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Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

Barry Jenkins Proves Love Is The Great Equalizer In 'If Beale Street Could Talk'

'If Beale Street Could Talk' director Barry Jenkins discussed the many love languages depicted in his James Baldwin adaptation.

Inside Manhattan’s Essex Hotel, Barry Jenkins sits with his legs crossed in a sparsely furnished room on the third floor. The Academy-Award winning director is in town to promote his latest film If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaption from author, essayist, and critic James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name. Jenkins, wearing a royal blue knit sweater and a gray T-shirt, offers a hug and promises he’s not contagious despite his sniffles. It’s a chilly late November day but before the interview begins, he gets up from his seat once again to turn off the heat.

The warmth, love, and intimacy albeit with a splash of naivety by way of the film’s lead characters, cannot, however, be turned down or off. It stays with moviegoers long after the film’s credits prompting them to question their own beliefs and boundaries about love. Is their love strong enough to withstand the pressure of being young parents from warring families? Or could they weather the unforgiving storm of the prison system? More importantly, have they ever experienced a love, tender yet resolute, like the one depicted on screen? Jenkins forces those questions.

If Beale Street Could Talk centers around Tish and Fonny (Kiki Layne in her first feature film, and Race’s Stephan James) who in the middle of their unblemished doe-eyed love come face-to-face with America’s lust for imprisoning black men. This isn’t the first love story Jenkins has tackled. The Florida native earned a buzz for himself with 2008’s Medicine For Melancholy and then became Hollywood’s darling in 2016 with his Academy Award-winning Moonlight. Jenkins’ ability to cinematically depict the beauty and complexity of relationships among black people has been at the heart of his work, and he continues that pattern, at his highest artistic level to date, with Beale Street.

But any talk of his own love life merits an adjustment in his seat, a crossing, and uncrossing of his legs, and a readjustment of his Oliver Peoples glasses.

“Yeah, of course, [I’ve been in love],” he says slightly high-pitched and bashful. “Of course.”

Jenkins is down-to-earth, chill and open but he politely, yet assertively discontinues any questions about his personal life at the onset of our discussion. Want to discuss his art? No problem. His heart? Well…no. He does allow for one last intimate inquiry: What lesson is love trying to teach you that you’re not learning?

“Oh, that’s interesting. I think love is trying to teach me to love myself. I feel like I’m really having a hard time learning that which is something that I think—

“Even at 39?” I interrupt.

“Yeah, even at 39. Thank you for pointing out that I’m 39,” he says with a chuckle. “I think that who we are as people for the first 10 years of our lives stay with us for the next 60 years of our lives. I know that I’m capable of loving myself, and it’s something that I have to constantly work at. I think because I’m working hard at so many other things, that I lose sight of that quite often.”

Jenkins uses the words “interesting” and “man” regularly. When he’s thinking of how to respond to a question he begins with “it’s interesting, man” or “oh, that’s interesting.” A telltale sign that he’s mentally buying time before responding. When asked how he first came to know Baldwin’s work, interestingly enough, he was introduced to the writer through a past love who wanted him to arrest his unyielding definition of black masculinity.

“It’s interesting, man, she gave me the one-two!” Jenkins says reminiscently. “It was Fire Next Time and Giovanni’s Room just so I could become a little less rigid in how I carried myself and what I thought a black man should be, you know? And then I started reading Baldwin for myself and realized how wide the breadth of his work was.”

At 5-feet-8 inches tall, Jenkins is brown-skinned and bald with a perfected nerd appeal. Not  nerdy in an awkward way, more like he can wax poetic about a number of French foreign films, but isn’t too high-brow to understand the emotional importance of say, The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly.” For Jenkins, using the famous Roberta Flack remake for the film’s third and final trailer acted as a musical bed for Tish and Fonny’s affair.

“It’s always been a song that’s resonated with me and it felt like this love between KiKi and Stephan, I mean between Tish and Fonny, there was something not tragic about it but very pure and at the same time brutal about it.”

In Beale Street, there’s a scene in which Tish and Fonny look directly at one another. There’s no dialogue, just a young black couple in love gazing into one another’s eyes. A smile eventually creeps over their faces, but not for a moment or so. I share how a few audience members shifted in their seats at an early screening I attended. Jenkins surmises the reaction is two-fold.

“I think when you watch a movie you don’t ever expect to have to look someone in the eye. It’s interesting. Movies can be emotional. People cry in movies all the time, but they cry without directly connecting to the person on screen. So I think the idea of having to look the character on the screen directly in the eye is unnerving because it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m not outside I’m within it.’

“You asked me earlier about love and all that stuff and I don’t like to talk about my personal life in these interviews, but I have a girlfriend and sometimes we look at each other. We talk a lot but I feel like when we look at each other, like how you and I are looking at each other right now, that’s when it’s like real. There’s no avoiding…

“No escaping,” I chime.

“Right, no escaping whatever’s between us. And I feel like carrying that emotion, that feeling from my personal life into the work has been something that’s been a blessing. I wish I was there to see the people move and squirm,” Jenkins admits. “And that moment comes way late in the film, in like the last five minutes, those direct close-ups with KiKi and Stephan, at least the ones that I love the most. And yeah you should [squirm] because all these things you’ve been feeling, you’re not going to be allowed to shake it off when you leave the theater. You’re going to have to take that sh*t with you.”

Jenkins accents “take that sh*t with you” by slapping his index finger on the table, so it sounds like take (slap) that (slap) sh*t (slap) with (slap) you.

Tish and Fonny’s union isn’t the sole relationship that holds center stage. The camaraderie between Fonny and Daniel Carty, played by Brian Tyree Henry, also captivates. The Atlanta actor enters the frame while running into Fonny and Tish on the street. He’s smiling, joking, hugging his brother and from the outside looking in, everything is everything. But as Carty’s character blooms viewers begin to see life isn’t all peachy.

“You know, it’s interesting. That brotherly love and then that vulnerability, it’s one of those things where I feel like the way I interact with my homeboys back home and with all the cats in my frat, just the black men that I know, I don’t often see those kinds of interactions depicted,” Jenkins says. “For one, I think it takes a bit of time for us to get to that point. When I say us, I mean black men to get to that point where we really reveal ourselves to one another. And in a movie, typically, you’ve got to get there in two minutes, three minutes. But I feel like with this book and with this film, there was an opportunity to create a space where over the course of 10, 12, minutes you can really see Brian and Stephan act out this dynamic that I’ve seen whether it's between my uncles, whether it’s me and my homeboys at the family cookout or whatever.”

That dynamic Jenkins speaks of is the slow undoing of “I’m fine” or “I’m good, I’m okay” that often occurs between black men and may require a drink, a smoke, or a drink and a smoke to journey to the heart of the matter.

“To me, what I think Brian and Stephan are doing in that scene is going through this whole wave of progressions where they’re trying to really understand and figure out: ‘Am I comfortable enough to truly go to this place?’ And I think they both do such a wonderful job because Brian’s character shows up on the sidewalk cracking jokes, talking funny about the art, hugging his lady. She’s going out to buy groceries, everything is cool and then literally, within the span of eight to 10 minutes, you see this dude is hurt, deeply hurt,” Jenkins says. “And the journey Fonny is on theoretically could end up in this place where Brian’s character ended up, so it was really important to me and the book. It's one thing to intellectually experience that as you’re reading a novel, but to see Brian Tyree Henry ride the wave in the course of one scene, that to me is cinema.”

Jenkins’ road to film was a wave in itself, yet during the middle of my 15-minute interview, five of those minutes were hijacked by my mother who called as I recorded from my phone. Before I could hit ignore, Jenkins, thrilled the caller ID read “Mommy,” picked up, put her on speaker and began chatting away. Despite his nerdy demeanor Jenkins isn’t short on charm and gracefully wooed my mom with his “Ask me a question, my dear.” Taking the bait, she giggled and queried him about his path. Jenkins spoke truthfully and humbly about growing up in Miami’s projects and not feeling he had the technical skills his white college peers had. “But they didn’t have my voice,” he said speaking into the phone.

Jenkins’ voice and his dedication to showing the beauty of blackness, black bodies, and black lives while making our stories universal has catapulted the filmmaker. But if you ask him how he manages those tasks, he’ll tell you he doesn’t even give it much thought.

“You know, I take that sh*t off the table,” he says nonchalantly. “Only because I’m black. I’m a human being. Black folks are human beings, you know? I think the spectrum of experience among human beings is pretty singular. We all love. We all yearn. We all hurt. We all suffer. We all experience joy. The feeling of my joy should be just as immediate and accessible and quote end quote universal in its specificity as anyone else’s. And so the idea I’m trying to create imagery surrounding blackness that is then relatable to someone who is not black, that sh*t just doesn’t occur to me,” Jenkins said.

“To me, I’m trying to tell as truthfully and as authentically the experience of the characters. In a certain way, if you want to come and meet that, you have to come and meet that on our terms.”

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L.A.'s Problem Explains The Making of His Short Film “A Compton Story” And Releases New Single “Don’t Be Mad At Me”

We know that Los Angeles, California produces top tier talent when it comes to Hip-Hop, so we won’t even start with the long list of MCs and beatmakers that comprise that grouping. Yet, we have to acknowledge that Jason “Problem” Martin is right on that list with the greats of his city. Beyond ghostwriting for legends and presenting a slew of mixtapes, which has lead to his trifecta of self-produced Selfish themed albums, Mr. “Whaaat!” (his signature catch phrase) is now in the cinematic realm with the release of the short film A Compton Story, exclusively released on the Tidal streaming platform.

Based on events that could be from his real life, Problem squeezes in the everyday occurrences that a black man can go through whether famous or infamous. "I wanted to do a comedy. I thought ‘some gangster movie’ would be expected from me," explains Problem. “I grew up loving stuff like Martin, Friday, Purple Rain...so those projects were my major inspirations and the blueprints to tell my own story, A Compton Story.” Executive produced by Problem and President of the mighty Top Dawg Entertainment, Terrence “Punch” Henderson, A Compton Story twists and turns and features music that goes along with the scenes. It also debuts Problem’s newest single “Don’t Be Mad At Me.”

Watch the likes of Mike Epps, Jackie Long and Snoop Dogg enhance the visuals, along with the love of Problem’s life...we’ll let him tell you all about her.

------------- How did you go about casting your short film “Compton Story?”

The casting process for Compton Story was random as hell. It was a mix of people I’ve worked with or currently work with in some kind of capacity that was around during that month period that I was shooting. Once I drop the documentary to the film, you’ll see how random a lot of things ended up happening. It was a blessing. I just called up all my friends...I heard Deon Taylor say something, ‘Just work with who you fuck with.’ And that’s what I did, I just happen to have some real cool friends. Shout out to them for giving me their time and taking their time with me for this, cus it was a new process. I was dealing with some really high level people.

When did you meet the leading lady of the film, Daphne?

Me and Daphne met when I came back from Germany, I was one years old and I went to my Pa-Pa’s house and she lived three houses down. I been knowing Daphne since I was damn near born. I used to watch her down the street, I used to sneak in her house. Her Dad was one of my best friends on the block, he used to give me candy. He knew I loved his daughter. I used to tell her I was going to marry her when I was like four, five and six… I just been plotting on this for a long time. For us to kick back off when I’m grown, she went and had a fabulous life and went and did what I did, for us to reconnect right now is still strange to me. But you know on some confidence shit I told her, “I knew I was gonna get you.” So it’s funny man.

Is “Whaaaat!” your preverbal light blub saying when you come up with a genius idea?

Honestly, I would say “Whaaat!” to everything. It was just like my period to the end of the sentence or my exclamation point or whatever. I’d be sitting with the homies and somebody would say something funny I’d be like “Whaat” or if they did something crazy I’d say, “Whaaat!” But I was sittin’ with one of my partners at Diamond Life and he was like, “Aye man, why don’t you ever put one of those shits in your songs?” I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “That, the ‘What.’ Put that shit in your record.” Every record after that, I put “Whaaat!” in it and it just stuck.

“Compton Story” shows us just one day of the pressure it is to be a young successful black man in those L.A. streets. Do you feel or live as though every day is this hectic for you? And if so, how long before you realized these [L.A.] Valley streets are crazy as hell too?

It’s just hectic for any black man, let alone a successful one. Just the randomness of shit that can happen. Then especially if you came from an urban area or poverty stricken area, or low class area...and then to become successful you battle with the nuances of what you learned and what do you take and use in what situation is always the hardest parts for me. Like, ‘Do I use my Compton shit here? Or do I use my about to be 40 (years old) vibes?’ That’s the toughest part, knowing when to hit the gas and when to hit the brake.

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Recording artists Swizz Beatz and Timbaland attend The Dean Collection X BACARDI Untameable House Party on December 4, 2015 in Miami, Florida.
Frazer Harrison

Interview: Swizz Beatz And Timbaland Talk 'Verzuz' Battles, Respond To Fan Requests

Phrases such as “do it for the culture” or “push the culture forward” are used so often that their meanings have been diluted. But with their new series Verzuz, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland are doing exactly what those terms mean. Part beat battle and part educational seminar, two legendary producers, songwriters, or artists take 20 of their biggest hits and pit them against each other as the audience watches and comments on Instagram. Timbaland and Swizz competed against each other first, and then they coordinated other matchups: Boi-1da vs. Hit-Boy, Neyo vs. Johnta Austin, The-Dream vs. Sean Garrett, Mannie Fresh vs. Scott Storch, and T-Pain vs. Lil Jon. Each matchup has its own standout qualities - whether it’s Sean Garrett's wacky faces before launching a late comeback, Scott Storch adding harmonious keys in real time, or T-Pain and Lil Jon clowning with each other before previewing new music, every battle is a must-watch.

Coming up next, music fans will be treated to the biggest matchup yet: Teddy Riley vs. Babyface. In an interview with VIBE, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland break down how they came up with Verzuz in the first place, their favorite moments so far, and why they want the culture vultures to slow down for once.

 

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@teddyriley1 VS @babyface 🙌🏽 This is one of the iconic moments me & @timbaland have been working on! The Sunday will go down in the history books! Once again VERZUZ made it happen ! See you Sunday 6pm est on @teddyriley1 Live Zone Zone Zone !!!!!!!

A post shared by No Breaks In 2020 (@therealswizzz) on Apr 2, 2020 at 9:27pm PDT

--

What made you decide to do the first battle between yourselves?

Timbaland: I think the first battle was something that I can say that me and Swizz had this idea for Verzuz three and a half years ago. The world is so dark right now, I woke up one day just feeling brave and I called Swizz like, “we should do it over IG Live.” As soon as I said it, we just did it, we just had fun with it. We just gave the world something beautiful for 5 hours to take their mind off of what's going on.

Swizz Beatz: We did it before at Summer Jam, so that was the first one, and then Timb came back to me and said,  “you know what, this is the time where we should do it again.” And I thought it was a great idea. Plus it fits right into what we were building anyway

Was it both of you guys at Summer Jam or was it a different battle at Summer Jam? Swizz Beatz: It was me and him. We didn’t have enough time to do how we did on IG, so IG was the real one. Summer Jam was the warm up. Because we only had like 12, 15 minutes on the set so it was very short but it was effective with 50,000 people there. And we were just celebrating each other, and that's the thing I wanted to tell everybody. It's an educational celebration, even though we talk smack and we make it interesting, cause we gotta have that for fun, but it's really educational and it's really a celebration. So everybody that's been on Verzuz has been an educational celebration. I mean, look at tonight. We got Ryan Tedder vs Benny Blanco, you know that's a whole other side of the music, but those guys deserve to get celebrated as well. I think it's gonna be a great battle, they’ve got big big big records.

So from you guys' battle, what were your favorite moments from each other's sets? Timbaland: My favorite moment was seeing my friend, and we were both in a great space. He went to the car and plugged up, and was really into the music. It wasn’t about what songs did I play, it was about just seeing my friend and both of us having fun. I think that was a moment in itself for me.

Swizz Beatz:I agree with that. My favorite moment with Timb was his energy. We haven’t seen Timb get loose like that: glass of wine in his hand, his energy was way up, his spirit was way up. This was a crucial time cause the entire world was watching and feeding off of our energy. When we did it at Summer Jam, we wasn’t going through all these trials and tribulations, so people had a lot of other options and different things going on, and not really paying attention as they probably should. But this time, people really got to pay attention ‘cause we all on lockdown, we all sitting down and people got to pay attention to the energy. I think that energy transpired into Hit-Boy and Boi-1da wanting to contribute to that energy and all the others that came because of that. But what we inherited was a real job, Tim [laughter]

Timbaland: A real serious job.

Swizz Beatz: What people don’t understand is, they can be home and type up a wish list. If they don't think we don't want the same wishes they do? They crazy! But everybody not coming outside. It's hard. When we get these people to agree, it's a celebration man cause it's not an easy thing to do. It’s a lot on the line. And a lot of the women are like “we want the ladies, we want the ladies.” Okay, but the ladies ain't answering yet. You think we don't want the ladies? We working on it, you know, we delivered mail to all of your favorites to come outside, and it's looking real good. We got some great things coming, but I just want the people to be patient and know that me and Timb is doing this from our heart, for the people. A lot of people are like “I need JD and Puff,” and I’m like well if it were that easy, it would have been already. … But nobody is gonna be mad, nobody is gonna be mad. At the end of the day, they just gotta trust the curation.

Tell me about the work it takes to make these things happen. Timbaland: Aw man. It’s transforming the mind of the mindset that was set for so long. People get caught up on the word battle, and I have to remove that and say “look, that's just a context, don't look at that. It’s really a celebration and an education”. And once I say education, the talk slows down. Me and Swizz set the rules, it's 20 for 20, so it's not what you thinking but people always throw other stuff on. Let's just celebrate you, people wanna give you your flowers while you here, and just give people education on who did what, what transpired in the past as far as creation. show your talents, show your work. Let us celebrate you right now. We need feelings right now, we don't have nothing, everybody is on a common playing field, it ain't about no money it ain't about no nothing, just come and let's celebrate this greatness that you presented to the world. That’s when they get it and start shaking their heads, but it's a process. And then i pass it over to Swizz. (laughs)

Swizz Beatz: And then you get phone calls from people who don’t qualify. You gotta have 20 joints, a lot of people wanna just jump into it because they feel like it’s a dance challenge or something, or a challenge we would see on Instagram where everybody is just doing it to get the looks. No, these are real architects that’s on this. Everybody that we’ve officially presented are architects. Now, some might have played the wrong songs at the wrong times and different things like that, but that's not on us. But these are people that got 20, certified. So a lot of people don't wanna come outside that do have the 20, and a lot of people that do wanna come outside that don't have the 20. So we gotta keep this thing curated because once it gets silly, it just gets silly. And a lot of people are doing their own thing, which is cool! But what me and Timb are trying to offer, once again, is an educational musical platform where people might talk some smack, people might get excited, some might lose some might win but at the end of the day the culture wins. These people are putting this on for free, ain't nobody got a dime yet. And all the corporations and everything are all to the table, but right now we just enjoying it like this. It’s 6 million people unemployed, what type of business are we talking about right now? That’s not what this is about right now. This is about healing as we get through this time together.

And of course me and him had a plan, we had to plan for three years for it to be done with businesses and partners and things like that, but right now this is not the time for that. We would look crazy. And a lot of people call us like we not on our game and we got such a great idea that we just letting wash down the road. I don’t feel like we letting anything wash down the road. I feel like 1.) We making history, 2.) It's educational, 3.) It’s for the people and 4.) We hit 203,000 people yesterday on live. That's not a small number, that's a few stadiums. With no sponsors by the way, just the music, no negativity, just the music. And that's what gives us the energy to be on these phone calls with these artists. The artists are hard bro, these people not easy. The requirements and... it's just a lot. My wife looking at me like “I don't know how much longer got dammit” cause this is...you late for dinner now. And we in the house, it ain't like I'm coming from somewhere, I'm in the house [laughter]. But it’s something we devoted to and we gonna keep it special.

One thing that's been really interesting to me in all these, neither the artists or the commenters feel the need to hold back. It’s interesting because sometimes when artists are talking to each other, egos can be fragile. So an artist may not say something cause they dont want to jeopardize that relationship. But i’m seeing artists talk sh*t. So what do you think makes the commenters and the artists feel so free and so open to say what they want in these battles? Timbaland: Thats a good one. For me personally, I think it's because it's from the heart. This aint bout nothing, it's for the people, by the people. That's how I see it. And you gon get what you gon get. And I think artists are engaged with it and they be in tune because it's a musical history. I believe Meek posted something on Twitter saying that “these battles make me appreciate music way more than i ever did.” Fans just being free. Like Swizz said, we filling up a stadium, but a stadium where everybody can speak their minds. And I feel like right now, in the world, we on one playing field. You ain't talking bout what Range Rover i got, what diamond chain, that don't even matter. So all you have is your opinion. That's it.

Swizz Beatz: I think the comments is a safe space as well. I think it just feels like a community and everybody got a license to keep it real in that community. I thought that was interesting too, because I see people in there talking crazy that, man if it was somewhere else, it would really be these things we talk about. But it's like being at a fight, Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, we gon talk shit on the sideline. Like “Aw man that aint it right there.” It’s like that, vs. pointing in someone's face and talking to them like that. It’s like friends communicating at a showdown. People are looking at it more as a sport than anything, I believe, when they in those comments.

 

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Two icons went head to head in a Epic battle . Thank you for doing it for the people 🙌🏽 203k in attendance let’s keep it going @timbaland VERZUZ 🎬🎬🎬 @artokoro

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I know that some artists can be very cautious about things that they agree to. And they may be like, "I don't wanna do this because if I lose I’ll look crazy.” Has it taken a lot of convincing to get some of these people to do it? Swizz Beatz: Man that's what we tryna tell you, this is not an easy job. Like people are overthinking, this is a lot on the line. And so far everybody in Verzuz has been taking it...I spoke to Mannie today and I know that he know that he probably didn’t win that battle, you understand? But in his mind he had fun, he put on for the people, he felt he probably could have played a couple of different records, and he kept a high road about it. Some people say that he won, some people say I won, and you know the energy is good. But everybody can't take that to the chin, and that's what I’m learning. I'm like man, especially a lot of artists in the younger generation, they got all these excuses not to show up. Me and Timb don't wanna just put on shows from a different era, we wanna put on shows that’s from them! But I'm telling you, it's a lot of ego involved. And my message to those artists is “leave your ego at the door, bring your music and have fun.” That's it. It's for the people. But a lot of people that I know wanna jump in but he like “man I can't,” “he saying this one did this, this one did this to me.” Like that's crazy. That's a young mentality. A more mature mentality is like yo, he might win some, I might win some, he might lose some, I might lose some, let’s just do it. It's music, we just celebrating music, it ain't that crazy. So a lot of people requesting all these battles it's like, yeah that sounds easy, now who's gonna go get it done? (Laughs)

A colleague of mine found a lot of similarities between these and soundclashes from the carribean. Are you using that influence on purpose or no? Swizz Beatz: Not necessarily. At the end of the day, Verzuz is not just about music. We didn’t get into the sports side, we didn’t get into the comedy side. There's other things that we’re gonna do, but this is a well thought out plan and we’re starting it with music because that's our strong point. But we got other things thats gonna blow people's minds that's set up, but this is a very calculated thing. This is a duration, this isn't just for the hype of quarantine. This is for us to have a different platform that celebrates creativity period, not just music. So we would love for people to understand what we’re thinking, cause I see a lot of people tryna pull from what we doing and tryna run with headlines of their own quicker than what we’re doing, but we don't care about that shit, that's not even their type of business, the people that's doing it. They don't got no musical background, no creative background, they just wanna feel like they’re part of something. Which is great. But what we plan on doing is...when you free the artist, you free the world, right? So we plan on giving a lot of artists and creatives the voice that they probably never had, or was never understood. We’re thinking very very big, but right now we like the level that we’re at because we vibing with the people, and we gonna also vibe with the people but right now we just having fun. That's all you can do.

Now Swizz you had also posted on your IG that a lot of companies and corporations are tryna cash in on this right now. What kind of offers are they putting out there and how does it make you feel to get those offers so early on in the process? Swizz Beatz: Me and Timb were definitely appreciative, but there's a time and place for everything. Not saying that we won't look at everything, we not silly, we gonna look at everything, there might be something that's really amazing. But, and I think I can speak on Timb’s behalf too, but with a lot of people and ideas, people are so short-minded sometimes. They think about what can help their basic now and not their overall period. For me, it's a time and place for everything, and going direct to the artists and all of this stuff here, which all of the companies are doing, which is cool, but I don't like how they tryna play on them as well. Like don't do that, don't do that. Right now, there's no politics involved and we’re having a great time. The minute you see a logo running across that screen, it's just gonna feel crazy. And I think we should be promoting what we promoting: the artists. Period. The creatives. Period. No interruptions. Give us five minutes on that, let the creatives have theirs, five minutes without being interrupted by a logo. That's our vibe right now. Let the creatives get their five minutes without being interrupted by a f***in logo. Let the artists be people for five seconds, you know what I’m saying? Timb, you can expand on that if you want.

Timbaland: Nah you said it right. Just give us a minute. I was gonna sum it down to just let us breathe. We're having fun. Don’t mess up the fun. Just give us a minute. We’ll come to you.

Swizz Beatz: Or put your proposal in now and come talk to us after the quarantine. You can do that now, and then after the quarantine we can get to it. Cause right now we in a very hardcore situation. This is the second of April, so this is a very crucial month. If things don't change this month, there isn't gonna be anything to talk about but survival. It's not gonna matter anyway. We got 6 million -

Timbaland: It’s 10 million now.

Swizz Beatz: It’s 10 million?

Timbaland: It’s 10 million now, Swizz.

Swizz Beatz: Well okay.

Timbaland: 10 million unemployed, we can't even talk about a business right now, like come on.

Swizz Beatz: That's 10 million wolves. That's nuts man. That's 10 million good people that can turn bad.

Timbaland: Very quick.

 

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Attention 🚨 #VERZUZ @scottstorchofficial vs @manniefresh tonight 9pm est on @scottstorchofficial live.........

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Swizz Beatz: Inshallah, a lot of things need to turn around quick. When I say quick, I mean quick. Everything needs to go in effect now. Because you telling us we cant go outside? And then you saying we can't work, and we can't pay our bills and all this and now you got blackouts happening? All right now. This is a Will Smith movie. And the crazy part is it's for real. The economy is what, 16 trillion now? In four weeks? That's a different type of bleeding.

Timbaland: That's why this is so important. Because even for me, and I tell Swizz this all the time, it's giving me joy for three hours out the day that feels like I left my house. But I didn’t leave my house. It’s that feeling of great music and curation and you don't be thinking bout the offers and...nah man. I'm looking at the people. It can be frustrating because they asking “who next who next,” “I want this person next,” but that means these people are engaged in a time like this, where people are losing jobs like...you can't do that, you gotta give us those five minutes. It’s serious out here. Very serious.

What were some of your favorite moments from the other battles so far? Timbaland: My favorite moment from Sean and Dream’s battle was Sean kept making them faces (laughs), like what is wrong with you? But then he’d drop a bomb so it's like oh snap! That was one of my favorites from that. And then with Johnta and Neyo, it was like i was on the dance floor just going crazy cause I didn’t know Johnta did all these records and I didn’t know all the records that Ne-Yo did, so every moment of that was amazing to me. My best moment with Mannie and Scott was that Scott saved “Still Dre” for last and it was like “Goodnight, close the curtains.”

Swizz Beatz: My favorite moment was when Hit-Boy and Boi-1da was playing exclusives that people respect in a battle, cause thats a hard card right there. I like that they both had mega records that nobody had heard of, to pull out in a battle. I like that they had exclusives. But big exclusives. Cause it's hard to play exclusives in a battle, people are playing hits. So he had to pull out Drake, Hit-Boy had to pull out Nipsey. So I thought that was amazing. As far as Johnta and Ne-Yo, still my favorite battle so far, for many reasons, for the educational reasons, for the diversity in the playlists, how they were gentlemen about it, how the energy was. But man, to find all these hidden tracks from both of them that I never knew either of them produced, that was the best for me. And then artists calling me for Johnta’s number like right after that; young artists by the way, big ones too. I thought that was super cool, they called for Ne-Yo too. With The-Dream and Sean Garrett, my favorite part was The-Dream playing golf (laughs) and Sean Garrett swinging at the last minute and made everybody respect his name at the end of the day, no matter how we felt at the beginning of the battle, he made a great comeback on that.

I liked that Mannie Fresh had skits, I would have cut like two or three of those skits out, but I liked that he came with character. I like how Scott Storch was comfortable. It was calculated. He said “you got the skits but you aint got the hits.” I just love how smooth he was with his weapons, like he had a dangerous hand of weapons and he was just handling himself like a boss. And Mannie wasn't scared to show up to the competition, which, trust me, we had other people we wanted to go against Scott but people are not coming outside. So I respect that Mannie came outside. I respect that. So when two people say yes we gotta respect that. Cause obviously you wanna see Scott vs whoever in your head. Nine times out of 10, we called that person and asked them to come outside. So that's how we got to have fun with Mannie and Scott. 203,000 people showed up for that and they didn't leave, so we had a great time with that.

So what are you guys expecting from T-Pain and Lil Jon? Who are your early picks on that?

Timbaland: I think we gonna get a lot of high energy, cause T-Pain is a character and Lil Jon is definitely a character.

Swizz Beatz: I think they’re both gonna have everybody on the dancefloor heavy. We felt at the last minute that T-Pain is (accomplished) sonic wise, producer wise, as far as a writer and as an entertainer. I feel that Lil Jon’s energy is gonna be great because, you gotta curate these things as much as possible even tho people were like “aw man we wanted see T-Pain go against Scott Storch” but i just felt like that wasn’t gonna be a fair match for T-Pain and T-Pain would agree as well. But it wasn’t about him backing down, he obviously signed up. But us as executives had to ask “is this really good for anybody?” … Now T-Pain and Lil Jon, the energy’s better with them. T-Pain's energy went up like “Yeah, that's what I'm talkin bout.” When they doing this together, we want it to be an equal exchange and equal excitement ‘cause people feel that energy. T-Pain and Lil Jon just feel a like a party on Saturday, so that's why we did it on Saturday. Let's do a party on Saturday, get the tempo up and energy up. What do you think?

I'm looking forward to it for sure. I think they're both salesmen and they have good energy. As far as who's gonna win, I don't know. In these battles you realize there's these songs that come up that you didn’t know that they did, so it's difficult to predict the winner. Swizz Beatz: I agree with that. But that's the good part, it keeps you watching. It’s a lot of predictable battles we could do. But it's like it's too predictable. So a lot of the battles people, when they first see them, some they’re gonna agree with but a lot they’re gonna be like “but why?” Certain big names you’re gonna see, and you’re gonna see names as big as those names and you’re gonna be like “Come on Swizz and Timb, how you gonna do that?” but when you actually see it, you’re gonna see why and how we did that, and i just want everybody to trust the curation. Look at Johnta Austin, people was like “Man we need Ne-Yo to go against Dream, thats not a good thing” and next thing, look, everybody got educated on that shit. So we don't wanna do predictable battles, then it starts becoming like a candy store and it's like no man, we took our time with this.

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T-Pain performs onstage during day two of Nickelodeon's Second Annual SlimeFest at Huntington Bank Pavilion on June 09, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois.
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T-Pain Talks Upcoming Battle With Lil Jon

Instagram Live has been the place to be in recent weeks when it comes to the music world, and Swizz Beatz and Timbaland have coordinated a series of battles between some of the greatest producers and songwriters of all time. The next battle: T-Pain vs the king of crunk, Lil Jon. VIBE spoke to T-Pain about why he decided to participate, and what he expects from Lil Jon.

VIBE: I just spoke to Swizz and Timbo yesterday, and they were saying that some of these battles were difficult to set up, in part because some of the artists were scared to lose. What made you participate in this?

T-Pain: Well for one, I don’t see it as competition. I know the public sees it as competition, but I see it as a celebration of history. If all these people are going hits for hits, it’s not about who has the biggest hits. We had hits! There’s millions of millions of people who would pay to even be in these battles or be mentioned in the name of the people who are doing these battles. We all had hits. It’s not really a competition about who has the bigger song, it’s about two people getting together that actually had hits. That’s pretty difficult to do, to run for as long as anybody that’s been doing the competition is running. Like I said, I don’t see it as a competition; I see it as a celebration. Either way, the people win. Win or lose, it ain’t gon change my life tomorrow. (laughs) Even if they see it as me losing, I’m still T-Pain after that. Those hits still exist.

Have you watched all the other battles?

Oh of course. I’ve been tuned in crazy.

 

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Tomorrow who you got ???? @tpain vs @liljon ........... VERZUZ.... 9pm est

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Which have been the best to you?

The obvious one. (laughs) Fucking Dream and Sean Garrett is my favorite one, just cuz of how Sean was tripping for a while. (laughs) But it made for a good show, and we got to hear a lot of dope records that a lot of young people not only didn’t know about, but that even older people forgot about. Like I said, the people watching are the real winners. Nobody’s really going against each other. It’s a competitive industry as it is, and we proved our point by putting out the hits in the first place. Seeing Sean and Dream go against each other, two of the greatest hip-hop/R&B songwriters of our generation, it’s a great thing to see.

One element from these battles is that they’ll bring out songs that the audience didn’t know that they did. Do you think there are a lot of songs you’ve done that people don’t associate with you?

There’s a ton of those. People don’t even know that I produce my own sh*t. People don’t look at credits no more. It’s a bunch of country records I did that I’m not even trying to put out there that I did. It’s an honor to do it, I just don’t look for that kind of props. I know what I did, the check’s coming in, I’m fine if people don’t do that.

What kind of strategy are you looking at for this?

I don’t really have a strategy man. I’m just playing songs. If I saw it as a competition, I’d definitely have a strategy. But I’m just playing music. I’m not trying to beat out Lil Jon. Lil Jon is a f**king GOAT. He changed sh*t. He created party music, the crunk era, sh*t like that. Not only are we completely different –– obviously you want to make it entertaining, but if there’s nothing there, you don’t want to force it and make it silly.

At first, the matchup was going to be you and Scott Storch. Did you feel any way when they switched it?

Nah, not really. I understood. It made complete sense. They said they didn't want it to be a pure producer against a songwriter. Even Lil Jon is a songwriter, he's on a lot of the songs that he's going to play. It's not pure production against songwriting, you wouldn't have anything to compare. I like keeping it the way it makes sense. Give me someone who's written a verse before.

That’s all the questions I have for you. 

This was probably supposed to be way more controversial than this. (laughs)

(Laughs) I wasn't expecting controversy, you're not a controversial guy.

I'm not, man. I wish I could come in this b*tch like “I’ma kill this ni**a, ima murder that motherf***er.” But nah, the ni**a got slaps for real. (laughs) Ni**a got slaps. I can't wait to hear em. I know he's gonna have a DJ set up, he's gonna come in there screaming all over my goddamn phone. I'm more excited to have fun on live with Jon, I ain't seen Jon in a while. I'm more excited about that than the competition.

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