For Verzuz co-creators Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, the platform’s surprise acquisition by Triller Network — including shares for all 43 Verzuz performers to date — is in keeping with the disruptive DNA that birthed the global livestream phenomenon last March.
“I don’t think there’s another company in the world that would let us bring in 43 artists-friends to participate in ownership of a company that’s valued at over a billion plus dollars,” Swizz Beatz tells Billboard. “They came very strong and also with many creatives that are owners in the company already. That was a sign for us of being a perfect fit — and very disruptive.”
From their respective bases in San Diego and Miami, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland — now also members of the Triller Verzuz management team — speak further about transitioning for the future, keeping Instagram and Twitter in the mix, the debate between Triller and Universal Music Group and the centrifugal force that keeps powering the Verzuz platform: creatives.
The ultimate payoff, says Swizz Beatz, is “hearing everybody being so floored about having shares in the company and feeling like they belong. That’s the real currency. It’s going to take the creative to save the creative.”
What initially attracted you to Triller?
Swizz Beatz: The whole time that Tim and I were building this platform, we didn’t really have any plans from a monetization or even a business side. We never even built out the technology for it. It was more about wanting to do this from a celebration, educational side; to give people some life, love and happiness during these hard times with COVID-19. Then as the platform started growing it turned into a business with sponsors coming in and offers from people wanting to buy ownership in the company once we cracked the million number. But we turned down everything because it just didn’t feel right for what we were building.
We had a great partnership with Apple —shout-out to Larry Jackson and the whole Apple Music team. We have nothing but great things to say about them. And Instagram and Twitter have always been great supporters. But after listening to all the deals there were coming to us, we said, you know what? We’d like a partner that we can grow with. But that partner would have to totally be about the creatives. They had to accept everybody, not just me and Tim, because we noticed there are a lot of companies and businesses that aren’t used to having many creatives as owners, as leaders with voices. They’re cool with having one or two people from the culture but not 43. Me and Tim were coming with our family. Triller was the only company that accepted that.
Timbaland: It was about making a difference and sharing that gift. As Swizz said, we started doing this out of love, giving it back and connecting to the world. And we just wanted to share that gift. It just feels good to give back to our creative community with a blessing in this type of structure. Think about it. Creatives build so many platforms, but you never see those creatives as part of the IPO.
Swizz Beatz: This is what we were supposed to do — even though everyone felt like they’d already gotten paid from streams and sponsorships. We never took any of the money from those things. People were saying, why are you guys giving away so much. But we’d say we’re not giving away anything, we’re sharing because we didn’t build Verzuz by ourselves. It would have taken us four years to raise capital for Verzuz, so why dilute our shares? In doing so, there wouldn’t have been enough to bring everybody here. That’s why we had to be very smart and calculated on how we transitioned [for the future] by merging into a company that had already raised the capital and had valuation.
Will this sharing extend to future artist-performers beyond the initial 43?
Swizz Beatz: That’s a good point. We want to keep it organic and decide as we go along. Going forward, people will be truly incentivized in a great way. But these 43 artists are special because they played a big part in the process. They believed in us when our service was bad; took risks and came out of their houses during COVID-19 to do something for free, for their fans and love of the arts.
Moving forward, will Verzuz only be available on Triller?
Swizz Beatz: We should be smart and just put it only on Triller. But we have strong core audiences on Instagram and Twitter as well. So for right now we want to leave everything in place.
According to sources, Triller and Universal Music Group still don’t have a deal in place. What is your perspective on that?
Swizz Beatz: Triller has been in existence way before Verzuz and as far as the rules with the labels, I’m sure Triller is aware and handling it. Now that Triller Verzuz is owned by the artists, everybody should be encouraged to do the right thing because it’s all about the artists now. However, we also respect the other businesses as well.
How else do you plan to build out the Triller Verzuz universe?
Timbaland: We’re just getting started. We have so much more to do. We expanded into Verzuz sports with the NFL Pro Bowl in January and want to move into comedy. We just want to be disruptive. We’ve broken a barrier because I feel like creatives have lost their place in the world. And this puts a light back on them. So Verzuz is going to be very versatile.
Swizz Beatz: Also just to add to that, we’re thinking global and not just domestic. We’re hitting Africa, Asia and India when the time is right. There are creatives all over the world and Verzuz is the hub for creativity. Of course, we’re going to keep it organic. We’re not going to make this announcement and try to get all fancy real quick. But we never built this to be in a box; actuallycreating this meant stepping outside of the box. So Tim and I have to keep pushing the envelope and inspiring others. The sky’s not the limit, it’s just the view.