A new Verzuz battle is brewing. Timbaland and Swizz Beatz recently sued Triller for breach of contract, alleging they’re owed more than $28 million from the aspiring TikTok rival.
Timbaland and Swizz Beatz launched the series on Instagram just after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020. It began as a remote competition and, as restrictions lifted, pivoted to in-person live events streamed in real time on the social platform as well as Apple Music. Over the course of the series, dozens of artists have been featured including Snoop Dogg, John Legend, Alicia Keys, RZA and Ludacris. A battle between ’90s icons Brandy and Monica filmed at Tyler Perry Studios brought in more than 1.2 million concurrent viewers.
Triller in March 2021 announced it was acquiring Verzuz for an undisclosed sum in a deal that made Timbaland and Swizz Beatz shareholders in its parent company Triller Network.
It’s now clear that sum was in the mid-eight figures. It was to be paid in installments: the first at closing, another shortly after and two more on the first and second anniversaries of the deal. Triller made the first two scheduled payments, but the company defaulted on their agreement in January 2022, according to the complaint filed in L.A. County Superior court by attorneys from Singh Singh & Trauben.
Timbaland and Swizz Beatz entered into a settlement and payment agreement with Triller in February. Under its terms, Triller was to pay them $9 million each no later than March 17 (and earlier if the company were to reach a minimum funding threshold). After that, Triller would pay them $500,000 each on the first of the month for 10 months. That timeline would be accelerated if the company received $100 million in funding or if it had closed its proposed merger with SeaChange International. An additional $120,000 was tacked on for the producers’ legal fees.
Triller again defaulted on the agreement, according to the complaint. It didn’t pay the $18 million in March, nor did it make any of the $1 million monthly installment payments. Timbaland and Swizz Beatz in April sent a notice and demand for payment, but Triller still hasn’t paid up.
Notably, their settlement deal included a waiver of defenses. The complaint quotes the agreement: “If Triller breaches any payment obligation under this Agreement and fails to cure within five (5) days after receiving written notice of such breach, the full unpaid amount remaining due under this Agreement shall become accelerated and be deemed immediately due and payable, and with respect to any such breach, Triller hereby permanently waives and releases all claims and defenses of each and every nature, both legal and equitable (‘Waived and Released Claim(s) and Defense(s)’) except that timely payment was in fact made by Triller.”
It also states that “the prevailing party shall be awarded its reasonable attorney’s fees.” Since Triller’s only defense allowed under the settlement is “timely payment,” it’s hard to imagine the duo won’t prevail.
Timbaland and Swizz Beatz are seeking compensatory damages of $28,095,000 plus attorneys’ fees and costs, as well as pre-judgment interest.
A rep for Triller says the company hopes this is just a “misunderstanding.”
“This is truly unfortunate and we hope it is nothing more than a misunderstanding driven by lawyers,” the statement reads. “We do not wish to air our dirty laundry in the press, but we have paid Swizz and Tim millions in cash and in stock. No one has benefited as much from Triller to-date. Triller has helped fuel Verzuz to new heights — making it the global cultural phenomenon it is today. We hope to resolve this amicably and quickly, and truly hope it’s just a misunderstanding. If we are forced to defend it, we are more than optimistic the truth and facts are on our side.”
Triller, which gained traction as a video-sharing app, has since taken on a majority investment from Ryan Kavanaugh’s Proxima Media and expanded into live events including a boxing league called Triller Fight Club.
Triller is no stranger to litigation, having sparred with TikTok and a podcasting duo, and faced a since-dropped biometric privacy class action (among other things). Neither is Kavanaugh, whose bankrupt Relativity Media was mired in litigation including a suit from investors, a contract dispute against Netflix and dueling claims with an ousted executive.