viewers .
Season 2 of Verzuz began on November 19, 2020.
Instagram live streaming broadcast
In its initial inception, the Verzuz battles were performed remotely over Instagram live due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The majority of U.S. states were under strict quarantine to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Challengers often used their own cell phone/tablet device or web camera to live-stream on Instagram live through their verified artist page. Initially, challengers added or requested each other’s Instagram accounts to communicate virtually on Instagram Live. The first time this format changed was in the challenge between Bounty Killer vs Beenie Man, in which both challengers appeared together under the VerzuzTV Instagram channel instead of their own channels.
The Verzuz battle may consist of up to 20 rounds of what would be an artist’s hit songs or hit features/collaborations to go head to head against each other. During the battle, the artist will play each song one after another, through audio sound systems via computer or recording studio equipment. This format has changed also with the battle of Bounty Killer & Beenie Man who fully performed live with microphones along with DJ’s/Sound Equipment, which in turn also provided good acoustics and feedback without interruptions. There was a first attempt by record producer Teddy Riley to perform live against Babyface, but because of technical difficulties, it was unsuccessful.
For the majority of the music tracks selected by the artist, they often share personal stories about the creation of the song and the experience surrounding it before playing or performing the track. Oftentimes, the artist on both sides would gloat or boast themselves to show their competitive spirit along with having the authority of ‘bragging rights’.
For many of the live broadcasts, the celebratory competitive streaming went on for an estimated 2 hours long with the exception of continuing on their own live feed after the event was over to allow fans and followers to engage with them.
In the past, some technicalities forced a video stream to get booted off due to weak Wi-Fi connection, or a licensed copyrighted song that could only be played to a minimum of 90 seconds before being cut off stream. On occasion, most broadcasts had an allotted time of 1 hour per stream, due to Instagram’s rules of live streaming, which cause the artist to restart another live session and continue where they left off. However, during the battle of Jill Scott & Erykah Badu, the live feed stayed continuous for more than 2 hours except for when Badu’s livestream stopped because of Wi-Fi issues.
Viewers who are observing the challenges can watch the feed from their electronic device, phone, tablet or computer with their Instagram accounts. It is simultaneously enjoyed as a watch party or listening party with other individuals, whether at home together or as a virtual population over the live stream. Viewers interact by commenting their opinions, judgement, reactions, emotions, and may use special character emojis as a form of expression. Some individuals may try to keep score but ultimately get lost in the rounds.
The streaming service was mired in technical impediments since its inception. Because of the overwhelming response of complaints from viewers, Swizz and Timbaland implemented a new rule on May 25, 2020, that the future participants are required to use equipment kit provided by the brand Roland, who created a new set up to supply the best audio as possible to prevent issues from continuing. The organizers stated, “You cannot do VERZUZ unless you use the technology that we’re sending you, because we’re sending it to you for a reason.”
As nationwide quarantine started to loosen restrictions of social gatherings and began to start public re-opening phases, the lineups in the 2nd part of the series broadcast the event live in-person to stream over Instagram as well as Apple Music, which began streaming the presentation live in HD on June 19, 2020. The live broadcast feed presented by Apple Music, is recorded using Television Studio equipment, teleprompters and a simple character generator editing used to display viewer comments from Twitter, also a ticker format of the stylized names of the challengers integrating with the Verzuz ‘V’ logo, along with providing the sponsors. As with the Instagram live presentation, it continued in the same format as the first series with improvements of the audio quality as a result of using the Roland equipment.
The new updated series stayed consistent of having challengers meet face to face sharing one room often with DJs or piano accompaniment while continuing to social distance. The participants gathered with an entourage as the event was held from a selected venue. Locations of the venue included, Tyler Perry Studios, which was used for the Brandy vs Monica broadcast and the Fillmore theater in Philadelphia, used for the Gladys Knight vs Patti LaBelle broadcast. The Bounty Killer vs Beanie Man Verzuz in the first series, was held at a club venue in Jamaica, and was the first in-person webcast stream. The only time the new broadcast reverted to its original “duo split-screen style” streaming was in the Verzuz challenge between Ashanti vs Keyshia Cole, due to high rate of California’s COVID-19 social distance protocols. It streamed on Instagram live with the Verzuz and Keyshia Cole’s live channels, and on Apple Music live broadcast split-screen side by side; and the Triller/Fite TV broadcast Verzuz featuring Eve vs Trina. where Eve was remote live via satellite from the United Kingdom, while Trina was live on location with full audience in Miama, Florida.
The Verzuz broadcast of Brandy vs Monica broke records in numbers over Instagram with over 1.2 Million live viewers on that platform being the first webcast to reach that peak, although during the Teddy Riley vs Babyface broadcast in the first series, it was reported 3.7 Million people attempted access to view the live broadcast but was unsuccessful of joining the feed due to Instagram live viewership algorithm never reaching 1 million, forcing viewers losing the place of joining the stream upon exiting and possibly being locked out of viewing the stream. The result of this later began to open the population for more viewership on Instagram.
The Verzuz Effect
Each battle is often paired up by the genre of categories. Where a Music producer will go up against another Music Producer, Songwriter against Songwriter, Vocal Production (example: Vocal Artist against Vocal Artist [Sub category: Singer vs. Singer or Rapper vs. Rapper]). Each artist has up to 20 tracks prepared to use in the battle. The guidelines for competing are to have produced, written or sang on the track used. As for many rap artists, they can use their collaborations or ‘feature’ segments from other artist tracks. Producers who ‘remixed’ a track have been called in question, especially if they are not the originator of the song produced, as a pun joke from Babyface, but is still acceptable as it is a form of their own works. The winners are solely to the discretion of the viewers’ preference, there are no direct chosen winners, however accolades surrounding an artist’s accomplishments may make one person outshine the next. The real winners are the views counted by how many tuned in to watch as it shows the popularity and support given. During the battle, they are allowed to gloat, flaunt, tease as it is friendly competition. Spectators, whether celebrities or general viewing public, keep score on who they believe won each round sometimes losing count. The challenger usually feeds off the last contender’s song choice or word play ‘puns’ to complement the flow. The curators who preside over the live feed remotely monitor the competition.
Verzuz Season 1
- Swizz Beatz vs Timbaland
- Boi-1da vs Hit-Boy
- The Dream vs Sean Garrett
- Ne-Yo vs Johnta Austin
- Scott Storch vs Mannie Fresh
- Ryan Tedder vs Benny Blanco
- T-Pain vs Lil Jon
- RZA vs DJ Premier
- Teddy Riley vs Babyface
- Erykah Badu vs Jill Scott
- Nelly vs Ludacris
- Bounty Killer vs Beenie Man
- 112 vs Jagged Edge
- American producer and singer Teddy Riley was the subject of online jokes, parody and criticism for technical difficulties during his battle with Babyface. He was heavily criticized for poor production values, weak Wi-Fi signals and being overconfident. This caused the challenge to be rescheduled for another day. Nelly also faced similar criticism due to his live feed freezing often and for inaudible audio, for which he blamed “severe weather storms”.
- Rapper Ludacris faced backlash after previewing a new song during the battle with Nelly, which contained suggestive humor towards R, Kelly, Bill Cosby and Rosanne Barr. He later addressed the subject on Atlanta’s V103 radio show with Big Tigger: “Sometimes when you speak on record, you speak on it like its just me and you having a conversation as friends, you’re just speaking and being honest, and I saw a lot of people misconstrue or didn’t understand what I was saying” to which he asked Big Tigger what he thought he meant and Tigger response to defending him was “I think what you’re trying to say is: ‘I love his music and what he brought to the table but I am a father of daughters and you’re not going to be around my daughters’ ” Ludacris responded: “You’re a smart man, it’s just that simple”.
- During the Bounty Killa vs Beenie Man battle, police interrupted to address possible noise or social distancing complaints. The situation was quickly de-escalated and the battle continued uninterrupted.
- The May 25, 2020 battle of 112 and Jagged Edge did not feature 112 members Daron Jones and Q Parker, who exited the group in 2019. Legendary R&B singer Keith Sweat made a brief on-screen appearance in 112’s live stream to show support of both artists. Jagged Edge faced technical difficulties with their audio which led to another series of online jokes. 112 boasted about their Grammy and MTV Video Music Awards for “I’ll Be Missing You” and repeatedly highlighted Ciroc bottles showing their respect for the founder and chief executive of their former label Bad Boy Records, Diddy. Music producers Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox were also in attendance with Jagged Edge.
Verzuz went under new rule changes and technical maintenance to provide quality performances and returned on May 31, 2020, with a special Verzuz. Each broadcast in this 2nd part of the series stayed consistent with better video and audio quality.
- Kirk Franklin vs Fred Hammond with opening words and prayer by Bishop T.D. Jakes
- Alicia Keys vs John Legend
- Fabolous vs JadaKiss
- DMX vs Snoop Dogg
- Rick Ross vs 2 Chainz
- Brandy vs Monica (Live from Tyler Perry Studios)
- Gladys Knight vs Patti LaBelle (Live from THE FILLMORE in Philadelphia)
♥♥ *A Special VERZUZ webcast titled “The Healing” was streamed live on May 31, 2020, in honor of lifting awareness and providing comfort from the racial climate of ongoing police brutality in the United States. The event began with opening word and prayer by Bishop T.D. Jakes. Kirk Franklin & Fred Hammond celebrated various music from their catalog. During the webcast, special appearances were made by notable stars in the gospel genre: Grammy Nominated Gospel Artist Marvin Sapp, appeared to interlude his landmark song “Never Would Have Made It“ and Grammy Award winner, Tamela Mann appeared to fully sing live, “Take Me To The King“. Even though this special verzuz was a celebration with no intentions to battle and was used as a platform service to uplift and heal the world, Revolt TV declared Kirk Franklin as champion scoring at 17–4.
† Other Media have also contributed scorecards for their selected winner:
Revolt TV News Winner: Jadakiss [11–9]
≠ DRAW/TIE – According to the Billboard Magazine Scorecard, Gladys Knight & Patti LaBelle both won for their Verzuz match, respectively. Making them the first contenders judged from Billboard to score a draw in the series.
Notable moments from Season 1 – Part 2 battles include: (below)
- During the special Verzuz dubbed “The Healing“, Kirk Franklin started off the celebration with some light humor addressing his height and also his facial resemblance with the rapper Plies, while playing the keyboard; he provided comic relief throughout the webcast. Fred Hammond broke down and shed tears while singing his song, “Just To Be Close to You“, Kirk also shared a flirty dance with his wife during his song “Melodies From Heaven“. Hammond and Franklin takes a brief moment to call in to send comfort to Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, and offer support and prayers. Fred Hammond ended the celebration with a touching, spiritual, final prayer.
- In the Alicia Keys vs John Legend Verzuz, Legend was constantly teased in the comments for his tropical sweater and simple go to move: The “1-2-Step” dance during his song selections. Alicia re-enacted her famous phone call scene from “You Don’t Know My Name”, accompanied by Legend, who sang the background vocals and played piano. John Legend played 2 newly released singles “U Move, I Move” feat. Jhene Aiko and “Never Break”.
- During the DMX vs Snoop Dogg battle, DMX revealed that he was inspired to use the term “Get at Me Dog” after meeting Snoop Dogg in New York City. Snoop also revealed that a young Bow Wow was the voice used in the “Classroom Intro” skit on Snoop Dogg’s seminal debut album Doggystyle leading into the track “Gz and Hustlas”, stating Dr. Dre was afraid to use him for the album due to the album being so explicit. He also acknowledged that Pharrell encouraged him to emphasize his “sexy side” for the song “Beautiful”, though Snoop was wary of doing so before Pharrell convinced him otherwise. DMX also poked fun at his own weight gain stating he would take off his shirt if the audience live got to 1 million views but they would look like the number ’10’ on screen (Snoop being 1 for his slim figure and DMX being 0 based on his weight). DMX encouraged young rap artists to “write that pain”, after Snoop testified that the lyrics from “Slippin” gave him goose bumps, calling it a “gangsta Holy Ghost”. The Verzuz celebration ended with both rappers freestyling to various hip-hop instrumentals.
- In the Rick Ross vs 2 Chainz Verzuz, 2 Chainz employed a stunt in the battle as he used strippers and large amounts of money as props during his verse in “Bands A Make Her Dance”, noting that both of the artists are from the southern United States, and how strip clubs “run” the south. Rick Ross’s girlfriend Peaches gave Ross a massage during one of his songs and continued to do so for a short time afterwards. Timbaland was in attendance for this battle.
- At the start of the Brandy vs Monica Verzuz, it was said that Senator and Democratic Party Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris sent her blessings and encouragement to the contestants and also urged viewers to vote. Monica confessed she wanted to do a Verzuz after Missy Elliott persuaded her to do so because Monica wanted to have a face to face conversation with Brandy after the years of escalating rumors of a “catfight” between the two which compelled them to settle their differences. Brandy said that she did in fact once have a physical confrontation with Monica years before the battle. Brandy dedicated “Missing You” to various legends who died, while Monica dedicated “For You, I Will” to deceased celebrated basketball player Kobe Bryant’s wife Vanessa. Monica played her new song “Trenches”.
- The master class Verzuz featuring Patti LaBelle & Gladys Knight was met with both artists admiring each other as they acknowledged how long they have been friends in the entertainment industry. Gladys Knight admitted she was unaware what Verzuz was until her son told her that she should do it, as with Patti acknowledging that her son also persuaded her to do it and mentioned that her choice would be with Gladys. Patti Labelle talk about how difficult it was to shoot the music video to “If You Asked Me To” immediately the day after her sisters funeral. Both ladies made a public service announcement to respect each other after the song “Licence to Kill”, stating the name of the song does not give people the right to harm another person. They both gave honorable mentions to many female singers who came before them and after. Patti was not aware of what “Lady Marmalade” meant and said the ladies of Labelle were confronted afterwards for its inappropriate meaning. Former First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey tuned in to the webcast. The celebration ended with a special appearance by their long time friend Dionne Warwick, as they all sang “That’s What Friends Are For” & “Superwoman”.
Verzuz Season 2
- Jeezy vs Gucci Mane
- E-40 vs Too Short
- Ashanti vs Keyshia Cole
- D’Angelo & Friends (Live at the Apollo Theater) ☆ Solo concert dubbed as “D’Angelo & Friends”
- Raekwon vs Ghostface
- Earth, Wind & Fire vs The Isley Brothers Hosted by Steve Harvey with special guest resident DJ D-Nice
- Redman vs Method Man (live at the St. George Theatre) with guest DJ DJ Scratch
- SWV vs Xscape (with resident DJ’s DJ Spinderella / DJ AOne)
- REMATCH Swizz Beatz vs Timbaland (live from Club LIV, Miami)
- Eve vs Trina
- Bow Wow vs Soulja Boy
- Keith Sweat vs Bobby Brown (with resident DJ DJ Cassidy)
- The Lox vs DipSet (live from Madison Square Garden)
- Fat Joe vs Ja Rule (live from the Hulu Theater in NYC)
- KRS-One vs Big Daddy Kane (live from Barclay’s Center in NYC)
- Chaka Khan vs Stephanie Mills (Live from the United Artist Theater at the Ace Hotel, Los Angeles)
- Bone Thugs-n-Harmony vs Three 6 Mafia (Live from Los Angeles)
- Anthony Hamilton vs Musiq Soulchild (Live from Avalon Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA)
- Mary Mary vs BeBe & CeCe Winans
- Cypress Hill vs Onyx
- 8 Ball and MJG vs UGK (Live from Atlanta, GA)
- Omarion vs Mario featuring Bonus Matchup Bobby V & Ray J vsSammie & Pleasure P (Live from Los Angeles, CA) hosted by DeRay Davis
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