After a couple weeks of steadily building momentum — a crescendo that hit an early peak with Saturday night’s Lil Jon vs. T-Pain battle, watched simultaneously by over a quarter-million viewers on Instagram Live — the Timbaland- and Swizz Beatz-curated “Verzuz” battle series finally hit a snag.
Sunday’s much-anticipated face-off between R&B legends Babyface and Teddy Riley was postponed, and then delayed indefinitely, after Riley expressed concerns in an interview with radio host Charlamagne tha God about the moderation and sponsorship of the event. Now Timbaland and Swizz Beatz are both teasing a new Verzuz lineup and schedule, promising, “Don’t worry everything [about the format] will be the same.”
But while we certainly don’t want to see the integrity — and just as importantly, the sense of freewheeling fun — of these events compromised, we do have some thoughts as to how we can make them even more expansive, more inclusive and more exciting. Here’s seven directions we’d love to see Tim and Swizz take their new hit “by the artist, for the artist, with the people” showdown series.
Give it up for the ladies
Verzuz has solely been a men’s game, but it’s about time the women flex their arsenal of hits. Luckily, Swizz Beatz recently announced a “Ladies Edition” will be coming soon. This can lead to a bevy of exciting options that highlight rappers, singers, songwriters and producers. How about a rap battle between Lil Kim and Eve? Or Missy Elliott and Nicki Minaj can compete in a new vs. old-school clash. Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey can represent for R&B/soul, while songwriters Kandi Burruss and Ester Dean show up for their respective generations. — BIANCA GRACIE
Mix in special guest moderators
The unmoderated aspect of the Verzuz series has been part of the fun of it, so we’re not suggesting we add a full-time referee or anything. Just a third voice in a satellite room that the show can occasionally cut to (or have call in) to offer some commentary on how everything is going — who’s currently got the momentum, what moments Twitter is talking the most about, how many people are tuning in, etc. — and then get back out of the way. To make it more fun, it can be a celebrity guest; maybe one with separate ties to both artists involved, and one whose identity is kept secret until they first pop up. Spotting the celebrities in the IG comments is already part of the fun of these events, why not take it to the next level? — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
Explore new sounds
While the series should maintain the cultural integrity that creators Swizz Beatz and Timbaland put forth, it can be even more entertaining if other genres could get in on the fun. Last week, songwriters Ryan Tedder and Benny Blanco participated in Verzuz’s pop edition, and hopefully the trend continues. Just imagine if legendary hitmakers like Diane Warren, Max Martin and Linda Perry got in the mix? And dancehall, whose selectors and artists initially birthed the idea of sound clashes, could also be represented on a larger scale. — B.G.
Introduce live voting
Find a way to way to add a mechanism that lets the viewers sound off on who they think is winning. Doesn’t have to be too specific or too official if it’ll bruise egos and/or ruin the spirit of good clean fun that keeping the competition here unregulated, but let’s let the people give the artists a sense of who they think has the edge every couple rounds. Think of it as like a Noise Meter in sports to show how hyped the fans are coming out of a timeout, heightening the drama and getting the players locked in. — A.U.
Add singers to the mix
There has been something special about keeping it to producers and songwriters in these competitions so far — it’s served as a sort of crash-course lesson in the back catalogs of a lot of figures who’ve crafted entire corners of the hip-hop and R&B universes without really getting name recognition for it. (Raise your hand if you could’ve named a half-dozen Johnta Austin hits before his Ne-Yo battle.) But eventually, we could have the same for singers: recognizable voices from a generation ago who we haven’t heard from much recently and who boast more jams than you might remember. (Ones who probably couldn’t resist doing a little live showing off, too.) Ne-Yo and T-Pain got us half the way there, let’s go full sing-off soon enough. — A.U.
Extend a helping hand
As we continue to see stars give back during the coronavirus pandemic, it would be admirable to have a charitable component added to future battles. Participants could either match the number of Instagram Live viewers to a donation to their favorite charity, or the winner can use their symbolic trophy as an incentive to help those in need — whether it be in their own communities or on a global scale. — B.G.
Bring it to the big stage
During the T-Pain vs. Lil Jon Verzuz last weekend, the artists discussed how fun it would be if the battles kept going once the pandemic eased up. That conversation also carried on social media, with fans reliving the nostalgic days where these classic songs would soundtrack college parties. If done properly, transporting these Instagram Lives for a concert series could possibly have a similar success story like B2K’s Millenium Tour, which gathered throwback acts such as Ying Yang Twins, Ashanti and Chingy — and also grossed $5 million. — B.G.