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Diggy Simmons On Taking His Own Advice And The Making Of 'Lighten Up'

Diggy Simmons discusses refocusing on music, the importance of mental health and the making of his forthcoming album, ‘Lighten Up.'

Life comes at you fast. For Diggy Simmons, fame started budding at the impressionable age of 10 years old. Growing up in a family of rap royalty, music is ingrained in his blood. Heavily influenced by his father and former member of Run DMC, Joseph Simmons, the ‘80s hip-hop culture that raised him remains in his fibers. After dabbling in the mixtape business at an extremely young age, Diggy Simmons was only 17 years old when he dropped his 2012 debut album, Unexpected Arrival while signed to Atlantic Records.

Officially branding Simmons as a man of the industry, Unexpected Arrival propelled the young rapper into a world he wasn’t exactly prepared for. A growing spectacle in the public eye, he was unable to escape the pressure. With little time to grow, Diggy took a much-needed break from music after releasing his Out Of This World EP in 2015.

Taking time to re-center his thoughts and focus on his fashion and acting career, Simmons has carved out a niche for himself in several facets including his role on Freeform’s Grown-ish and mark in the vintage fashion scene.

 

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LIGHTEN UP / ALBUM / NOVEMBER 9TH Forever thankful for your patience, love and support. There are many themes that I explore in this project. The most prominent one being “journey”. Our emotional connection to our journey, how we learn from our journey, moving past trauma’s in our journey, and the practice of championing ourselves, no matter where we are in our journey. “Lighten Up” is an affirmation and reminder to myself and anyone that needs it. We’re all trying to figure it out. Don’t be so hard on yourself in the process of it. Shifting the focus to what can be, and not what “should” be. I’m excited to give you all new music after all this time. I’m already working on more. Next week Friday / Lighten Up! Photo by @a_kid_named_trav

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Now, at 23, he returns to the creative outlet that has allowed him to excel in every supplementary opportunity that has come his way: music. Excited to finally release a body of work that encompasses both who is he and who he wants to be, Simmons is gearing up for the Nov. 9 release of his sophomore album, Lighten Up.

Inspired by the melodic sounds of Sade and Anita Baker and the hard-hitting bars of Nas and JAY-Z, Simmons effortlessly blends the two sounds to make music that’s unapologetically him. “I’m always gonna be me,” he says. “I have my favorite guys that I like their style, but my focus is on doing what's genuine to me.”

In between takes on the set of Grown-ish and his budding fashion career, Diggy sat down to discuss refocusing on music, the importance of mental health and the making of his latest album, Lighten Up.

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VIBE: Your first full-length project in six years is coming out. How does that feel?
Diggy Simmons: It feels really good. I think just to be able to get these ideas out and to finally give them to people. It's a very liberating feeling.

I know the album is called Lighten Up. Do you have a specific reason for using that title?
Definitely. It's a reminder to myself. A positive affirmation to myself and to other people just to not take yourself too seriously. Of course, we take our journey seriously and we put in the work to get to where we want to get to, but I think a lot of the time we focus too much on the end result or getting to the finish line. I feel like in that process of us becoming better people and becoming better at our crafts, we have to lighten up and not be so hard on ourselves in the process of all of that.

I feel that. You talk a lot about how fear is the primary reason you withheld from releasing music for so long.
Exactly, and that's also a part of the reason it's called Lighten Up.

Would you say your fear manifested in a way that wouldn’t allow you to step into the booth? Or would you start to write and record and then hold onto the music for a while?
It would be more so that when I'd start to write, I would overthink the process. Too much thinking of whether it’s good enough as opposed to just having fun with it. I think that just comes from being under a microscope when it comes down to what I do creatively from fans, critics or whatever. Just wanting to be too perfect and yet again having to lighten up in that process and just allowing myself to enjoy what I love to do.

You’re 23 now, so when you released your debut album you were 17. Do you think being in the industry that young had to do with your decision to take a break?
Yeah, it's definitely possible. I think for someone my age to be in it like that—you're already figuring yourself out at that age. That's such a transitional period in your life. I think the break was definitely needed and my age could have possibly been a reason for why I needed it.

On “It Is What It Is,” you talk about how your break can be seen as a demise, but as you said, you're only 23. Things are fast-paced in the industry, but it's important for us to sit back and realize that we're not running out of time, we’re just getting started. Especially for you.
Exactly, exactly. That goes hand in hand with my talk of the process and not allowing ourselves to get too ahead of ourselves mentally.

Do you think like growing up in a family of rap royalty and celebrity in general influenced your creative process?
I think [it affected] what I decide to listen to and maybe some of the things that I grew up enjoying, whether it be music or not. My dad has shaped my taste in what I like and that basically shaped the way in which I make music.

On Unexpected Arrival, you were really inspired by Kanye and the 808s. Who would you say inspires you now or inspired this album?
That's hard to say. Honestly, I think it's a mesh of everything I grew up listening to. That helps this creative process, you know? I grew up listening to Kanye, JAY-Z, Nas and certain guys rapping-wise, but I also grew up listening to Sade and Anita Baker and there's so much melody there.

I definitely hear the melodic and stripped down elements in the singles you've put out so far.
Yeah and there's a lot of that on Unexpected Arrival as well. My voice is always credited to those people.

Would you say you have a specific artist you identify with?
I'm always gonna be me. I have my favorite guys that I like their style, but my focus is on doing what's genuine to me.

"Perspective vs Reality," the first episode of your docuseries was recently uploaded. Is this going to be an album-rollout type of thing?
It's based around the time that my album came out or is coming out, but it's gonna continue throughout so people can feel my process, what I do, and how I'm growing. I love to have that kind of relationship with my fans. I want to share what I go through and they can relate.

Do you have a date for the next one or do you know what it's gonna be about?
Yeah we're working on it right now and I can't give too much away, but it's really exciting. It's definitely gonna be a good one.

Going back to the music, "It Is What It Is" seemed like a very necessary track for you personally. Is that the first song you made when you decided to do music again?
I've always made songs but that was the second song in the album process.

 

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Album drops at midnight!!

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When did the album process start for you?
January of this year. It all really turned around very quickly. I mean, the fact that we started recording in January and we're putting it out in November is insane.

Was anything on this album an idea that you've been sitting on for a while?
Yeah, totally. Some are new, some things I [had] to go back into my voice notes because I've had so many ideas over time that I just didn't put on records. So it's a mix.

What new track would you say you're most excited for your fans to hear?
A song called "Testimony." I mean that digs deeper into the album title, it digs deeper into my mental health, how I really go about life and how I'm learning.

That’s a really important topic for you to be speaking on. How do you practice mental health?
I think everything has to be set aside. I have a therapist, I go to therapy. I feel like that's one way that you get things out. I feel like music is a therapy, that is therapeutic in itself. Yeah, I just think that you have to make time for it if you wanna feel progression with it.

Would you say your writing process helps you stumble on emotions you didn't even know you had?
Definitely. I think the way in which I'll explain something, I'll be like "oh I never really knew that I felt this deeply about something,” and it just makes me dig deeper when I think about my feelings and I’m trying to put them into words.

Aside from your music, you’re currently filming for Grown-ish and you're really into fashion. What made you return to music? Would you say music is your priority?
Oh yeah, that's number one, always. Everything that I've done creatively has derived from music, so that's number one.

Last question. You've been sharing clips for "Text Me" on Twitter, can we expect a video for that soon?
Yes, the video is coming so soon and I'm really excited for it. I'm directing it, so I'm excited.

READ MORE: Interview: For Diggy Simmons, Jet-Setting Is Just A Way Of Life

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Jadakiss and Fabolous perform at The Rich and Famous All Star Weekend Grand Finale at The Metropolitan on February 20, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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A Look At Fabolous And Jadakiss' 'Verzuz' Battle

After pairing two of the most acclaimed stars in contemporary R&B on Juneteenth, Verzuz returned to its rap roots, as Jadakiss and Fabolous went heads up to see whose catalog reigns supreme. While the event between the two — who joined forces for the highly-anticipated and critically acclaimed joint-album, Friday on Elm Street, in 2017 — was undoubtedly friendly and laced with compliments throughout the battle, there was no question that each came with the intent to outlast the other and walk away the victor.

With both having released their debut solo albums in 2001, Jadakiss and Fabolous' trajectories within the rap game have been eerily similar. While Jadakiss spent the latter half of the '90s as a key cog in the Bad Boy Records machine as a member of The LOX, Fabolous bided his time dominating the mixtape circuit under the guiding hand of DJ Clue, who helped him secure a record deal through his imprint, Desert Storm. Throughout the aughts, both artists matched their commercial success with standout showings alongside other rap and R&B artists and on the mixtape circuit, building reputations as elite wordsmiths. Today, both continue to churn out material and are regarded as OG's in the game, with resumes that place them on the list of the greatest rappers of all-time.

As two of the greatest rappers out of New York to ever pick up a mic, and with their willingness to perform and compete out of love for the culture, it was a given that Freddy and Jason face off in a Verzuz matchup tosee whose lyrical sword cuts the deepest, once and for all. Aside from minor technical difficulties during the tail-end of the battle, this edition of the Instagram Live event continued the seamlessness of previous battles, with Jada and Fab proving that R&B and gospel artists aren't the only ones who know how to put on a show in effective fashion.

In this matchup, Jadakiss went first for the first ten rounds, with Fabolous responding with his own selection, before switching the rotation for the final ten rounds, with Jadakiss answering with a song of his own. The evening, which included backstories behind each artist’s most popular records, friendly, albeit competitive banter, and countless trips down memory lane for the viewers and those commenting in the chat, is one that rap fans will remember for quite some time and is a testament to Fab and Jada’s staying power and music contributions to the culture. Here’s a round-by-round breakdown and recap of the Verzuz battle between Jadakiss and Fabolous, along with who we felt walked away as the victor when all was said and done.

ROUND 1: DMX feat. The LOX & Jay-Z's "Blackout" vs. Lil Wayne feat. Fabolous & Juelz Santana's "You Ain't Got Nuthin'"

Jadakiss wastes no time throwing down the gauntlet, as he lets off his verse from "Blackout," his collaborative effort with his LOX brethren, JAY-Z, and DMX, from the latter's 1998 LP, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. In return, Fabolous contests Kiss' opening pitch with a freestyle, which ultimately pales in comparison to Kiss' memorable posse-cut

Winner: Jadakiss

ROUND 2: The LOX's "Recognize" vs. Cassidy feat. Lil Wayne & Fabolous' "6 Minutes" DMX feat. The LOX & Jay-Z's "Blackout" vs. Lil Wayne feat. Fabolous & Juelz Santana's "You Ain't Got Nuthin'"

Sticking to the Ruff Ryders era of his career, the raspy one comes through with "Recognize," the standout, DJ Premier-produced cut off The LOX's sophomore LP, We Are the Streets. From there, Loso draws another lyrical miracle out the deck via "6 Minutes of Death," his scorching showing alongside Lil Wayne and Cassidy from Cass' I'm A Hustla album, which lands with impact, but falls short of a deafening blow in this matchup.

Winner: Jadakiss

ROUND 3: Nas feat. Jadakiss & Ludacris' "Made You Look (Remix)" vs. Lloyd Banks feat. Fabolous, Kanye West, Swizz Beatz & Ryan Leslie's "Start It Up"

Having captured the momentum early on, Jada continues to run up the score by tossing Nas' "Made You Look (Remix)" out on the table. Fabolous makes a valiant attempt to put some numbers on the board with Lloyd Banks' 2010 single "Start It Up," and although the track itself is a certified street banger, it's no challenge for one of the most memorable remixes of the early aughts.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 4: Jadakiss' "By Your Side" vs. Fabolous feat. P. Diddy & Jagged Edge's "Trade It All Pt. 2"

Having secured the first few rounds in convincing fashion, Al Qaeda Jada lets his foot off the gas, throwing out one of his more beloved deep cuts, "By Your Side," from his sophomore LP, Kiss of Death. His back against the ropes, the captain of the Street Family resorts to his grab-bag of hits, pulling out the Jagged Edge and Diddy-assisted summer smash, "Trade It All Pt. 2," giving the Brooklyn Don his first round of the bout.

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 5: The LOX's "All For the Love" vs. Fabolous feat. Kobe's "Imma Do It"

Faltering a bit in the previous round, Jadakiss returns fire with his solo selection from The LOX's '98 debut, Money, Power, & Respect, which Fabolous ironically jacked for his Friday Night Freestyles series, five years ago. In turn, Fabolous fails to regroup, misfiring with "Imma Do It," an underwhelming offering from his Loso's Way album, accounting for one of the more lopsided rounds in this edition of #Verzuz

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 6: The LOX's "Chest 2 Chest Freestyle" vs. Fabolous' "Keepin' It Gangsta"

Jadakiss goes out of the confines of the rules a bit by unleashing a vintage freestyle over Showbiz & A.G.'s "Next Level (Nyte Tyme Mix)," which pairs his bars with DJ Premier's sonic craftsmanship. While a strong selection in its own right, it gets outgunned by Fabolous' early street anthem, "Keepin' it Gangsta," adding another point to the Brooklynite's scorecard.

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 7: Ruff Ryders "WW III" vs. Fabolous feat. Junior Reid's "Gangsta Don't Play"

When in doubt, Jada seems to mine material from his Ruff Ryder catalog to gain an edge against his opponent, this time drawing "WW III," the star-studded battle royal featuring Scarface, Snoop Dogg, and Yung Wun, out the deck. In turn, Loso misplays his hand, deciding to strike back with the Junior Reid-assisted "Gangsta Don't Play," a solid composition on its own merit, but no threat to the Ryde or Die Vol. 2 compilation.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 8: Noreaga feat. Big Pun, Nature, Cam'Ron, Jadakiss & Styles P's "Banned From TV" vs. Fabolous feat. Jay-Z & Uncle Murda's "Brooklyn"

Looking to further increase the distance between himself and his opponent, Jadakiss goes for the jugular with "Banned From T.V.," Noreaga's epic posse-cut featuring New York's prized rookie class of 1998. Fabolous, who continues to struggle to find his footing, mails it in with "Brooklyn," which is an admirable display of his pride for the thoroughest borough, but does little to move the crowd, in this scenario.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 9: The LOX's "Blood Pressure" vs. Fabolous' "Young OG"

Sticking to the script, Jadakiss caters to his core base once again with "Blood Pressure," his murderous solo outing from The LOX's We Are the Streets album. Fabolous, who has yet to play off of his versatility or track record as a hitmaker, goes with "Young OG," a favorite from his Soul Tape series, again failing to answer the bell.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 10: Black Rob feat. The LOX's "Can I Live" vs. Jeezy feat. Fabolous & Jadakiss' "OJ"

For the last round of the first half of the #Verzuz proceedings, Jadakiss picks "Can I Live," as his last shot before skipping to the showers for half-time. An opportunity to grab an easy basket before retaining the rock after the half is squandered by Fab, who again misfires with a lackluster counter, in the form of "OJ," a record that actually includes an appearance from Jadakiss himself.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 11: Fabolous feat. French Montana's "Ball Drop" vs. Puff Daddy feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & Busta Rhymes' "Victory"

For the second half of this #Verzuz battle, Fabolous gets the first possession and rises to the occasion with "Ball Drop," his festive, French Montana-assisted NYE anthem. However, Jada, who's history as the pen behind some of Diddy's biggest hits is well-documented, goes left-field, playing Diddy's verse from "Victory," effectively snatching this round from the jaws of defeat.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 12: Meek Mill feat. Fabolous & Anuel AA's "Uptown Vibes" vs. Sheek Louch feat. Jadakiss, Styles P & J-Hood's "Mighty D-Block"

After spending the first half of the battle attempting to steal rounds with sleepers, Fabolous finally decides to lean on his strengths, which is delivering high-octane radio hits and club banger. However, being that he's now on the offensive, his appearance on Meek Mill's "Uptown Vibes" gets quelled by "D Block Anthem," giving Jadakiss an overwhelming advantage over his Freddy vs. Jason costar on the scoreboard.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 13: Fabolous feat. Nate Dogg's "Can't Deny It" vs. The LOX's "F--k You"

For Round 13, Fabolous lands a haymaker, using 2Pac's "Ambitionz Az a Ridah" instrumental to incorporate his breakout, 2001 hit, "Can't Deny It," into his playlist. While Jadakiss claps back with the incendiary We Are the Streets cut, "Fuck You," the Nate Dogg-assisted "Can't Deny It" is too strong of a record to be denied.

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 14: Fabolous feat. The-Dream's "Throw It in the Bag" (Remix) vs. Jadakiss' "Knock Yourself Out"

With the majority of his winning rounds coming off the strength of his high-charting singles, Fabolous looks to rely on that formula, coming through with the Drake-assisted remix to his 2009 single, "Throw It In The Bag." Unphased, Jadakiss brings out "Knock Yourself Out," the equivalent of his big joker, for neutralization, stealing yet another round.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 15: Fabolous' "Young'n" vs. Ghostface Killah feat. Jadakiss' "Run"

Fabolous takes it back to his throwback jersey and tilted brim days with "Young'n," one of the biggest singles of the rap star's career. Not to be outmatched, Jadakiss goes with "Run," his collaborative effort with Ghostface Killah, for this round, but falls short of landing the knockout punch.

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 16: Fabolous' "You Be Killin Em" vs. Puff Daddy feat. The Notorious B.I.G., Lil' Kim & The Lox's "It's All About the Benjamins" (Remix)

Just when Fabolous looks to have cracked the code to victory, Jadakiss comes through with a record that's simply too seismic and timeless to overcome. This occurs yet again in Round 16, when Jadakiss counters Loso's 2010 smash, "You Be Killin Em," with "All About the Benjamins," one of the definitive rap records of not only the Bad Boy era, but the '90s as a whole.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 17: Fabolous feat. Ne-Yo's "Make Me Better" vs. DJ Clue feat. Jadakiss & Mary J. Blige's "Back 2 Life 2001"

Despite finding himself in a deficit, Fabolous remains vigilant, keeping Jadakiss honest with formidable salvos like his Ne-Yo-assisted chart-topper, "You Make Me Better," which he pulls out in Round 16. Jadakiss shows love to his Yonkers comrade Mary J. Blige by spinning "Back 2 Life 2001," their collaboration from DJ Clue's The Professional 2 album, but it's not enough to overcome one of Fab's smartest chess moves of the night.

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 18: Fabolous feat. Mike Shorey & Lil Mo's "Can't Let You Go" vs. The LOX feat. Timbaland & Eve's "Ryde or Die, B---h"

In one of the more stylistically intriguing rounds of the night, Fabolous deploys "Can't Let You Go," his syrupy, 2003 hit, "Can't Let You Go," featuring Mike Shorey and Lil Mo, while Jadakiss goes with The LOX's 2000 single, "Ryde or Die, B---h" featuring his LOX brethren, Timbaland and Eve. While "Can't Let You Go" was the bigger Billboard hit, reading the room is an invaluable skill when participating in a #Verzuz battle, and according to the demographic and expectations of those tuning in to see these particular artists face-off, "Ryde or Die, B---h" is the more enticing offering, all things considered.

WINNER: Jadakiss

ROUND 19: Fabolous feat. Tamia's "Into You" vs. Jaheim feat. Jadakiss' "Diamond in da Ruff" (Remix)

As the battle winds down, and with Jadakiss having all but secured his bragging rights, both artists choose to play off of one another's selections, with Jadakiss answering Fabolous' "Into You" with "Diamond in da Ruff (Remix)," a sleeper of a gem in his catalog. However, "Into You, which is universally regarded as one of Fabolous' signature records, nabs him a latter round

WINNER: Fabolous

ROUND 20: Fabolous' "Breathe" vs. Jadakiss feat. Styles P's "We Gonna Make It"

For the final round in the battle between Freddy and Jason, Fabolous unleashes what may be his biggest trump card with "Breathe," one of the most impactful street anthems to come out of New York City in the past twenty years. Luckily, for Jadakiss, he still has one more trick up his sleeve, which turns out to be "We Gonna Make It," his beloved duet alongside Styles. P from his 2001 solo debut, Kiss Tha Game Goodbye. Two of the biggest rap records to hit the streets of New York. "Breathe" and "We Gonna Make It" are seemingly impossible to choose from, resulting in the lone draw of the night.

WINNER: Draw

 

Devoid of any bad blood or shade, Jadakiss and Fabolous were content playing to the Verzuz crowd and enjoying the moment, particularly Jadakiss, whose level of intoxication visibly rises throughout the proceedings, giving the battle an even more light-hearted feel. While Fabolous, whose laundry list of Billboard charting lead-singles and guest appearances, didn't play his best hand this go-round, there were a few moments during the battle that reminded the viewers of his versatility as a songwriter with a catalog of unsung gems. For his part, Jadakiss, the winner of this Verzuz edition, by all accounts, played to his strengths, relying on the sheer amount of blockbuster posse-cuts and guest verses on his resume. Following the battle, each artist's DJ let off a brief medley of each artists' biggest records and fan favorites that didn't make the cut of their playlists, ending the night on a respectful and celebratory note.

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Alicia Keys and John Legend attend the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
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A Look At Alicia Keys And John Legend's 'Verzuz' Juneteenth Celebration

After the collective family service we had with Verzuz: The Healing at the end of May, the Instagram Live event took a small break. On Friday, June 19th, Verzuz returned with a special Juneteenth edition featuring a modern-day dueling pianos between Alicia Keys and John Legend.

For the first male/female matchup of the series, Legend and Keys are—on the surface—a perfect match. They’ve been much compared over their careers, having both emerged at the height of the neo-soul era and becoming the remaining two pianists in R&B. Despite the ways in which they’re similar, the two singer-songwriter catalogues are actually very different, which was evidenced during their celebratory pairing.

Legend, whose latest studio LP Bigger Love debuted on Friday, used the occasion to remind viewers—many of which were core Legend fans that have drifted since he’s gone more Adult Contemporary with his music—why they loved him in the first place. He leaned heavily into his deep discography of features and some uncredited assists fans may not have known of. Keys, who has also released new music with her self-titled album earlier this year, was a little less focused in her playlist for the night but covered all bases from big hits to newer cuts.

This Verzuz wasn’t full of the meme-generating moments, technical difficulties, and quotables that have become the secondary appeal of previous matches. In fact, one of the few viral moments was between comedian Tony Baker and Teddy Riley in the Verzuz chat at the very beginning of the evening. Much like Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond’s Healing, Alicia and John joined more as a celebration than a battle, jumping on background vocals for each other’s songs and collaborating on select pieces like their collective welcome for the night’s festivities, a rendition of Bob Marley's very fitting “Redemption Song.”

ROUND 1: Cham feat. Alicia Keys “Ghetto Story Chapter 2” vs. Lauryn Hill's “Everything is Everything”

In each Verzuz, one of the artists feels less strategic with their lineup than the other. This week, that artist was Keys. Surprisingly so, considering the advantage of having Verzuz head (Captain? Owner? Don King?) Swizz Beatz as a personal coach. Her featured turn on “Ghetto Story” was a bop, but not enough of a favorite to merit an opening position. For Legend, the piano setup allowed him to flex the rules and pull out his first appearance on a major project before he even had a deal: playing the keys on Lauryn Hill’s 1999 single, “Everything is Everything.”

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 2: Alicia Keys' “Underdog” vs. Slum Village's “Selfish” feat. Kanye West and John Legend

Alicia started the second round with “Underdog,” a track from her 2020 self-titled album. A curious choice despite debuting it at the Grammy’s earlier this year, viewers still don’t know the song that well. John moved into the “things I did with Kanye” portion of his early catalogue (it’s easy, now, to forget that Legend started as part of Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music camp) with the Slum Village jam “Selfish.”

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 3: Alicia Keys' “Karma” vs. John Legend's “Used to Love You”

On the third round, Keys gets into her hits, but Legend counters with his debut jammy jam from 2004's Get Lifted. That “Holla, holla, holla” still goes. Hard.

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 4: Eve and Alicia Keys' “Gangsta Lovin’” vs. John Legend's “So High”

The songs were too different in this round to easily call a winner. Alicia wins points for “Gangsta Lovin’” being a somewhat forgotten gem in her arsenal. “I forgot about that one!” is always a plus during a Verzuz event, and part of the reason Swizz and Tim insist that participants have a deep catalogue in the first place. But John’s move into his wedding song tunes, and again utilizing the piano, gave him an edge.

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 5: Usher and Alicia Keys' “My Boo” vs. John Legend's “Ordinary People”

“My Boo” is a strong AK favorite. High sing-along factor, high nostalgia. This round should have been a lock for Keys, but John countered with his 2004 seminal ballad “Ordinary People” and sang live at the piano (Alicia didn’t even get all the way into her verse on “My Boo.”)

WINNER: Draw

ROUND 6: Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down" vs. Common's “They Say” feat. John Legend and Kanye West

Keys’ 2009 “Empire State of Mind (Part II)” was an appropriate tribute to resiliency and potential for current times, even if some viewers were wondering why she chose her solo version instead of the Jay-Z collaboration (my guess at the answer: piano). Common’s “They Say” still holds up now, but Keys wins out for sentiment.

WINNER: Keys

ROUND 7: Alicia Keys' “Teenage Love Affair” vs. John Legend's “Heaven”

This was an uninspiring round for me. “Teenage Love Affair” and “Heaven” are both good songs for what they are and encourage some head-nodding when played. I think they’re songs that nobody turns off or skips, but they don’t exactly go back to listen to them when thinking of these artists either.

WINNER: Draw

ROUND 8: Alicia Keys “Un-thinkable (I’m Ready)" vs. John Legend's “Another Again”

In my anecdotal experience, if you poll 20 Black women in their mid-late ‘30s and ask them their favorite John Legend track, a good 15 are going to give “Another Again” as their second choice. If not, their first. (Probably because the lyrics reflect early experience staying in cycles with people they knew they needed to move on from.)

But, Keys' ode to relationships we have no business being in, the Aubrey Graham co-penned “Un-Thinkable,” is undeniable.

WINNER: Drake. I mean Keys.

ROUND 9: Alicia Keys' “If I Ain’t Got You” vs. John Legend's “This Time”

“This Time” is a Legend sleeper ballad from the largely slept-on Evolver, but “If I Ain’t Got You” has all the things we love about Alicia: the keys, the lyrics about devotional love, and one of her best uses of her raspy alto.

WINNER: Keys

ROUND 10: Alicia Keys' “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart” vs. John Legend's “Tonight (Best You Ever Had)” feat. Ludacris

I mean… John’s lovingly awkward two-step aside, do we even have to discuss a round with “Tonight” in it? No, we don’t.

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 11: Alicia Keys' “A Woman’s Worth” vs. John Legend & The Roots' “Wake Up Everybody” feat. Common and Melanie Fiona 

John Legend and The Roots' version of “Wake Up Everybody” was poignant for the day (as is their entire 2010 Wake Up! project if you’ve never listened to it), and it provided another opportunity for Keys and Legend to collaborate, but “A Woman’s Worth” is Keys right in her pocket.

WINNER: Keys

ROUND 12: Alicia Keys' “Diary” feat. Tony! Toni! Tone! & Jermaine Paul vs. Kanye West and John Legend's “Blame Game”

I was really, really, really hoping John was going to fully take on Jermaine Paul’s part for “Diary” (he came in with some teases here and there). Still, even without the full “I won’t tell” back and forth we would have all loved to see live, “Diary” is still a winner. Plus, John lost points for having to apologize to Ms. Phyllis (his mama) on air for the curse words in “Blame Game.”

WINNER: Keys

ROUND 13: Alicia Keys' “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” vs. Rick Ross' “Magnificent” feat. John Legend

Another uneven round that’s hard to call at face value. Legend reminded us early in the evening that he and Rozay have damn near an album’s worth of collaborations, and “Magnificent” is one of the best ones. But “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” is a “Purple Rain” sample—almost a cheat code. Also, they used “Magnificent” as a Ciroc intermission.

WINNER: Keys

ROUND 14: Alicia Keys' “Superwoman” vs. Estelle's “American Boy” feat. Kanye West

“Superwoman” wins by default here because while John co-wrote “American Boy” and signed Estelle to his brief HomeSchool imprint, he played the song more as a vehicle to tell his career story than as a formal submission towards his 20.

WINNER: Keys

ROUND 15: Alicia Keys' “You Don’t Know My Name” vs. Rick Ross and John Legend's “Rich Forever”

Before Alicia and John got into their songs at the top of the night, they mentioned a song they’d both worked on together, but never named the track. That song was the 2003 Kanye-produced “You Don’t Know My Name,” which John provided the soulful “Ooh oohs” for throughout. Legend put up another strong showing in the Legend/Ross collection, but AK did the (slightly stalkerish and not advised under modern social norms) call to “Michael” live, and that alone is a winner.

WINNER: Keys but really Legend because he sang the “Ooh’s” live.

ROUND 16: Alicia Keys' “Unbreakable” vs. John Legend's “Green Light” feat. Andre 3000

Whew, those Black couple references in the beginning of “Unbreakable” have not aged well over the last 15 years, and the instant retro feel of the track wasn’t enough for us to overlook it. Legend’s “Green Light” with 3 Stack’s beloved voice shined a little brighter as we all tried to let that cringey moment go.

WINNER: Legend by default

ROUND 17: Alicia Keys's “In Common” vs. John Legend's “U Move, I Move” feat. Jhene Aiko

This round is tough, because while AK’s “In Common” was a groove, the song never really gained traction (despite SNL performances, ad campaigns, etc). Legend and Aiko’s “U Move, I Move” also feels like a groove, but is fresh-out-the-box new and a single on Legend’s new album.

WINNER: Draw

ROUND 18: Alicia Keys' “Girl on Fire” vs. John Legend's “All of Me”

“Girl on Fire” is one of Keys’ biggest hits. But it was so ubiquitous at its height, no one really wants to hear it anymore. Collective sighs and groans rippled throughout the internet from the beginning of the song. Fortunately, Keys herself seems to know everyone’s tolerance for “Girl on Fire” is low; she kept it short. Legend’s own ubiquitous monster, “All of Me,” was going to win whatever round John decided to play the song anyway, so just as well.

WINNER: Legend

ROUND 19: Alicia Keys' “Fallin’” vs. DJ Khaled's "Higher" feat. Nipsey Hussle & John Legend

“Higher” was a Grammy winner, a number one hit, and has become a tribute to Nipsey Hussle, having been released immediately after his death. But “Fallin’” is still magic, from those opening notes that wanna-be singers butchered everywhere throughout 2001. No contest.

WINNER: Keys

ROUND 20: Alicia Keys' “No One” vs. John Legend and Common's “Glory”

Let’s just skip over the “No One” moment because “Glory” is an Oscar-winning song and a Black freedom anthem and John gave a history lesson on Juneteenth while introducing the track, so we don’t even need to talk about anything else.

WINNER: The Fight for Justice

BONUS ROUND: Alicia Keys' “Perfect Way to Die” and John Legend's “Never Break”

The two closed out on solemn and pensive notes for their benediction offerings. Keys with her latest tribute to the many Black lives continuously being cut short without justice; and Legend in response with one of his new tracks, a story of the strong foundation of love, that can also be applied to our endurance and our fight in the face of injustice and tragedy.

They came marching in the city that day, they say

Carryin' signs in the street

Cryin' eyes in the streets

But they heard nothing from the city that day, they say

Just another one gone

And the city moved on

-  "Perfect Way to Die"

We will never break

We will never break

Built on a foundation

Strong enough to stay

We will never break

As the water rises

And the mountains shake

Our love will remain

- "Never Break"

Friday night’s Keys and Legend card wasn’t as eagerly anticipated or as big a draw as some previous Verzuz matches. They were also competing with no small amount of virtual Juneteenth programming, including a Friday night R&B concert series Keith Sweat hosts in partnership with iHeart Radio. But it was a fun night, a good reminder of the power of live musicianship and good songwriting (or, as Legend said frequently during the night, “a copyright”), and just a good vibe all around. The ultimate winner, as with all Verzuz matches, was the music.

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Kendrick Sampson And Channing Godfrey Peoples Talk 'Miss Juneteenth,' Black Love's Portrayal And More

As many organizations and people around the county celebrate the 155th anniversary of the remaining Black slaves' freedom, Queen Sugar writer and director Channing Godfrey Peoples delivers a new drama film, Miss Juneteenth.

Starring Little Fires Everywhere star Nicole Beharie (as Turquoise) and Insecure fan-favorite Kendrick Sampson (as Ronnie), the feature film follows Turquoise, a former beauty queen and hard-working single mother named who strives to encourage her teenage daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) to take part in the annual Miss Juneteenth pageant while navigating love and loss.

Ahead of the film's debut, VIBE correspondent and host Jazzie Belle sat down with Peoples and Sampson—who are also Texas natives—to discuss how the film beautifully paints the characters' love story, what the celebration of Juneteenth truly means to them and the Black community, and what they hope viewers take away from the insightful and relatable film, especially in today's fight against institutionalized racism.

"My hope is that this story will be amplified because it's another Black story about the humanity of Black folks," said Peoples. "And then it will open doors for more human stories about Black folks to be told."

"I love our culture. I love the way we sound. I love the inflections that we have. I love our accents and how they're different than white folks," added Sampson. "We have to think really about what that [Juneteenth] pageant means and what we are exemplifying within that pageant. And what Juneteenth actually means, and if those are cohesive. What are we fighting for in liberation?"

Watch the full interview between Jazzie, Kendrick, and Channing above. Also, see excerpts from their conversation below. Vertical Entertainment's Miss Juneteenth is now streamable on-demand i.e. Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime, FandangoNow.

On what Juneteenth means to them

Kendrick Sampson: Juneteenth is a reminder that when we fight, we win. We have to take on abolition as a framework for activism that if one person is in bondage, we all are in bondage. It wasn't ever about the person who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. No oppressor ever just benevolently gave us something because they woke up one day and said, "All right. We're going to give y'all back y'all freedom." It was hard fought for like hardcore radical people that were willing to put their bodies on the line and not just allies, but accomplices.

I grew up knowing July 4th, Independence Day, was bullsh*t because our people weren't independent. What independence were we celebrating? And so Juneteenth is my favorite and it's got a lot more flavor and culture.

Channing Godfrey Peoples: It [Juneteenth] was a fabric of growing up. Is was a fabric of my childhood...For me, commemorating Juneteenth was always about acknowledging our ancestors who Kendrick's talked about who were slaves in Texas getting their freedom late. And Kendrick talked about the themes in the film. And I think I really wanted to portray thematically that Turquoise is on this journey finding her own sense of freedom, by coming to terms with her own past later in life.

On the inspiration behind playing Ronnie

Sampson: I understood who Ronnie was and I thought it would be an honor to portray a Black man from Texas that was different than Nathan because Nathan is from Houston on Insecure. And, that was an honor, especially dealing with mental health issues and such, which I'm hugely passionate about. But just all of us have trauma. I know Ronnie, I got brothers that are Ronnie. And I wanted to honor Ronnie. I wanted to have the chance to show that nuance. I wanted to show that the humanity in it is that, again, you can't be a Black man person, trans, woman, sister, whatever, cannot be Black in America without experiencing a level of trauma and having generational trauma inform how you operate.

On the portrayal of Black love on-screen

Peoples: I think one of the things that I love about Turquoise and Ronnie's relationship is the thing that they have in common. You can feel their history, you can also feel their baggage, but what they have in common is their love for their daughter. And you're seeing them act that out as parents in different ways. Like another question I was always asking was how did these characters parent, and that was driving the decisions for the film. How does Turquoise parent? How does Ronnie parent? And at different moments...you're seeing the yin and yang of that, the positive and negative of both. Both are just trying to love this child.

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