2020 had a laundry list of drama, including everything from killer hornets, toilet tissue wars in grocery stores, hoarding rubbing alcohol and arguing about face mask legitimacy. Never have people scowled at each other so much for not standing six feet apart, hawk-eyeing those floor stickers in retail stores.
The worldwide health outbreak of coronavirus lead people to become involuntary teachers to their kids, upgrade their own home offices (if they were lucky enough to work from home), brainstorm on the best background for virtual video calls, and download smartphone apps to stay informed and entertained. While doomscrolling became commonplace and COVID-19 is still problematic in 2021, there were some wins last year — one of which was Verzuz, the iconic music battles on Instagram between the who’s who in hip hop and R&B.
On March 24, 2021, the brainchild of super producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland celebrated its one-year anniversary. Verzuz also agreed to a yearlong partnership with Peloton during Women’s History Month.
It only seemed right that songstresses Brandy and Monica would be one of WHM’s first artists on the fitness app and equipment company. Besides Gucci and Jeezy, “The Boy Is Mine” artists held the highest-ranked Verzuz viewership (more than 6 million viewers on Instagram and Apple Music for the ladies, and 9.1 million viewers for the southern rappers). What did catch Verzuz fans’ attention was that Timbaland and Swizz Beatz agreed to partner with anyone at all.
“[The Beenie Man versus Bounty Killer battle] represented the authentic zone of why we didn’t sell 50% of the company for millions of dollars,” Swizz said during an Instagram Live interview last year. “The authentic zone of why we turned down millions and millions of dollars to the vultures just wanting [to] put a name next to [another] name, but no. Respect is overdue.”
A few weeks before the Peloton agreement, Verzuz was acquired by Triller Network, the parent company of Triller, the entertainment app. But they didn’t just walk away after they got paid; the two became part of the management team to collaborate on company strategies and music. As new shareholders, an undisclosed portion of their equity was also distributed to the first 46 Verzuz artists who performed.
But what made Swizz Beatz and Timbaland work with Peloton after Triller Network, especially considering they’d shied away from so many other offers?
“It just sounds right,” Timbaland said in a promotional video for the fitness brand. “Music drives a workout. Music and fitness is like brothers and sisters.”
While the Peloton classes are not free, there is a 30-day trial. Meanwhile, there are no commercial breaks or promotional ads during Verzuz battles on Instagram. The hours-long music sessions are free of charge to watch and listen.
By the end of 2020, Instagram surpassed the 1 billion global user mark. Whether Verzuz intrigued new users enough to join is largely dependent on a case-by-case basis, but staying planted at home could’ve played a factor in the social media uptick. Either way, Verzuz is the icing on a social isolation cake.
Although conversations circulated from entertainers (read: Teddy Riley) wanting to get paid to do a Verzuz battle, a year later, the concerts from our couches are still free of charge. However, there’s no denying that artists singing and rapping their songs live gained a financial momentum.
Erykah Badu and Jill Scott’s music streams skyrocketed up to 300% after their Verzuz battle, primarily Erykah Badu’s “On and On” and Jill Scott’s “A Long Walk.” Brandy and Monica reportedly earned 20 million streams in three days. And even with technical difficulties during Nelly’s battle (against Ludacris) and Teddy Riley’s battle (against Babyface), the streaming stats were still on the rise—90% for Babyface and Teddy Riley, and 30% for Nelly and Ludacris. (After those two battles, the producer duo made it mandatory that artists use the equipment sent in order to participate.)
The Instagram battles also serve as a sort of music education session, too. The average Instagram user (as of January 2021) is between the ages of 25 to 34. But the average Verzuz viewer is all over the map, specifically considering the producers invite everyone—from the Isley Brothers vs Earth, Wind and Fire; to Patti Labelle vs Gladys Knight; to T-Pain vs Lil Jon. And outside of a first-time stab at an in-person Verzuz host last week (i.e., Steve Harvey’s storytelling), the artists (and an occasional deejay) dominate the entire event. Instagram users cheer them on in real time with emojis, hearts and chat comments.
Check out their next Instagram battle with Method Man and Redman—for obvious reasons—on 4/20. Click here for more information.