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The Verzuz Effect: How Swizz Beatz & Timbaland's Beat Battles Showcase Music's Past, Present And Future

Verzuz participants Erykah Badu and Jill Scott

Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images; Paras Griffin/WireImage

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The Verzuz Effect: How Swizz Beatz & Timbaland's Beat Battles Showcase Music's Past, Present And Future

Now streaming in quarantined homes via Instagram Live, the song-for-song set continues to serve as a celebration of Black musical pioneers: the DJs, songwriters, singers, rappers, producers, performers—and everybody in between

GRAMMYs/May 27, 2020 - 11:14 pm

The culture will not be televised. Better yet, it shall be streamed.

What originally started as a live song-for-song set at Hot 97's Summer Jam concert in 2018 between musical powerhouses Timbaland and Swizz Beatz has now found its way into countless quarantined homes. The recommence of Verzuz began and continues to serve as a celebration of Black musical pioneers: the DJs, songwriters, singers, rappers, producers, performers—and everybody in between.

The battles are selected by how sonically and entertaining both artists can be together. Kicking off in March, the growing phenom has showcased battles between Teddy Riley vs. Babyface, Boi-1da vs. Hit-Boy, The-Dream vs. Sean Garrett, Erykah Badu vs. Jill Scott, Johntá Austin vs. Ne-Yo, Nelly vs. Ludacris, T-Pain vs. Lil Jon, Scott Storch vs. Mannie Fresh, DJ Premier vs. RZA, Ryan Tedder vs. Benny Blanco, 112 vs. Jagged Edge and Beenie Man vs. Bounty Killer.

While each battle gives birth to memorable memes, it serves as a masterclass and introduction to the other masterminds behind some of our favorite songs. GRAMMY winner Sean Garrett expresses how Verzuz gave him the opportunity to build with new fans. "I noticed people were putting a face to the name in addition to the younger generation that didn’t necessarily grow up on the music I created." During his Verzuz battle with songwriter and singer The-Dream, Sean shared an incredible story relating to Usher's 2004 smash, "Yeah." "Originally, it wasn’t even supposed to be a part of Confessions. Usher wasn’t crazy about the song but we ended up leaking it over the Christmas holiday and before we could even record a music video for it, it was no. 1 on the Hot 100 charts. It sat at no. 1 for 12 weeks and is currently no. 14 on the greatest hits of all time on the Hot 100 list."

When media personality Joe Budden suggested a battle between Johntá Austin and Ne-Yo on Twitter, Austin felt encouraged to participate in the online battle that offers no monetary compensation. "A lot of people didn’t know who I was before the battle," Austin says. The two-time GRAMMY winner is credible for contributing to Mariah Carey’s biggest record, We Belong Together, which spent 43 weeks at no. 1 on Billboard. His extensive resume also includes hits with Mary J. Blige, Aaliyah, Chris Brown and more.

After his participation in Verzuz, more labels and artists have reached out about his songwriting skills. His Instagram Live series, Mastery, which he hosts alongside fellow hitmaker Bryan-Michael Cox, has also blossomed post-battle. "Verzuz educates people on who did the song, and Mastery picks up and continues the education on the stories not just behind the songs, but the journey of the creatives over the years of their careers and how they came to create that magic," he states.

What also results from the battles is what is now called the "Verzuz Effect," i.e., an influx in streams, social media engagement and widespread recognition. Following the Teddy Riley and Babyface battle, they collectively registered three million on-demand audio streams in the U.S. According to the Verzuz Instagram account, Babyface's Instagram following increased by 129 percent, going from 420K to breaking the million mark. Teddy Riley made the jump from 328K to just under a million followers. Both Jill Scott's and Erykah Badu’s catalog skyrocketed over 300 percent by the next morning. Recently, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland won a Webby award for Verzuz "Breaking the Internet." Instagram's Head of Music Partnerships, Fadia Kader, shared sentiments that further confirms that their Webby award was well-deserved. "[Verzuz] is definitely one of the most viewed Instagram Lives. It brings the community together, fans together, creates a safe space for reminiscing on good times and nostalgia. It celebrates artists and gives them their flowers in real time."

Fadia and her team work diligently with Swizz, Timbaland and the "competitors" to ensure their "Verzuz kit" of preparation has been put to full use to avoid technicalities during the anticipated affair. As "live" continues to serve as the current cord of connection between the artist and their audience, Instagram’s long-term goal is to elevate the musical experience for the user. A common issue the series came across, for example, was that the series would cut off after an hour. However, Erykah and Jill’s show continued past the 60-minute mark undisturbed. "I definitely think ‘live’ has shown that there is a need to connect in real time, as a product and company, we’re going to seek opportunity to add new features and tools to elevate the experience," Kader says.

Along with DJ D-Nice's Dance Parties and Tory Lanez's "Quarantine Radio," Verzuz has become a livestream staple for the Facebook-owned platform. Although both organizers have established that they have not profited off of the series, artists have ingeniously created merchandise for the virtual event. The implementation of a 90-second rule for artists has now been regulated to avoid copyright claims that have disrupted livestreams. Prior to this rule, the New Jack Swing originator Teddy Riley allegedly attempted to stream his battle with Babyface on his personal platform. Despite facing criticism for it, a question on the value of Instagram's partnership with this impactful cultural movement could be made in hindsight. "We [Instagram] have always collaborated with hip-hop and R&B. I think just more than ever, the rest of the world is seeing that hip-hop is really pop culture. It is the driver, it is the influence that influences the influencers." Kader continues, "So I am glad that we have been a part of that narrative and been contributing to the culture all along."

This spirit of this type of musical competition is far from new in the island of Jamaica. Legendary reggae and dancehall artists Beenie Man and Bounty Killer exuberantly performed their songs together in one room for their musical sound-off. This influential form of battling, also known as a sound clash, derived from being an underground event in the West Indian capital of Kingston. It soon inspired the inception of the hip-hop battles in the Bronx, and shortly after was adopted all over the world. The digital combat, which was the first one to go live on the Verzuz Instagram account, was not only proof of the global impact Caribbean culture has on music but was a trajectory moment for Verzuz. The two performers ended their in-studio sound clash with a prayer and an ode to the late Bob Marley with his timeless classic "One Love." It was another demonstration of a vital aspect of what Verzuz represents: a source of healing during this uncertain and dark time. 

The magnitude of Verzuz may come as a pleasant surprise, however, the ability for us as a culture to prevail in wavering times seems almost innate. Best known for popularizing the Crunk musical genre, Lil Jon was more than happy to participate in the friendly competition with T-Pain. "Verzuz is a good way to get your mind off of what is going on in the world right now. You can’t deal with this all day every day. You need relief every now and then to keep your sanity. I think we gave some people a good time," says the Atlanta native.

So what comes next for Verzuz? That part is still a mystery to the dedicated followers who remain optimistic for an expansion in some form beyond the online platform. Swizz Beatz mentioned on his own Instagram account that he is currently filming the Verzuz documentary. Timbaland spoke on rumors of Ludacris and Nelly touring together and how Kevin Hart wants to do a Verzuz Comedy series. Lil Jon and T-Pain are also considering a tour and collaborating in the television and film realm. Jon, who along with Garrett, won a GRAMMY for Usher’s Yeah, agrees that Verzuz is powerfully moving the needle for the culture. "Verzuz showed me that we as a people can adapt. No one was using Instagram the way we are using it now. All of the urban artists took that platform, turned it upside down and changed it into something that when they created it—they never could imagine it would turn into this. That's urban, that’s Black folk. We did that. It's our culture that is taking over the internet at this time. Swizz and Tim created a TV show for us to watch and enjoy through our cell phones. They even brought Babyface out of nowhere!"

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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A GRAMMY Glam Dunk

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

By Will Dawson

For a few hours Tuesday night Hollywood Boulevard was transformed into Glam Central Station as The Recording Academy officially kicked off its 54th GRAMMY Week with the inaugural GRAMMY Glam event.

It was just what you'd expect it to be from the title — an incendiary collision between music and fashion, and beauty and the beats, complete with a GRAMMY gold carpet and enough DJ firepower to ignite a musical bonfire. Sponsored by Olay, CoverGirl and Venus, and featuring the incredible DJ Spinderella (of Salt-N-Pepa), DJ Low Down Loretta Brown (aka Erykah Badu), and dynamic duo the Jane Doze, Hollywood rocked on the dance floor while exploring the cosmetics-filled caverns of the MyHouse nightclub. 

"Each year, we try to reinvent ourselves," said Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow before heading inside. "What we've recognized for years is that there's an intersection between beauty, health, style, fashion, and music. I can't wait to see what our team — who are the best in the world, by the way — put together for tonight."

The Jane Doze opened the night on the ones and twos, with contest winners from Turntable.fm also filling in some of the musical menu with their submissions, lending an interactive angle to the evening.

With three themed rooms that featured waterfalls, flames and even contortionists, partygoers had the chance to pose for personalized magazine covers, get tips from professional makeup artists and, while on the venue's main stage, even get a taste of what it's like to be a model on the catwalk.

"It's a marriage made in heaven," said recording artist Goapele. "Music and fashion go hand in hand. It's great that the GRAMMYs saw that and put this great night together."

Other guests echoed those sentiments, and many were excited for the chance to see Badu take her turn as one of the night's DJs.

"I'm from New Orleans and have seen [Badu] perform at Essence [Music Festival] over the years," beamed former Diddy Dirty Money member Dawn Richard. "She's a hero of mine. Everything she does is bold, from her fashion to her musical choices."

Badu's set was filled with blends of everything from GRAMMY-nominated hip-hop collective A Tribe Called Quest to R&B artist Cheryl Lynn. Spinderella spun the classics, giving the crowd an eclectic mix intermingling hits from R&B dance group Nu Shooz to the late Notorious B.I.G.

If all of the guests carrying their coats and heels in hand upon exiting are any indication, a great time was had by all. It was, by all accounts, a glam dunk, and a great way to kick off what promises to be an incredible week leading up to Music's Biggest Night.

Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

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Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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