A music curation website continues to bring music legends together so the masses can practice their favorite two-step in the living room while enjoying a libation?
Or work up the courage needed to deep clean their homes since the COVID-19 pandemic has all but crushed the excuses to take on such a daunting task sooner than later?
The series of battles, which are curated by music producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, provides entertainment amid the pandemic. The next one is slated for 6 p.m. May. 9 and will feature Neo Soul artists Erykah Badu and Jill Scott — the first female superstars in the series.
Tennille Allen, chairwoman of the department of Sociology and director of African American Studies at Lewis University, compares the Verzuz battles to “Collective Effervescence,” a term coined by 19th century French sociologist Émile Durkheim, where people interact through religious experiences to “affirm” their connection to their communities.
“Coming into that virtual world together, there’s this electricity that goes through that virtual crowd that makes its way into Twitter bouncing into people’s living rooms and people’s kitchens when they’re gathering,” said Allen, who has seen both Badu and Scott perform live. “I think that in the pandemic in particular, it’s important because so many black people are in these communal celebrations especially when times get hard.
“We see our loved ones, our friends, our families dying. We can’t come together to mourn, or to celebrate their lives. This provides us with that kind of communal space, even if we aren’t in the same physical proximity with each other.”
Previous Verzuz battles have included RZA vs. DJ Premier, Swizz Beatz vs. Timbaland, T-Pain vs. Lil Jon, Mannie Fresh vs. Scott Storch, and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds vs. Teddy Riley (to date the most popular of the battles across multiple social media platforms).
Edmonds and Riley’s battle brought together music aficionados who were unaware of the number of hit records the two collectively produced/performed and long-time fans. According to Leroy Johnson, Warner Records’ national director of promotions, many of those longtime fans wound up creating IG accounts to follow the hoopla.
And the artists involved are seeing a spike in streaming and audience engagement numbers.
Babyface, who had 420,000 Instagram followers before his April 20 battle with Riley, now has about 1.1 million followers — a 162% increase, according to Verzuz.
“This is timeless music; that’s why the streaming numbers are going crazy,” said Miriah Mark, Capitol Records’ Midwest regional promotional director. “These are free concerts that the people are being able to see from the comfort of their homes that they would have never been able to see any other time.”
Mark said her employer is a subsidiary of Universal Music Group along with Motown Records (Badu’s record label). She believes the current crop of artists who don’t have the catalog that previous battle performers have, are pushed to step up their game amid the pandemic.
“Right now because they can’t tour, visit the markets, they can’t have shows, they can’t visit radio [stations], so they’re trying to keep up with everyone wanting to hear what they heard in the past era,” said Mark. “So they’re doing TikTok music videos; anything to get their streaming numbers, but it can never take the place of what music was versus what it has become.”
Johnson echoes Mark’s sentiments regarding the excitement surrounding the battles.
“People are really passionate about these artists and, you know, it’s kind of like Beyoncé and the Beyhive,” said Johnson. “You really go to bat for the artists you are passionate about … You want to see what else people have to say about the artists that you’re passionate about [and] that engages and invokes conversation.”
Last week, Scott’s scheduled June performance at The 2020 Ravinia Festival in Highland Park was canceled due to the pandemic. In March, Badu held a “Quarantine Concert Series: Apocalypse One,” where she charged her fans $1 for her bedroom performance. Her out-of-work band members were the beneficiaries of the proceeds.