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Jabari Evans

Northwestern University
Research Fellow
Old Hits Verzuz New Technology: How a Pandemic Ushered Legacy Artists into the Clout Economy

This presentation focuses on the live streaming event called Verzuz, the webcast concert series created by Hip-Hop music producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz. Drawing on empirical data from an ongoing research project examining the social media habits and visibility labor practices of Hip-Hop artists, I highlight the ways in which COVID-19 has disrupted the spatial practice of music. From there, I argue that due to the need for new representational spaces of music, Verzuz offers a new form of musical-spatial practice, appropriating spaces of the domestic and the everyday, and fusing / overlaying them with new cultural meaning the reconsideration of value by potential consumers.

Thus, the overarching objective of this talk is to explore patterns of music streaming and social media usage surrounding Verzuz as a virtual live concert. More specifically, I ask what the material effects of Verzuz’s large scale webcasted live performances actually are on online audience activity, and also theorize how these performances can drive a new model of music monetization. In doing so, I also explore Verzuz as an example of the ways in which virtual concerts can trigger artist exposure, revenue and record listening in a moment when audience members cannot attend in-person music concerts but are far more engaged with social media for collective listening and are hyper-accessing the recordings of whichever artists they want via streaming services. Ultimately, this talk illuminates the ways in which Verzuz artists are accumulating digital clout demands new thinking and a new focus on the ways in which all musicians will now be forced to monetize their brands through digital distribution practices and live-streaming platforms in more supplementary ways.

Jabari Evans is a PhD candidate in Communication Studies at Northwestern University and fellow at the Northwestern Center of Media and Human Development. His research focuses on the music subcultures that Black youth and young adults of color develop and inhabit to understand their social environments, emotional development and professional aspirations. His work also explores the strategies Black youth use with digital tools and technologies to combine self-expression with academic or economic opportunity.