*The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles was the setting for the most recent Verzuz battle on November 18, 2021, dubbed a “Special Holiday Verzuz Battle.”
What started off last year by Swizz Beatz and Timbaland as something on Instagram to keep people entertained during the pandemic, has paid off like the lottery. We have seen several battles between some of music’s biggest names, some of them iconic.
When I heard Stephanie Mills and Chaka Khan were next to do a Verzuz gig, I was super excited. To say I am a fan would be accurate. I saw Stephanie Mills in concert a couple of years ago, so I knew she still knew how to put on a show. Now I only needed to know what Chaka Khan was working with.
The show was advertised to begin at 5:00 pm (Pacific), but was subsequently changed to 6:00 pm, who knows why. Considering previous battles tended to run long, I was concerned this one would cut into my sleep time with a such a late start, knowing the artists would not come on at 6:00 pm sharp.
The show began with host DJ Scratch introducing two DJs, DJ Ash B and DJ Ease, who were competing for a $1,000,000 prize and the opportunity to be the resident Triller DJ. They each played a total of seven minutes each and then a representative from Hallmark Mahogany read a poem. The DJs for the evening were introduced. It was only fitting that female DJs were used in recognition of the female icons who were performing.
At 7:00 pm, Stephanie and Chaka came out holding hands to “This Girl is on Fire,” both dressed in black and looking good and fierce. Stephanie was up first. Something went wrong and her music was unavailable. Oh well, not a problem for Stephanie, who decided to sing, “Ease on Down the Road,” acapella. There was no music glitch when it was Chaka’s turn, whose first song was, “Once You Get Started,” a song she sang as the lead singer of the group Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. Stephanie sang with her, which puzzled me a little, but not for long. Let’s just say Chaka’s song had a rocky start. Her and Stephanie’s vocals didn’t blend well and there was no syncopation. They appeared to be in different places.
Stephanie sang hit after hit masterfully and with showmanship. We were treated to, “Two Hearts,” “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” “Sweet Sensation,” “If I Were Your Woman,” “I Feel Good All Over,” “What You Gonna Do for Me,” and all the other Stephanie hits. Any of the live audience who paid to come out and root for Stephanie were not disappointed and got their money’s worth. That was the good part.
While Stephanie came prepared and understood the assignment, Chaka did not. She did not know the words to her songs, which would not be as bad if it were just a couple of songs, but ALL OF THEM…YIKES! She ad libbed a lot, came in too soon on some songs, too late on others, stayed too long on some, was too loud at times, sometimes out of tune, and never knew what song was next. Her speech was slurred, and she looked like she was going to fall over…literally.
Far be it from Stephanie to let her sista girl go under; she sang most of Chaka’s songs with her. Yep, it became clear why Stephanie sang that first song with her. She would need help the entire evening. Chaka’s daughter Indira came on stage to help her sing, “Sweet Thing” and that is all I will say about her daughter. Chaka Khan has the voice and can still sing, but her performance was very disappointing, and anyone who paid to see her should feel a type of way. Even Timbaland knew she was messing up because he typed, “The queens having fun tho.”
Remember when I said Swizz and Timbaland have been doing these battles for over a year? Well, you couldn’t tell by all the tech glitches that went on. The Verzuz battles can be viewed on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Triller. The problem is, Facebook and Instagram kept freezing and closing. Triller wanted credit card info, so they can charge after the five-day free trial. No thank you. The online viewers complained continuously about the tech issues, (when they were not roasting Chaka Khan), and were directed to YouTube, which was more stable. I ventured over to Youtube and had a better experience.
Some of the comments mentioned being amused or entertained, but that didn’t mean they enjoyed the performances. It was more like it was so bad it was entertaining. I was entertained by Stephanie Mills, Chaka Khan, not so much.
Stephanie tried to save Chaka; actually, she tried to carry her, but she couldn’t. Stephanie’s final song was “Home,” and when I say she put her entire foot in that song, trust me.
Chaka’s final song was “I’m Every Woman.” Her daughter came back out to sing with her.
The show was over before 8:30 pm, which was enough for me.
Marilyn Smith is a Los Angeles based writer/reviewer. Contact her via [email protected].