At the onset of the epidemic, as states issued lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, Timbaland was plotting a revival of an idea that he and fellow rapper-producer Swizz Beatz had years ago.
In 2018, he batted for hit onstage at Hot 97’s Summer Jam in New Jersey, highlighting songs he had produced for Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Missy Elliott, Aaliyah and DMX.
“People were very involved in it,” Timbaland said. “It was only a matter of time when it was time to appear.”
Fast forward to March, when he and Swizz pronounced the series Werz (“vs.”), which featured two musicians on Instagram Live. Timbaland said that at the time, he felt that Instagram Live was being used.
“At the beginning of the epidemic, I’m like, ‘What else do we have to do? Let’s explore this platform that we have,” he said. “And it worked.”
Timbaland and Swizz was the first battle over Verzuz, which has become a cultural success, securing some of the most respected names in hip-hop and R&B, and on one occasion, reggae artists Benny Mann and Bounty Killer As in the dance hall. . The series has attracted millions of viewers, and it consistently captivates Black Twitter, where it is often the No. 1 trending topic at every turn.
Perhaps most notably, it translated into streaming success for the musicians it introduced – known as the “Verzu Effect”. Gladys Knight and Patty LaBelle staged the Verzu fight in September, which was followed by Billboard and Nielsen Music for their best careers streaming. The Soul Titans had a combined 4.1 million on-demand streams from September 13 to September 16 in the US.
In addition to streaming on Verzuz’s Instagram account, each fight is simulated for free through his partner, Apple Music. (Swizz and Timbaland stated in July that when they announced the partnership, Verzuz is still 100% black-owned.) The Instagram live session typically lasts for an hour and then needs to be resumed, but many Verzuz battles have lasted long without interruption.
Season 2 premiered on Thursday with rappers Gucci Mane and Jeezy. Unlike typical battles, a Verzuz session provides musicians a place to openly discuss the origins of their hits and to reflect on their lives and careers and the contributions of other artists, including their opponents.
“We still found a way to keep it competitive, classy, educational and where you’re celebrating at the same time,” Swizz said in a recent interview. “We like it better.”
‘Super Bowl and the Grammys and rolled into one like Coachella’
Gerryk Kennedy, a journalist and writer, said he has great respect for what he has done especially with Verzuz and for black people.
“Very rarely do we see ourselves celebrating in a way that has shifted culture in the way that Verzuz has done – which has been an influence for artists soon after Verzuz has passed,” Kennedy said Said, “Paternal conscience.” : The Rise of NWA and the Dawn of Gangsta Rap. “
Verzuz gives that artists are important.
“It’s something you don’t really see until you perform in the Super Bowl,” he said. “We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of thousands of streams, millions of eyes on you.”
Kennedy said that a Super Bowl halftime show is 13 to 15 minutes long.
“But it’s you for three hours,” he said. “Sitting with another artist of the same caliber. Maybe a coworker. Maybe a friend. And celebrating each other.”
Kennedy, who grew up with R&B and hip-hop and who has spent the last 11 years writing about it, said, “Every single Verjuise is legitimately like a Super Bowl and Grammys and Coachella rolled into one. “
On September 1, a day after singers Brandi and Monica battled on Verzuz, they had 30 of the top 40 songs on Apple Music’s Top 40 R&B and Soul Tracks charts, Held responsible For Verzuz effect.
“It is untrue to see that as with any R&B artist, let alone an R&B artist over the age of 35,” Kennedy said. “So when you see someone like Patty LaBel and Gladys Knight do that and then their music goes on streaming – it’s an audience that historically hasn’t been associated with digital service providers.”
Timbaland and Swizz have a small team that decides who will fight each other. Timbaland said that he and Swizz are the primary curators.
“When you put the two of us together, we just know how to make a great playlist,” Timbaland said. “It’s a playlist of really great songs that touch your soul.”
Because Verzuz lives in the air, Swizz said, he and Timbaland have the benefit of real-time feedback.
“Many people request a lot of things,” Swizz said. “So we get to see what people want, as well. And that’s a big part because people tell you what they want to see.”
Not everything makes sense, he said, which is why they act as curators.
When he launched Verzuz, his first mission was to uncover under-heralded artists, such as Jonah Austin, Sean Garrett and The Dream, Timbaland said. Austin, a songwriter, battled singer-songwriter Ne-Yo in March. Austin married Mariah Carey, Mary J. Wrote lyrics for Bligh, Alia and many others.
“People didn’t know that Jonata wrote all those records,” Timbaland said. “But everyone was calling Jonata to write after Jonta did Verzuz with Ne-Yo.”
Among Verzuz’s most touching elements, Kennedy said, are moments when artists have shown each other “pure respect” or, as Swizz has described, “bringing each other flowers.”
“When you can see DMX, who has gone through so much – he has made a lot of mistakes; he is so overturned about these mistakes – when you can see him he will have a moment where everybody Among the people, Snoop Dogg, another Kennedy, said that the person making the mistake and the way they are represents what they are, but to see him sit down with someone like DMX and give him that respect, Give that reverence, this is the main one.
Kennedy said, “There is no other stage where two artists are present, regardless of their skin color, to share in that moment.”
This has helped some artists take part in the Verzu fight.
“Many people, when we approach them, they always say: ‘Nah. It’s not for me. I’d rather watch,” Pizza said. “But most of them come back around and say: ‘You know what it was at that time, it wasn’t for me. But right now, I’m ready, and we should do it.’ So just getting people to come around and experience it and take their time and grow from it and learn it, has been a blessing. “
‘It’s not just an epidemic’
The way Verzuz has gathered people and created a shared community has also been profound.
“The world is on fire,” Kennedy said. “Everything just indicates how hard it is to be black and brown in this country, and this moment of celebration and just the pure joy that comes with it has been remarkable.”
While many people may have been introduced to Verzu during the epidemic, Swizz said, “It’s not just something for the epidemic.”
“It’s something like that for culture,” he said. “And this is something we should have done long ago – which is celebrating each other.”
Swizz said he and Timbaland plan to expand Verzoo to other genres.
“I think what they are doing is so unprecedented, there are a million other ways they can go about it,” Kennedy said. “They can start popping. They could do Latin. They never explicitly said it’s something for black music only, it’s for black people only. So I think a lot of different things for them – an opportunity to go in different directions. “
Swizz said neither of those plans involved moving Verzu from Instagram.
“As far as enhancing and adding to the experiences that people might not be thinking about, that would be great, certainly – we are innovators.”
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