Verzuz has highlighted the power in taking the high road, and prioritizing moments that not only honor the legacies of important artists, but sometimes offered reconciliation for its participants, too.
As Verzuz wrapped up its twelfth edition of its challenger format on May 23, Beenie Man and Bounty Killer stood side by side in Kingston, Jamaica, thanking audiences worldwide for promoting their “Soundclash” variant of the platform.
“At the end of the day [Verzuz] is a sport. And we enjoy it,” Bounty Killer said. Beenie Man doubled down on his sentiments, reiterating that the proceedings are now a part of history. Both artists were referencing the galvanizing impact of the Swizz Beatz and Timbaland helmed hip-hop juggernaut Verzuz, which swiftly ushered in global music-lovers in the early phases of the Coronavirus pandemic. Loosely conceptualized in March and trademarked a month later, both super-producers sought to keep Verzuz as an independent entity, retaining full ownership as legendary artists in the realms of R&B, hip-hop and dancehall built on — and maintained — strong viewerships following the legal embalming. These pairings of legendary artists across genres is what has made Verzuz so successful, the platform creating a distinct experience that rides on historical matchups that music fans may have never thought possible, especially with artists that have had well-known animosity or dislike toward one another.
In this way, Verzuz isn’t only notable for its ability to render Black cultural productions as viable and lucrative in multifaceted ways at the turn of a decade — it’s also managed to act as a vessel for reconciliation. Even though the pair had a short-lived war of words in the early ’90s, it was at the 1993 Sting sound-clash that Beenie Man and Bounty Killer publicly addressed Jamaican citizens, burying the hatchet. In a similar fashion, they stood side-by-side almost 30 years later in Verzuz’s first edition of in-person battles.
“At the end of the day, it’s really music why we’re clashing, so we cannnot afford to clash and destroy the music,” Bounty Killer said in an interview with BoomshotsTV ahead of the Verzuz match. “…We want to show off our musical prowess, me and bounty don’t want to show, ‘OK, who can knock fists more?’ If knocking fists should come into the picture, we’re going to take it out because that’s not our display.”
Months prior to Brandy and Monica’s reunion, Monica publicly shared on V 103 Atlanta that she would not partake in such an event, clearly skeptical about the proceedings and the potential for extended controversy.
“The only battle or Verzuz they want to see with me is me against Brandy, and the reality is people have put us against each other for 20-something years,” she said. “That would be the only thing that makes sense to me because I’ve been trying to tell people for about 25 years, you can like both! You’re going to turn this into 1998 all over again and I have no interest in that.”
However, the pair were amicable and even charming at times as they finally sat side by side after decades of clashes on both conventional and social media outlets. Their display of affection was lightheartedly meme’d, documented on highbrow publications, and championed by Timbaland and Swizz, with the two captioning Brandy and Monica’s matchup on Instagram as: “You brought joy at a much needed time.”
When it comes to Verzuz, it’s been able to quell a plethora of deeply-seeded spars, particularly as it transitioned into its second phase of airing — where artists sat or stood side by side. In a year where even the most intimate of couples haven’t been able to see one another for up to nine months, physical interactions seemed to have struck a chord with Verzuz’s audiences. Bounty Killer and Beenie Man’s matchup received over 1.25 billion impressions. As for Brandy and Monica’s Verzuz, it received over 5 billion impressions, becoming one of the more popular matchups to take place this year.
However, the most popular Verzuz that occurred was one that came with some controversy — Gucci Mane and Jeezy. Considering the fact that Gucci Mane has laughed at the shooting of Jeezy’s friend in the past (and shared a meme referencing that ahead of the matchup), as well as the mutual threats made on either end for over a decade prior to Verzuz, there was plenty to anticipate.
Twitter users joked at the prospect of a shooting, suggesting the pair would need bullet-vests prior to the show. Despite valid fears of a potential brawl, they were able to somewhat reconcile across their battle, eventually engaging in mutual camaraderie. But didn’t come without some tension, particularly when Gucci played his Jeezy diss track “Truth.”
“Let me say my piece … I extended my hand because I’m a real man,” Jeezy said to Gucci after the track played. “The shit we came from in the street, dawg, you see that we been through it … Twenty years. And when I said I wanted to do this shit for the culture, that’s what I wanted to do. I brought you here to show you the world care about what the fuck we got going on ’cause we are the culture. You feel me? Me and you, where we came from, what we been through, nigga, us.”
“All these kids out here doing what the fuck they do ’cause they saw what went on with us. This shit ain’t about me, it ain’t about you,’ he continued. “This shit about King Von, this shit about Doe B, this shit about Nipsey Hussle, this shit about motherfucking Pop Smoke, Mo3. And I’m real enough to do that, nigga…”
As an elder statesman of Atlanta’s subgenre of trap, the self-proclaimed Guwop ultimately accepted Jeezy’s olive branch, and acknowledged his influence on their region’s evolution, too.
“Ay, man, listen. I respect, I appreciate you for throwing out the olive branch. I accept that. No disrespect, it’s all love,” Gucci said at the end of the two’s battle. (Gucci also allegedly regretted being disrespectful to Jeezy, according to Quality Control’s CEO P.)
Hours after the Verzuz, Jeezy spoke with Hot 97 and reinforced that there was never any intention to engage in physical or verbal conflict, despite some of the antagonizing he faced from Gucci.
“It was a moment of clarity where it was just like, ‘Either we’re gonna take this shit back 20 more years or we gonna have to figure this out in front of the world,’” Jeezy said. “…I’m not about to let a situation take me back 20 years because somebody’s antagonizing me.”
In the realm of hip-hop specifically though, there’s a lineage in relation to high-profile “beefs” and the ending of them publicly, with the parties involved being physically present in order for this to happen. Last year we saw this happen in the hip-hop podcasting and radio space with Nicki Minaj and Joe Budden. Starting on Apple’s Queen Radio and ending days later on the Joe Budden Podcast, August 2019 saw the rap veterans spar over drug allegations and an alleged rivalry between Minaj and Cardi before making up. Even historically, titans such as JAY-Z and Nas de-escalated one of rap’s hallmark moments at the Continental Airlines Arena in New Jersey, performing “Dead Presidents II” together in October 2005 to echo hip-hop harmony. Similarly, Drake brought Meek Mill out in Boston two years ago showing signs of solidarity after the pair’s feud began in 2015.
Verzuz, beyond arguably standing as an “equal” medium for artists to resolve issues of the past, could also act as an arm that speeds up the process of healing relationships in music. Furthermore, Verzuz, unlike media personalities and stan-groups, doesn’t encourage or irritate former issues between former artists. Fundamentally, there will always be the entertaining and thrilling component to the prospect of a physical encounter from an audience perspective. Like a pay-per-view boxing match or a Tiffany Pollard-fabricated altercation on one of her reality television projects, people find physical interactions compelling. This is part of the reason why fans are now calling for a 50 Cent and Ja Rule Verzuz next. But it appears as though Timbaland and Swizz Beatz want to transcend violent spectacles and create authentic, “for the culture”-led realities with the legacy acts they choose to highlight.
Swizz spoke directly to this point with TMZ earlier this month, saying: “[Verzuz] showed a lot of the youth and a lot of the musicians who are going problems or have problems with other musicians…that the ending can be something that’s celebrated in positivity.”
It’s undeniable at this point that Verzuz is ubiquitous when it comes to conversations around the pandemic and live entertainment across 2020. Although the brand has unsurprisingly become corporatized — in the latter half of the summer, Verzuz partnered with both Apple Music and Twitter for live social integration and the heightening of quality, and also found a sponsor in Ciroc — the platform continues to retain a captive audience that engages with its events at a faster rate than more conventional competitor programs. But, more importantly, Verzuz has, even if only minimally, highlighted the power in taking the high road, and prioritizing moments that not only honor the legacies of important artists but sometimes offered reconciliation for its participants, too.
Nicolas-Tyrell is a freelance music and culture journalist and podcaster from London with bylines at HYPEBEAST, NME, Paper Magazine and Clash Magazine. Follow him @iamntyrell