Last night (April 18th), the battle of all Verzuz battles between legendary music writers/producers, Teddy Riley and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, hit a major digital pothole and couldn’t recover for the over 400k viewers in attendance on Instagram Live. Mega producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland — who are the founders of the battle platform and have showcased many of these events since the quarantine started — hyped this long-awaited match up for weeks. Their disappointment in the face-off being barraged with sound issues was felt through their IG Live post-talk. “Teddy Riley was doing too much, ” Swizz lamented and to what Timbaland agreed.
What those two are referring to is the frontman for ’80s and ’90s R&B groups Guy and Blackstreet (respectively) Teddy Riley who showed up on his own IG Live with a full stage set up. He had a keyboard, a DJ, what looked like a drummer in the cut and a hypeman dancing a la Flavor Flav style. It was a lot to witness as he warmed up the sound, which was fine before Babyface finally showed up on the split-screen. Just moments before Face appeared, the followers for the event quickly climbed to 300k in less than 8 minutes. Babyface’s lag time in showing up prompted some of the commenters, which was super star-studded, to say things like, “He’s still picking out his wardrobe,” to “I think ‘Face is scared, he’s not gonna show.” All of which was nonsense, as the flow of followers made it hard for Riley’s team to catch Face’s request to join. So for about 15 minutes, there was the anxiety of weeks of talk by the promoters and days of posting by T.R. and Face falling on this moment. The pressure to deliver was on. Black Twitter was seasoning the session as a true date night and hangout spot all day. Even going so far as to shower, shave, do hair and get “a good outfit” and some drinks on deck for the festivities.
Once the pleasantries were out of the way, there was Face, solo in a studio with a black blazer (what was that, velvet?) a white button-up and a smooth setting with a mixing board behind him. Riley, on the other hand, had what is now known as a full production team (and like his live performance a few weeks ago from his home studio, there was no social distancing being practiced) and once he kicked off his tunes (Face made him go first, which no one wants to do in these battles, “Seniority wins,” said Face) it was doomed from the start.
— Keith Nelson Jr (@JusAire) April 19, 2020
Riley’s multiple mics and crowded space made for garbled and more so echoed tunes and took the punch away from his valued opener, “The Show” by Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew. He literally performed the ’80s classic summer hip-hop hit like he was at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. His hype man was amped, but the viewing audience wasn’t feeling it. Face was polite and even tipped his respect to the track, but then followed like the casanova crooner he is and toasted his champagne flute to the ladies in attendance and pressed play on his crisp sounding system and let the wailing intro of “Two Occasions,” by his group with his producing partner/iconic music executive L.A. Reid, wash over the crowd. Just from resetting the tone from uptempo hip-hop to a classic slow-jam, let us know we were in for a long night of Face controlling the mood.
Most felt that the echo issue that Riley was having would sort its self out or would be handled by one of his many staffers on set, but it only got worse as Riley responded in the second round with the all-world dance theme, “Groove Me,” by Guy. The deep synth groove is a surefire party starter, but the echo and his live-action performance were lost in a sea of comments that scrolled up the screen like, “What are you doing…Why do you have a hypeman…Stop and fix the sound, Teddy…What in the hell…” And that was the nice stuff. With an emphatic James Brown-like arm drop to stop the band, Riley finished the jam and knew he just sent Face a hard shot to the body. Face, ever the chilly willy, kind of chuckled and commented about how he first heard the song and liked it. He mentioned going into his list of artists to choose from for his next selection and talked about how they both worked with him to great success, then dropped the hammer with Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel.” Ouch. It was clean, pumping and felt like an early dagger that would only plunge deeper if he was using it this early in the match.
A little light banter was kicked as they both gave anecdotes about the times surrounding those songs and it almost seemed like a stalling tactic for Riley as his team knew something was wrong, but seemed to not be checking the stream of “FIX THE SOUND…you are echoing,” chants in the comments. They toyed a bit but went on into a good mid-range gem by Riley in “I Like The Way (The Kissing Game),” by Texas quintet Hi-Five. Still beset with echo issues, right after the tune ends (a bit prematurely at that, as Face was playing his songs for two minutes or more) the talk about tech issues starts to get more robust. Face is cool with giving Riley time to figure it out, yet goes into another strong single with Bobby Brown and “Every Little Step.” Again, it felt like another crystal clear banger that Riley wouldn’t be able to match sound or energy-wise. And that’s saying a lot as Riley has his own huge Bobby Brown hit to launch, but with the echo, it probably wouldn’t work.
— Vibe Magazine (@VibeMagazine) April 19, 2020
So, at the end of round three, with the IG Live audience mainly giving the smooth operator Babyface the upper hand and straight clowning Riley’s hypeman (memes and gifs of his homie were starting to pop up on Twitter and Instagram, DURING the battle) and sound issues, T.R.’s team calls a 20-second time out. He explains they need to get things right. They seem to also start wondering if it’s Babyface’s side that’s causing their echo. The whole live feed, filled with celebs like Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, Fabolous, Snoop Dogg, and so many music executives, comedians, entertainment stars and everyday people became expert sound technicians, “Take the Irig out, Teddy!” to “Just use the iphone speakers, Ted!” even “The issue is your side damn it.” It got ugly. Folks were tee’d off for the fact that the situation was on Riley to fix since he had so much going on. All while Babyface threw a few shade covered remarks. When asked about fixing his side, “It’s just me…you know social distancing and all.”
After the brief break in action, Riley looked to redeem himself as the sound seemed to get a tad bit better. The echo was light, but the sound was low, damn near muffled and coming with no power or kick. Even though he was going hard in the paint to sell the same line up of songs, as he convinced Face to start from the top of round one AGAIN.
They sped through the rounds one more time with light convo, touching on cool stories about the same rounds of songs to ease the tension, but a little of the spark was gone and the comments were turning into tomatoes hurling at Riley. Deserved or undeserved, this performance was spiraling out of control. Comedian Michael Blackson asked, “Where are the promoters?” In the midst of a slow down in action, one of Riley’s team members grabs the mic and announces that they would need to pause the battle for an extended amount of time. “We need to get the sound right, so we’ll be back at 10:30 pm, about 30 minutes from now. So log back in around then.” By this time Babyface had already dipped off-screen a few times (I assume to refill his champagne flute to walk to his awaiting warm bath—I kid.) and seemed to lose interest in trying to get Riley’s attention when they clearly couldn’t hear him. Before the end though, actor and R&B artist, Tyrese Gibson lobs a shot at Riley in the comments that ended up going viral for the wrong reason: “Throw in the tile.” He surely meant “towel,” but it was too late, the internet savages screen grabbed the line and dragged him over to Black Twitter to skew him over the BBQ. Why? ‘Cause it was looking like the battle was over and there was nothing better to do (of course Tyrese fired back and blamed it on autocorrect).
View this post on Instagram
The live feed went out and most people huddled on the cool-out hill on the Black Twitter side of town. Quarantine life has deposited most of the in-the-know social media folks to mainland digital scapes and this battle had over 414k people wandering outside of the venue. The jokes started to pile up, memes of Teddy Riley looking like Theo from the Cosby show wearing the ill-fitting/misconstructed Gordon Gartrell shirt that his sister Denise made versus Babyface as the original pristine Gordon Gartrell shirt was floating around. (In hindsight, the fun of the night was in all of the jokes, they helped ease the tension.)
Swizz Beatz and Timbaland ran to their IG Live stations and expressed their respectful displeasure with Riley’s setup but promised to get it right. It seemed like the show was going to resume at the delayed time until Babyface posted a video on his page saying that the show should be postponed and that they should do it another time. That put the fork in the whole ordeal and about 20 minutes after that, Riley also made a video expressing how technical difficulties held up the night and how they would get it right. “OUR apologies…” he stated. By then, most folks headed over to Club Quarantine on DJ D-Nice’s IG Live, where he played a full set of Riley vs. Face songs. A DJ literally saved the night.
Hopefully, with all the greats that are involved in this super amazing Verzuz platform, they get the tech side going like they got the 20 tracks per artist with one verse and one hook rules implemented. All the big band production needs to scale down and some basic rules of engagement toward presentation by both parties have to be agreed upon. But with everything, there is a backstory, and this one will be told at some point…preferably over a good sound system.
“Yall, just sign back on in 30 minutes”
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) April 19, 2020
We can’t hear you Teddy.
Teddy Riley: pic.twitter.com/Dw3SqbwrAw
— SB (@SBrown_) April 19, 2020
Teddy Riley sound be like… pic.twitter.com/FTyu3b9DUX
— Kevín (@KevOnStage) April 19, 2020
View this post on Instagram
View this post on Instagram
— #TeamFullSizeNigga (@DontaFromVA) April 19, 2020
Now it’s no sound. We got to wait 7 whole days for this? 🤣 pic.twitter.com/CcC2grMsGf
— Toni Braxton (@tonibraxton) April 19, 2020
— In the House Like Cool J. (@naima) April 19, 2020
Teddy’s hypeman dancing like what we all thought 2020 would be like 💃🏾 Teddy vs Babyface pic.twitter.com/jfbauDjPjc
— SuzieBeChoosy (@MissNoelSzn) April 19, 2020
View this post on Instagram
Babyface as soon as he got off the live: pic.twitter.com/yTVFjyprEF
— Jeremy Moon 🌙 (@jeffuhz) April 19, 2020
Listen, Babyface, Teddy Riley, Tyrese and Tamar are trending in a horrible year of 2020 in the middle of a pandemic, bringing laughter to our souls by accident. Maybe we needed this instead of the live music 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/s4a2AJ7rOx
— Kendra Ann (@KendraAnn4) April 19, 2020
Us: Fix the echo.
— Thee Stallion of Troy 👑 (@smiilinbiig) April 19, 2020
Man imagine of Keenan Thompson and Micheal Che spoofed tonight’s fumble on SNL. Keenan as Babyface would make my night. pic.twitter.com/q503j0QV2i
— Huskegee Airman (@JLBarrow) April 19, 2020
Teddy Riley pic.twitter.com/2fA21buomg
— ANTHONY ADAMS (@spiceadams) April 19, 2020
We really turned disappointment into Twitter gold last night. Black people are so resilient lol.
— Sylvia Obell (@SylviaObell) April 19, 2020
View this post on Instagram