With No Sports, The VERZUZ Instagram Battles Have Become Musical Boxing

Illustration for article titled With No Sports, The VERZUZ Instagram Battles Have Become Musical Boxing
Illustration: Eric Barrow (Getty)

In the midst of a global pandemic that’s left people craving for anything to fill voids of loneliness and boredom, Sunday night’s premiere of ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary about the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls set records as the most-watched documentary in the network’s history.


According to The Hollywood Reporter, the debut episode averaged 6.3 million viewers, as 5.8 million viewers stuck around for the second hour.

On Monday night, over a half million people logged on to Instagram Live to watch a different sort of “sporting event,” as the musical battle “VERZUZ” put R&B icons Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Teddy Riley against each other in a 20-round song-off.

Anything the duo ever wrote, produced, or performed was game. And despite the multitude of technical difficulties due to the 62-year-old Edmond’ and the 52-year-old Riley’s technology issues – and some hating from Instagram that ended the battle in the 19th round – it was an entertaining night that lived up to the hype, especially since Monday night’s event was a rescheduled bout.

The original battle was supposed to have taken place on Saturday night, but due to even more technical difficulties on Riley’s end, it was called off and after only three rounds.

People were irritated and upset, but it led to a slew of hilarious jokes on social media. It was such an epic fail that even CNN reported on the ordeal.


“The battle was supposed to start at 9 p.m., but by 10 p.m. it was apparent the audio needed to be fixed so they stopped and told viewers to come back at 10:30 p.m.

But moments after 10:30 p.m., Babyface suggested it’d be better to postpone the battle.


“Tonight was really special ... it’s only right that we postpone this thing and do it at a time when there aren’t any technical difficulties and everybody can hear the music the way it needs to be heard,” Babyface said in an Instagram video.” 


It was one of Black Twitter’s finest moments, and proof that in these times, people are longing to be entertained by any form of competition. What super-producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz started last month, after having their own playful version, has now turned into a sporting event of its own, as they’ve become the event’s curators.

“We don’t really like to use the word ‘battle’ — although it’s natural to say battle when two people are playing songs with each other. But this is more of a celebration, an educational celebration,” Swizz Beatz told The Associated Press. “Me and Tim’s mission is to bring happiness, to help everybody get past this hard moment because we’re all being affected.”


“Me and Swizz sit down and we really kind of curate the matches well. We try to do the unpredictable, not what people predict. And that comes with a lot of work on me and Swizz’s part,” said Timbaland to Billboard. “We have to make a lot of phone calls to get these celebrations lined up. It’s a process.”

Every contest has included the same elements as a sporting event, or boxing match, would, especially when it comes to fan interaction through the comment section. And while there is no real winner after each match, the victor is decided by subjective fan voting, in the same way fans do after a boxing match, despite what the official scorecards may read.


So far, some of the biggest matches have included songwriters (Johnta Austin vs. Ne-Yo and The Dream vs. Sean Garrett), and producers/artists (T-Pain vs. Lil Jon, Mannie Fresh vs. Scott Storch, and RZA vs. DJ Premier). Fans are hoping to see future battles between P. Diddy vs. Jermaine Dupri or Dr. Dre, or 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule.


It’s similar to how people would love to see a fictional matchup between Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors and Jordan’s Bulls, amid the premiere of their 10-part documentary.

It’s often been said that every rapper wants to be a ballplayer, and every ballplayer wants to be a rapper.


But who would have thought that in a period without sports, Instagram would be the platform that would put musicians at center court, or in the center of the ring.