Music producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland have been keeping quarantine “lit” the past few months with their Verzuz battles, featuring hip-hop and R&B entertainers live on Instagram battling it out with words and beats.
They kicked off the month of May by announcing the showdown between neo-soul divas Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. This battle would be different for many reasons—but primarily because this was the first women’s battle.
Prior to the event, social media fans got to tweeting and putting in their two cents on who might win.
But on Saturday night around 7:15 when Jill Scott and Erykah Badu met on IG live, fans got a taste of something surprisingly different.
It’s important to note that while this was the first women’s Verzuz battle, women warriors are not an anomaly. Scholars and women worldwide know women have been on the battle field since Joan of Arc—but perhaps a more appropriate reference would be the 17th and 18th century Dahomey Amazon warriors. This ethnic tribe from Benin had women warriors who fought to the death.
Still, it’s always impressive when women decide to collaborate and uplift each other—such as the musical union of Beyoncé and Megan Thee Stallion on the recent “Savage Remix.”
In that same spirit on Saturday, Badu and Scott decided to “go high” and put their particular female spin on the Verzuz battle.
When the battle started, Badu and Scott got up close and personal quickly. They checked in on each other and their children. (Later in the almost three-hour concert, Scott’s son, Jett Roberts, would appear on screen.) And maybe it was the tea that Badu was drinking, or the glass of red wine that Scott was enjoying, but the chill vibe was set for the rest of the evening.
Badu, clad in a red du-rag and oversized black framed glasses, kicked it off with The Roots’ “You Got Me” featuring Erykah Badu. A radiant Scott, her braids swept into a bun, swayed to the music in a blue patterned top. She told Badu—and the almost 727,000 viewers—“You Got Me” was one of the first songs she ever penned. She confessed how grateful she was that Badu decided to give a rising singer/songwriter a chance by singing it.
The women continued to trade tracks back and forth like in a friendly tennis match. At times they even sung to each other’s tracks—collaborating to a collective musical vibe. Out of their vast discography, we heard hits like “Other Side of the Game,” “Watching Me,” “Slowly, Surely,” “Back in the Day,” and many others.
But what truly set this “battle” apart were the words of wisdom and the confessions shared between the songs. These women, mothers and mutual friends were ultimately way more interested in connecting than battling.
About half-way through this over three-hour event, Badu asked Scott, “What inspires you to share your words?” Badu shared that she’d been writing poetry since around age five, but only recently shared her first poem on IG. Scott asked with a playful smile if she could rub Erykah’s feet in exchange for some of her poetry.
Then Scott responded to the question by mentioning an early teacher, named Fran Danish, who opened her up to poetry. Scott flexed her own literary muscles by saying this teacher led her to discover literary greats such as Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes and Sonia Sanchez. She even acknowledged helping esteemed pianist and record producer Robert Glasper “get back on his feet” after a back injury. As you can see, this was less like a battle and more like a #blackgirlmagic slumber-party.
And speaking of the greats, the celebs were out in full effect to support the Grammy Award-winning ladies. Folks like classic female rapper Mc Lyte, Snoop Dogg, vocalist Tamar Braxton, actress Viola Davis and DJ Dnice (who Badu gave a shout out to) were all spotted on the live feed. And former first lady Michelle Obama made a big a splash with her appearance. Scott noticed and drew Badu’s attention by energetically giving Mrs. O her props.
This battle had no field. Unlike the Dahomey Amazon warriors, these participants felt no need for bloodshed or drama. And fortunately, the ancestors were present because Badu and Scott summoned them. They role-called many magnificent female vocalists—past and present—who paved the way: Etta James, Chaka Khan, Nina Simone, Anita Baker, Sarah Vaughan, Rachelle Ferrell and Phyllis Hyman.
And they ended the night with Scott’s “Cross My Mind” to pay homage to Andre Harrell, record producer who founded Uptown Records who died on May 8. Badu calls Harrell an “idea maker” and thanked him for “his light.”
Closing out on a lighter note, Badu joked with Scott and said, “I can’t believe you got through this without crying.”
And while we know she’s joking with “Jilly from Philly,” I’m wondering how we got though this elegant showcase of talent without crying as well. But witnessing these Black female musicians loving each other to life, and not battling with aggression, I suspect there were many damp eyes in the house.
Watch the whole battle here: