Verzuz, the webcast series born out of quarantine earlier this year, has grown into must-see appointment viewing for music fans thanks to its nostalgia factor and behind-the-scenes appeal.
The series, created in March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic by legendary producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, began as a virtual DJ battle but has since evolved to include a range of different musical styles, including R&B, hip-hop, gospel and dancehall.
The Verzuz battles, featuring two musical artists who duke it out with songs, was off to a strong start by kicking off its second season in November with Jeezy and Gucci Mane, Bay Area legends E-40 and Too Short, and R&B queens Ashanti and Keyshia Cole. An upcoming battle features Redman vs. Method Man on April 20. Future battles have been announced for May 8, May 9 and Memorial Day weekend.
The Isley Brothers vs. Earth, Wind and Fire
The two iconic groups faced off April 4 in a special Easter episode hosted by Steve Harvey.
Each performed several of their biggest hits, including The Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout,” “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You),” “It’s Your Thing” and “Shout,” plus Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Let’s Groove,” “Got To Get You Into My Life,” “Boogie Wonderland” and September.”
As for a winner, fans were split.
“Earth Wind & Fire were out here singing about self-esteem, self-worth, self-love, Black pride, mindfulness etc in the 70s,” tweeted user @TheCosby. “Shoutouts to these mental health kings.”
“I hate to say it. But the Isley brothers won man,” argued @goat__vibes. “Some of those hits just can’t be matched.”
But many others called it a draw, expressing their love for both groups.
“We WON tonight with that Verzuz!” tweeted user @PettiTree. “We lived with the powerful nostalgia music from both groups and it was four hours of greatness. It was everything we needed tonight.”
“I feel honored to have witnessed this,” added @PeaceandCheese. “All the songs I heard over the years from childhood & I actually got to see them perform these songs in my lifetime.”
D’Angelo vs. ‘Friends’
The “Untitled” artist was set to duke it out at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater on Feb. 27. But unlike traditional battles, D’Angelo didn’t have one set opponent: instead, he performed alone with guest appearances from Method Man, Redman and H.E.R.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, loved ones. Our gift to you,” Verzuz said on its official Instagram account Sunday. “Who you think is pullin’ up to take on the King on February 27th?”
An official poster for the event, which D’Angelo shared to his Instagram account with several emojis, only listed his opponent as “Friends.”
Ashanti and Keyshia Cole vs. COVID-19
After having to push their originally scheduled Dec. 12 battle because Ashanti tested positive for COVID-19, fans delighted in the battle between the two R&B artists on Thursday Jan. 22.
Social media users were also quick to share their reactions, including who they think won.
“Ashanti won. Songs, energy, beauty and the shade. Good tf night. #Verzuz,” user @pounddcaake tweeted.
“ASHANTI CLEARED. That ‘Foolish’ into ‘Unfoolish’ >>>>” user @WannasWorld tweeted.
“i really was rooting for keyshia but ashanti really impressed me #Verzuz” user @jadynassamoah said.
“Keyshia literally skipped like 10 hits,” user @seangarrette said.
OnJanuary 20, the Verzuz Instagram confirmed the pair were set to battle it, saying the night was “going to be EPIC!!!”
At the time of the first postponement, Ashanti, 40, assured her fans on social media that she was “ok and not in any pain” and was working with “Verzuz” and Apple Music to see if it would be possible for her to continue the battle virtually from home.
The show was postponed for Jan. 9, but again, was postponed the day prior due to COVID-19 concerns.
“This has been an emotional week. In addition, as COVID-19 numbers continue to increase, safety is a top priority for us. As much as we enjoy having everyone together in the same room, to protect the artists and everyone who works with us in putting the shows together, we’ll be going back to separate locations for a bit,” Verzuz announced on their Instagram page.
The two collaborated on a song in 2012, titled “Woman to Woman.”
Gucci Mane, Jeezy address beef in Season 2 premiere
During the head-to-head event, Gucci Mane, 40, played his 2012 diss track “Truth” about fatally shooting Jeezy’s friend Pookie Loc, which prompted Jeezy, 43, to stand up and explain why the pair were doing the battle.
“When I said I wanted to do this (expletive) for the culture, that’s what I wanted to do… I brought you here to show you the world care about what the (expletive) we got going on, because we are the culture,” Jeezy said.
Jeezy also shouted out King Von, Nipsey Hussle, Pop Smoke and other rappers who died from gun violence before starting his own track, “Get Ya Mind Right.”
The two rappers reunited to perform their collaboration “Icy” for the first time in years to end the battle.
The battle, which also featured a video appearance from Stacey Abrams, garnered plenty of reactions from viewers on social media, with more than 1.5 million people tuning into last night’s IG live.
How Timbaland, Swizz Beatz started Verzuz
The series was created by producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, who were the first stars to participate during an Instagram Live broadcast in March.
During an interview with GQ published Thursday, the stars explained how the series was born after COVID-19 stay-at-home orders shut down clubs, leading people to look for things to entertain themselves with online – and people ate it up. GQ reports more than 20,000 people tuned in for the first swapping of stories and songs, which led the series to have its own official page and following participants.
Speaking to The Associated Press in April, Timbaland explained the lineup process.
“Me and Swizz sit down and we really kind of curate the matches well. We try to do the unpredictable, not what people predict. And that comes with a lot of work on me and Swizz’s part,” he said. “We have to make a lot of phone calls to get these celebrations lined up. It’s a process.”
Originally, Verzuz included artists streaming in live from separate locations with two 10-song rounds. In May, in order to ensure better video quality, the battles were filmed live from the same location.
Though no official winner is called at the end of the night, usually viewers share their own picks on social media.
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Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and more artists have participated
Some of the most notable early battles have included T-Pain vs. Lil Jon, Erykah Badu vs. Jill Scott and Nelly vs. Ludacris. Teddy Riley and Babyface’s first attempt at their much-hyped battle was derailed by audio issues, but they didn’t miss a beat during their rematch, with more than 500,000 people tuning in.
Alicia Keys and John Legend took part in a Juneteenth celebration version of the series, and even more attention-grabbing lineups followed later in quarantine, including DMX vs. Snoop Dogg, Rick Ross vs. 2 Chainz and Brandy vs. Monica.
And after a short break following Gladys Knight vs. Patti LaBelle’s “Auntie-chella” battle in September, the series returned in Novembr for Season 2, kicking it off with Jeezy and Gucci.
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How to watch Verzuz
The series streams live on its official Instagram page (@VerzuzTV) as well as on Apple Music. Fans can also listen to the battles on playlists shared on TIDAL, Spotify and Apple Music.
Contributing: Cydney Henderson and Hannah Yasharoff
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