March 25, 2023


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

COVID forces Verzuz to go remote with Ashanti, Keyshia Cole

Verzuz, the hit Instagram Live series that became popular early on in quarantine last year, is returning to its remote roots as COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country.

On Friday, the Verzuz Instagram page announced its next battle will see its participants, R&B singers Ashanti and Keyshia Cole, perform separately in order to “protect the artists and everyone who works with us in putting the shows together.”

“This has been an emotional week,” the statement read. “In addition, as COVID-19 numbers continue to increase, safety is a top priority for us. As much as we enjoy having everyone together in the same room … we’ll be going back to separate locations for a bit.”

Last month, Ashanti announced via Instagram that she had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, hours before her highly anticipated Verzuz appearance opposite Cole was originally set to stream Dec. 12.

“I’m ok and not in any pain,” Ashanti assured her millions of followers, adding, “I’m actually down to do the verzuz from my house… we’re trying to figure it all out!!!”

The Grammy winner has since tested negative, “starting off the new year Amazing and Covid free!!!” according to her Instagram page.

Launched by Swizz Beatz in March, Verzuz began as a series of musical matchups — DMX and Snoop Dogg, Ludacris and Nelly, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, etc. — with the artists performing from their homes on a split screen via video chat.

After quickly becoming a social media phenomenon, Verzuz later upped its production values for faceoffs between Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle, Brandy and Monica and other dynamic duos who have performed together on increasingly elaborate sets.

The epic final Verzuz of 2020 saw Bay Area rappers E-40 and Too Short duke it out, appropriately, in front of a pair of muscle cars at the intersection of Vallejo and Oakland — denoted by fake street signs representing the musicians’ hometowns. Their “Legends of the Bay” installment drew more than 800,000 viewers across Instagram Live, Apple Music, YouTube and Facebook.

“We’re excited for the next few events and look forward to getting back to the show in the coming weeks,” Friday’s statement read, adding that the Ashanti-Cole episode is “coming soon.”

In the comment section, several Verzuz fans expressed support for the decision, arguing that “staying in separate locations was the whole point of the Verzuz” anyway and “the janky WiFi adds charm.” Though Cole herself responded with an unamused emoji.

“Was being in different rooms not how [Verzuz] even started?” one person wrote. “Nobody asked y’all to drag it. Just let two ppl go live they know how to play their own music.”