At the end of nearly two months of battles between regional producers, legacy producers, legendary rap producers, R&B and pop producers and writers, the Verzuz series of Instagram live song battles still had a glaring omission from their line-up: women.
Lack of women behind the boards in music creation and production is a long-time industry issue, but Verzuz creators and battle commissioners Swizz Beats and Timbaland told fans they were working on a way to bring women into the fold soon. Last night, it finally came to fruition.
On Saturday, May 9th, in partnership with Live Nation’s Femme It Foward, the series finally showcased two women for a singers version: neo-soul sisters Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. Fans and spectators joining Jill Scott’s IG live shortly after 7:00 p.m. immediately knew this was not a normal Verzuz match. While Jill herself was not on screen, selections from poet Nikki Giovanni served as prelude while around 600K people waited; a nod to Scott’s spoken word origins.
At approximately 7:20 p.m., Erykah Badu showed up. There was a slight issue with a time delay and echo, but the ladies casually chatted about adventures in homeschooling and a newfound appreciation for teachers, while Badu’s team sorted it out. Once they were ready to go, Badu quickly addressed a question that had been weighing on fans’ minds: she was playing The Roots “You Got Me,” on which she’s the featured artist but her part was written by Scott, off the top. Scott replied that she was going to play her version right after.
The “battle” ended up flowing more like two friends trading songs they love. Erykah, up first in each round, seemed to have a strategy and consideration for what she was playing in what order. Jill was playing from her iPhone, and much more casual in her choices. She also often played the entire track, which technically goes against Verzuz rules, but no one complained.
The night was a love fest; two friends and peers in music who genuinely admire and appreciate each other’s work trading stories (the ladies were much better about storytelling than previous participants have been) and shouting out collaborators and artists who inspired them. After 24 hours in which music suffered the losses of music and entertainment mogul Andre Harrell and Rock & Roll architect and originator Little Richard, fans, musicians, rappers, and entertainers were eagerly gathered for the soothing, incense-scented warmth of Erykah and Jill.
Here’s how Billboard scored the friendly showdown between the two beloved singer-songwriters.
ROUND 1: The Roots feat. Erykah Badu “You Got Me” (album edit) vs. The Roots feat. Jill Scott “You Got Me” (live version)
Even though Erykah kicked the night off with the version of the song we all know best, Jill shared the story of the night she had to sing the chorus she wrote for Badu with The Roots for the first time — live, unprepared and still unknown — because Erykah was late to the venue. Then she played the live version from that performance. Advantage, nostalgia.
ROUND 2: “On & On” vs. “Getting in the Way”
Debut single against debut single. Erykah went into a bit of Five Percent Nation background, and Jill talked about how she received some backlash for writing a song about fighting, but “at the time, I felt like ass should be whooped.”
ROUND 3: “Didn’t Cha Know” vs. “Rolling Hills”
The “Rolling Hills” is a semi-deep cut for Scott, and there was some speculation amongst my watch group as to whether Erykah had ever heard the song. “Didn’t Cha Know,” however, is a Dilla-produced Badu fave.
ROUND 4: “Back in the Day” vs. “Slowly, Surely”
At some point between Rounds 3 and 4, Michelle Obama arrived in the Live, making everyone feel even warmer and happier than they already did — a mood that “Slowly, Surely” fit perfectly.
ROUND 5: “The Other Side of the Game” vs. The Robert Glasper Experiment feat. Jill Scott’s “Calls”
In a different round, Glasper’s musical majesty paired with Scott’s voice would perhaps be a no-brainer; but Badu’s sweetly haunting narrative from the point of view of the ride-or-die chick, choosing her man and a family over a simpler life, is hard to beat. “If he doin’ wrong, we doin’ wrong.”
ROUND 6: “Appletree” vs. “Whenever You’re Around”
Jill Scott’s songs about love, loss, and the spaces in between are unmatched. So are her songs about sex and seduction, but we’ll come back to that.“I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired” hit home a little harder tonight than the lyrics from Apple Tree.
ROUND 7: “Times a Wastin’” vs. “Can’t Wait”
Badu and Scott both pull out album cuts for this round, but “Times a Wastin,” from Mama’s Gun, is the better known and more beloved. There are a few rounds where it felt like Jill was playing songs at random — not because they were poor choices, but they weren’t strategic choices; this is one of them. (Also another round where my watchgroup speculated whether Erykah had ever heard Jill’s song before.)
ROUND 8: “Cleva” vs. “Watching Me”
Anything Erykah pulled from sophomore album Mama’s Gun was going to be hard to beat. “Cleva” a song about the beauty of intellect over more superficial traits, was a stronger entry than Jill’s debut album track about the everyday surveillance state we’re all involuntarily subject to.
ROUND 9: “Danger” vs. “Fool’s Gold”
At the top of Round 9, Erykah asked Jill how she started writing. In response, we were gifted with a fantastic story about how one of Scott’s middle-school teachers assigned an essay to the class, leading young Jill to Nikki Giovanni’s work, and it blew her mind because she’d “never seen (her)self on paper.” Erykah then shared that she had a poetry book but didn’t let anyone read it, prompting Jill to offer a foot rub in exchange from being granted access to Badu’s work. Erykah: “When, now?”
ROUND 10: “Next Lifetime” vs. “Honey Molasses”
“Next Lifetime” is a track that likely rings even truer for Badu fans now than it did upon release, because life teaches us all that bad timing is real. But “Honey Molasses” is sultry Jill… and sultry Jill is a force.
ROUND 11: “Today” vs. “Jahraymecofasola”
Jill asked Erykah to send her “Today,” which was confusing because the internet and streaming services exist. When Badu asked Scott to break down the meaning of “Jahraymecofasola,” Jill couldn’t remember once she got to “Fa” (I think it’s likely Jill took Fa So La from “Do-Re-Mi”).
ROUND 12: “I Want You” vs. “Love Rain”
Jill asks how much time they have left to play, and Badu responds by telling us she has no concept of time.
ROUND 13: “Love of My Life” (feat. Common) vs. “So in Love” (feat. Anthony Hamilton)
“That damn old-a– singing Anthony Hamilton” – Jill
ROUND 14: “The Healer” vs. “Crown Royal”
Michelle Obama tags Barack in comments during “Crown Royal.” Nobody is surprised.
ROUND 15: “Honey” vs. “A Long Walk”
Jill has a false start to the round when she starts with a repeat of “Getting in the Way.” She then segues to an a capella version of Lalah Hathaway’s “Somethin’” before Erykah asks her to play “A Long Walk.”
ROUND 16: “Bag Lady” vs. “Blessed”
ROUND 17: “Window Seat” vs. “The Way”
The sublime melancholy of “Window Seat” makes it a potent late-game entry. But “The Way” was one of the songs folks were simply waiting all night to hear, as evidenced by the overwhelming number of viewers wailing “GRIIIIIIIIITS” on Twitter.
ROUND 18: “Tyrone” vs. “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)”
Jill Scott should probably win this round by default, as technical difficulties led to Erykah Badu temporarily being booted from the live stream — leaving Jill to gamely play the song her competitor had already queued up herself while she found her way back in, as Erykah played it on her own live stream in the meantime. Despite Scott’s good sportsmanship, though — and the singular experience that is the operatic live version of “He Loves Me” — “Tyrone” simply proves forever undeniable.
ROUND 19: “Green Eyes” vs. “Cross My Mind”
Despite previously deciding to cut the competition after 18 rounds, both singer-songwriters decide to encore with one more song each. Mama’s Gun closer “Green Eyes” is a fan favorite and career highlight for Erykah, while “Cross My Mind” carries special significance for Jill Scott as a finale, as she reads a letter from Swizz Beatz saying the song was the one that the late Andre Harrell was most looking forward to hearing from her on the evening.
Wider Catalogue: Erykah
The ladies actually both have five studio albums, but Erykah has more hits. Fortunately, a lot of tonight’s viewers were album-listening fans of both artists, so they were familiar with radio singles and album cuts.
Biggest Snub: “Golden” (Point: Erykah)
“Golden” isn’t Jill’s biggest song, but it is one of her signatures. It was curious that she chose to leave it out tonight, though fans didn’t seem to mind terribly.
Best Banter: Jill
Jill’s words fall from her mouth like cotton candy. She is enticing to listen to. It doesn’t even matter what she said a lot of the time.
Biggest K.O.: Erykah
The anticipation for “Tyrone” as Erykah’s finale was already sky high by the time her feed shorted out seconds into playing it, and only got higher until she and Jill both ended up playing it individually in their own live streams. Fans still debated the finer points of the song’s lyrics on Twitter well into the night, for the millionth time.
People’s Champ: Tie
This match-up was a cultural win. It was music therapy; a salve for recent pain. Jill and Erykah brought loving energy and open spirits to the first women’s battle in the spirit of sisterhood.
FINAL SCORE: 11-9-4, Erykah