How Swizz Beatz And Timbaland Are Helping Black Music Fans Feel Less Alone

During social distancing, Instagram Live sets from The-Dream, Sean Garrett, Ne-Yo, Johntá Austin and more are bringing us closer.
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Getty

I got wine drunk by myself on Wednesday night listening to Scott Storch and Mannie Fresh go head to head on Instagram Live. I was dancing in the kitchen of my Brooklyn apartment, but you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t 9 years old nodding and singing along while riding shotgun, as the bass in my older brother’s Chevy Cavalier shook the streets of Dayton, Ohio, when Mannie played “Project Bitch.”

For 20 rounds, the two music producers went back and forth playing the hits from my childhood. The songs felt especially timeless right now as we are social distancing during a global pandemic. Each round felt like a sonic salve for my anxiety. With more than 200,000 people watching along, including some of the most influential artists in hip-hop and R&B, I didn’t feel so alone.

Through a series of IG Live faceoffs, producers and songwriters have been giving us premium content for free. They’re offering the perfect shit-talking, reminiscing, feel-good time ― an urgent and necessary trip down memory lane during very uncertain times. These live battles have been a celebration of hip-hop culture and the people who breathe life into it. They take us back to that time we imitated a beat on the lunch table while singing our favorite hits with our friends or that time we threw it back a little too hard at the college house party where the walls were sweating as hard as we were. These sessions have been a celebration of the fans who keep the culture fueled, the multi-generations of artists we know and love, and all those behind the scenes whose genius often goes unsung.

Swizz Beatz and Timbaland kicked off my new favorite quarantine activity on March 24 when the two super producers took their long-standing friendly feud to Instagram. That first night on IG Live, viewers got an exclusive look at two masterminds leaning into the competitive roots of hip-hop and playing their best records. Meanwhile, the audience got to watch and comment alongside folks like Diddy, Jermaine Dupri, FunkMaster Flex, Jay Electronica, Common and more.

After that first successful night, the duo decided to curate a battle series for other producers and songwriters. Since then, we’ve seen Boi-1da go toe to toe with Hit-Boy and each drop new music, an inebriated Sean Garrett battle The-Dream on a chaotic Saturday night, a grown and sexy Sunday night with the sounds of Ne-Yo and Johntá Austin, and a duel of north vs. south with Scott Storch and Mannie Fresh.

Folks on Twitter have been calling for Pharrell, Missy Elliott, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Dr. Dre, Kandi Burress and Jermaine Dupri to take the stage for upcoming battles. On Saturday, Lil Jon and T-Pain will face off.

Swizz shared a post on Instagram letting the world know that this series is for us, by us. He said that he and Tim came up with the concept about three and a half years ago but the idea is just now coming to fruition.

“We came up with this concept for the people behind the scenes to get their notoriety and to get their flowers while they’re living,” he said in a video, noting that the producers who’ve battled are finally getting credit from those who may not have known about them or their work.

“This is not a play-around thing,” he continued. “The culture vultures, I see y’all lurking. This is not like a TikTok where you can just do a quick thing. This is formal. We put curation into this. We had three Madison Square Gardens filled up tonight.”

These moments have been one of the few silver linings for a lot of us in the midst of social distancing. Whether this necessary sweet slice of escapism has transported you to the first time you heard your favorite club bop or you’re just enjoying watching hip-hop and R&B heavyweights make history and help evolve how we appreciate and preserve these genres, revisiting some of the best in Black music has brought hundreds of thousands joy over the past couple of weeks.

Platforms like Tidal and The Aux DJ have even started sharing playlists so folks can relive the curated battles between sets.

Debating who’s won each battle has been fun. But I’m not gonna lie. As corny as it sounds, I feel like all of us witnessing the best producers and songwriters duke it out live are the biggest winners of all.

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