Behind the Scenes of the Verzuz Online Musical Battles Series

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Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight did it all. “We met a long, long time ago. But we’ve been like family ever since,” LaBelle said.

Knight added: “We had our babies at the same time, we try to work, we try to be on stage, remember that, Patti? You have to be sure of yourself enough to say, ‘I can. do it. “”

They are legendary singers, with recordings at the Grammy Hall of Fame. And in a cutthroat industry they remained close friends

LaBelle said of Knight, “I’m her biggest fan. My God, when she sings ‘If I Were Your Woman’, that’s the sound that drives me crazy!”

Last year, for the first time, they faced each other, comparing their greatest hits in an online musical battle series called Verzuz.

“I didn’t know what it was like at first,” Knight said with a laugh.

“Her son must have let her know what Verzuz was. She said, ‘What is a Verzuz? ‘”LaBelle laughed.

“But you see, I wasn’t really, at that point, on the internet, you know? I’m really getting on with it!”

in a Verzuz match, two artists come together to play their greatest songs, with people from all over the world watching live on social media

Contributor Kelefa Sanneh asked, “Miss Patti, I know you’re a flip phone person, aren’t you? Don’t tell me you were watching Verzuz on your flip phone? “

“No, I was watching it on my TV, honey, my son is hooking me up!”

Verzuz was created by two pioneering hip hop producers, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland. They’ve worked with just about everyone in hip hop and pop music. In fact, Swizz Beatz is married to Alicia Keys.

When the pandemic started, with concerts closing, they wanted to put on a show for people. And they were inspired by a long tradition of musical competition. When reggae DJs go head to head, it’s called a soundclash. And in hip-hop there is a history of friendly (and not so friendly) fighting, as seen in the movie “8 Mile” with Eminem.

Swizz Beatz told Sanneh: “We haven’t even made an announcement. We haven’t made a flyer.”

Sanneh asked, “You really mean how it is about bringing people together. It’s a celebration. Which is it? Is it a celebration or is it a competition?”

“Definitely a celebration,” Beatz said. “But I think the competitive spirit is always good too. You want to play your best songs. You want to be calculated. Because you want to please your audience.

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Hip hop producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, creators of Verzuz.

CBS News


They started Verzuz on a whim, with Swizz Beatz against Timbaland. Timbaland was in his cellar, Swizz Beatz in his car.

And they didn’t have a pre-arranged set list. “I certainly didn’t! Beatz laughed. “I was using YouTube, I was using iTunes, and I was just pulling, like, my name, like the playlists that people made. And I just chose them while he was playing his tracks.”

In their match, Beatz performed “Get Me Bodied,” one of his hits with Beyonce. Timbaland responded with “Get Your Freak On”, one of the his success with Missy Elliott.

Beatz said, “When that happens, your mind works so fast. There are hundreds of songs that Tim and I have each produced. You know, it’s impossible for us to remember all the songs.”

Now Verzuz himself is also successful.

“I knew it was something special when everyone kept saying, ‘Who’s next and what’s next?'”

There have been 24 clashes so far, including Alicia Keys vs. John Legend (below). Most recently, lone soul singer D’Angelo came to the Apollo Theater, where he faced off… himself.

But sometimes these celebrations can be strained, like the duel between Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy, two of Atlanta’s great rappers, who have a real story. There is more than 15 years of bad blood between them. In 2005, Gucci Mane was charged with the murder of one of Jeezy’s proteges, although the charges were dropped.

And now they were in the same room. Beatz said: “My phone is exploding. Everyone is saying, ‘Cancel it. Shut it down. Stop now! It’s going to end Verzuz. It’s going to be a massacre!'”

Instead, the two sworn enemies made peace (As Timbaland said, ‘Because life is too short, put your differences aside’), which made headlines and made Verzuz speaks less of rivalry than of respect.

LaBelle said, “We don’t believe in trying to outperform. to do. And that’s what we did, and we had fun with my sister. “

A few days ago, Verzuz was bought out by media company Triller, which plans to continue the clashes even after the pandemic is over.

Sanneh asked, “Are we going to see Paul McCartney vs. Mick Jagger Verzuz?”

“We plan to go global with this,” Beatz said. “And there is music and genres that we’re going to cover that are going to be amazing.”

The idea is that fans will always want to celebrate their favorite artists, like Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle, as well as other music legends, like Dionne Warwick, who joined the two for a song on the Verzuz set.

LaBelle said, “Gladys, do you remember when we used to do ‘This is what friends are for? Honey, I didn’t know those words! I don’t know the lyrics!”

“I expect you to make up words,” Knight said with a laugh.

“I did!” she laughed. “That’s what I do, yes. We have wonderful times, yes.”


For more information:


Story produced by Mary Raffalli. Publisher: Remington Korper.


Don’t miss the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, broadcast live Sunday, March 14 on CBS and Paramount + from 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT.



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