When will we stop platforming abusers?
Verzuz had the potential to shift the culture.
For The Undefeated, David Dennis Jr. wrote, “[T]he Verzuz events emerged as a communal salve for Black folks reeling from a 2020 of mass death, social distancing and an endless barrage of police brutality videos.”
When the world was under strict stay-at-home orders, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland came up with a unique concept: bring together two legends and have them battle with their catalogues. Although it started as an Instagram live series, it eventually morphed into a live show streamed exclusively on social media.
As the show grew in popularity, millions tuned in to see icons celebrate with each other. Some of the highest watched episodes are: Jeezy and Gucci Mane, Ashanti and Keyshia Cole, and Monica and Brandy. According to E! News, the Monica and Brandy episode broke a record for viewers.
And it was only up from there.
During the highly anticipated Bow Wow and Soulja Boy episode, the rappers played the soundtrack of Black Millennial adolescence. One person tweeted, “This was the best #Verzuz battle. Middle School Me is so happy.” Really, Bow Wow and Soulja Boy’s Verzuz battle was a nostalgic moment for many. Yet, not everyone was celebrating.
Weeks before the battle, tweets circulated about how Verzuz was a platform that welcomed abusers. It first began when Redman and Method Man facetimed Russell Simmons into their battle. Dennis noted, “[Russell’s] appearance on Verzuz was a continuation of the normalizing of Simmons’ continued presence in hip-hop, and a reminder that powerful men can harm women, especially Black women, and still find space to be embraced.”
Only two weeks would pass before a similar incident happened. When SWV and Xscape faced off, many took issue with Tiny Harris’s appearance on the show, given copious allegations of abuse at the hands of her and her husband. A month and a half later, Soulja Boy and Bow Wow went head-to-head, despite both being accused of egregious forms of abuse.
In 2019, Bow Wow was accused of physically abusing his previous girlfriends. Model Kyomi Leslie tweeted, “He beat me while I was pregnant…Punched me in my stomach & all... lost my baby and still covered for the weak a** ni**a.” When the Shade Room posted the tweets, Erica Mena (Bow Wow’s other ex) co-signed Leslie’s allegations and alleged that the rapper not only beat her as well but also broke singer Ciara’s finger.
Despite these allegations, Bow Wow was invited to Verzuz, alongside another alleged abuser. According to USA Today, “Soulja Boy is being sued by an anonymous longtime lover who alleges he beat her repeatedly over years, including one attack so severe she miscarried their baby.” This is in addition to allegations of sexual assault and kidnapping.
One thing that these cases have in common is that many of the accusers are Black women, which lends itself to a larger conversation about protecting Black women. As Shamira Ibrahim tweeted, “protect Black women is more rhetoric than politic.” For Mic, she stated that, when it comes to Verzuz, “lauding individuals at the expense of Black women’s comfort and safety is an accepted calculus.”
This was recently seen when Swizz Beatz invited Justin Timberlake to do a Verzuz battle. Timberlake is known for his Superbowl performance with Janet Jackson, where he exposed her breast to millions of viewers in the audience and at home. Afterward, Janet was blackballed from the industry while Timberlake’s career thrived.
“Justin was not blacklisted or derailed because he had gone crying to Moonves after the incident happened for sympathy. At that moment, Justin was just worried about himself and his career. He did not care what happened to Janet after he saved his ass,” wrote Rebecca Max, an avid Janet Jackson fan.
Max added, “Justin had multiple opportunities over, specifically, 17 years, to defend Janet Jackson after the Super Bowl incident but chose not to do it…the fact that Swizz Beatz and Timbaland would even invite this culture vulture to do a #VERZUZ while saying that thee (sic) Janet Jackson does not have the hits to do a #VERZUZ was utterly disrespectful. It says a lot about the culture.”
In the latter half of her response, Max is referring to an incident that took place recently. Swizz Beatz asked who should be featured on a Verzuz episode, and a commenter said, “Missy Elliot and Janet Jackson.” Swizz disagreed, suggesting that Janet did not have the catalogue to battle in a Verzuz.
Max said, “I love Janet because she has one of the most eclectic, creative, and critically acclaimed discographies in the music industry...[f]or Swizz Beatz to be a producer in the music industry and be ignorant about Janet's CLASSIC music and accomplishments is offensive and appalling.”
To Max, “#VERZUZ has become all about money and politics.” Really, these industry politics play out in Hip Hop culture as a whole. What started as a safeguard against racism has morphed into a space that marginalizes and abuses the same Black women who created it. Yet, because people see Hip Hop in a familial sense, it is hard to call out the problems in it, Shanita Hubbard posits.
For Huff Post, she wrote, “Having a public conversation around real-life crimes like sexual harassment and assault that occur within the hip-hop industry ― within our family ― would feel like pulling the curtain back and exposing your family issues to the world.”
So, we keep quiet and praise alleged abusers.
After all, R. Kelly is still on rotation at many Verzuz battles. Then, abusers like Talib Kweli, who was de-platformed by Twitter after harassing Maya Moody for months, and Dave Chappelle, who has a history of being transphobic toward trans women, are offered other platforms to speak their truths as “leaders” of the culture.
In her interview, Max talked about this. She said, “Black men who deem themselves as the ‘leaders of the culture’ have done far more DAMAGE to the Black community than good. They have only looked out for their own Black capitalist pockets.”
One example of a Black man who is supposedly leading “the culture” but really causing harm is Timbaland.
Although he is the creator of Verzuz, which for many was a light during dark times, he admitted that he was in love with the late singer Aaliyah when she was a minor, according to Complex.
Timbaland is not the only one. Dr. Dre is lauded as a cultural innovator but has many abuse allegations. Russell Simmons co-founded Def Jam and is respected by many as “Uncle Rush,” he has twenty women claiming that he sexually harassed or abused them. And the list goes on.
Despite the mainstream ‘me too.’ movement, time has never been up when it comes to abusers in Hip Hop. When hit shows like Verzuz normalize abuse, it seems like it never will be.