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.
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.
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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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.