We knew this battle was about to bless us when Jill Scott started streaming live from her Instagram account with a bit of gospel playing in the background. Eventually sitting down in her seat, skin glowing, jumbo braids adorning her head like a crown and a glass of wine in hand, Jilly from Philly greeted all of us with her signature smile. It felt like warm honey, a good hug.
The battle hadn’t even begun yet. Erykah Badu had yet to join, but viewers like Ebro Darden typed, “Shhhh!” Perhaps the longtime radio personality couldn’t hear over the more than 600,000 fans hearing the words of Nikki Giovanni that offered the prelude of what was to come in the three-hour Verzuz battle.
Although battle seems like a strong word for the two queens of neosoul, who eventually blessed us with hits, such as Badu’s “Didn’t Cha Know,” “Other Side of The Game” and “Apple Tree.” But there were also deep cuts streamed, including Jill’s “Crown Royal,” “Rolling Hills” and “Watchin’ Me.”
The cypher eventually started when the queen of them herself, Badu, joined the livestream. With fans watching every move, one fan, Darius Brown, hilariously wrote, “Someone escort Ms. Badu to the stage.” Comments like these (such as Michelle Obama’s fire emojis that were to come) make Verzuz feel like church, a packed movie theater in the Blackest of neighborhoods, the ultimate group chat. Images of Bruce Lee flashed in the background—perhaps a visual nod to Badu’s mind-set: She was ready to fight.
But before the two got right down to it, Erykah asked Jill just how she’s been keeping up. “How you doing with that school thing with Jett?” she asked, referencing the Philadelphia singer’s son. And when Jill replied, it felt like she was giving a reminder for all of us parents: “I just ask him to have a whole lot of patience with me…and I have a whole lot of patience with him.”
Then they got into a bit of musical history, with Jill reminding fans that she wrote The Roots’ 1999 hit with Badu, “You Got Me.” What no one seemed to know was that the hook she penned was actually the first song she ever wrote. Badu also shed light on what she thought when she initially heard the reference track. “I didn’t know who Jill Scott was, but they played me this song with this lady’s voice on it,” she recalled. “I heard your voice and I was like, ‘What, what, what Ima do?‘ We won a Grammy from that song, sis.”
The two revealed nuggets about their artistry and themselves. Badu revealed she’s written tons of poetry, starting at the age of 5, “but I don’t share them…. I just had so much in me that I didn’t know how to get out.” And Jill revealed it was her eighth grade English teacher who introduced her to Giovanni, which “opened my mind and blew my wig back.”
“The door just opened,” said the artist, whose albums are littered with spoken word pieces. “[There were] so many writers who could paint me with words.”
Then Jill dropped a sermon for writers who might be tuning in: “There are a lot of writers watching right now who are holding on to stuff because they don’t know how people will accept it…. And it doesn’t matter. You have to get it out. You’re just holding on to something that really doesn’t belong to you anymore.”
Despite a few technical glitches, and even a slight echo, which Badu hilariously called “a Teddy Riley,” referencing the iconic producer’s botched battle with Babyface, the two delivered what felt like a much-needed balm ending a hard week.
And although Erykah said this to Jill, it really could describe what both singers did for the thousands listening in: “I appreciate your writing and your energy. It fills us all up.”