The TikTok rival bought the popular Livestream show last year, but its founders now say Triller still owes them tens of millions.
Eighteen months after Timbaland and Swizz Beatz sold their popular Verzuz Livestream series to Triller, the two are now suing the social media platform for allegedly failing to pay them a whopping $28 million that they’re still owed from the deal.
Triller, a TikTok-like service that allows users to create and share short videos, announced in March 2021 that it would pay an undisclosed sum in cash and equity to acquire Verzuz – a breakout hit during the pandemic in which two artists square off in a live-streamed music battle.
But in a lawsuit filed Tuesday (Aug. 16) in Los Angeles Superior Court, Timbaland (Timothy Mosley) and Swizz Beatz (Kasseem Daoud Dean) say Triller has failed to actually pay for the company it purchased. After initial payments last year and early this year, the pair of hitmakers says the company has refused to hand over more than $28 million that they’re still owed.
“Defendants have failed and refused to respond to plaintiffs’ written notice and demand for payment,” the pair’s lawyers wrote in the complaint. “To date, defendants have failed and refused to make any payment to Mosley and Dean of the past due sums due and owing, and defendants continue in default of their payment obligations.”
In a statement on Tuesday evening, Triller called the lawsuit “truly unfortunate” and said it hoped it was “nothing more than a misunderstanding driven by lawyers.”
“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,” the company wrote. “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.”
Timbaland and Swizz Beatz launched Verzuz in March 2020, just days after the global shut-down from the COVID-19 pandemic, and it took off as peak quarantine entertainment – a virtual music battle between top artists, live-streamed to millions of users on Instagram and other platforms. Since the pair of producers squared off in the inaugural show, Verzuz has featured high-profile showdowns between T-Pain and Lil Jon, Alicia Keys and John Legend, DMX and Snoop Dogg, Brandy and Monica, and many other top names, often drawing millions of viewers.
After launching in 2015, Triller rose to prominence in 2020 as a competitor to TikTok when the Trump administration said it was considering banning the popular social media service from the U.S. market over its ties to the Chinese government. Triller — whose investors include Snoop Dogg, The Weeknd and Marshmello — made aggressive moves to compete with TikTok by courting influencers to the platform, but also experienced serious hiccups. Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company, pulled its catalogue from the platform in February 2021 over royalty issues before eventually resolving the matter and restoring the songs a few months later. The service also admitted to — and then denied — inflating user numbers just weeks before it was expected to go public as part of a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger.
The SPAC merger didn’t happen, but recently Triller has been making another play to go public — meaning the Verzuz lawsuit is coming at a particularly bad time. After calling off a $5 billion proposed merger with video-tech company SeaChange International in June, the company submitted paperwork to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering.
According to Tuesday’s lawsuit, under the terms of Triller’s deal to buy Verzuz, the first cash payments to Timbaland and Swizz Beatz were due January 2021 and April 2021 – both of which Triller successfully made. But when another payment was due in January 2022, the producers say the company failed to pay.
The two sides quickly reached a settlement to avert a dispute by agreeing to a new payment plan, the suit says, and Triller made the first payment under that new agreement in February. But the settlement agreement required Triller to pay another $18 million by March 17, plus $1 million more per month for another 10 months – and Timbaland and Swizz Beatz say those payments have never been made.
“The aforesaid defaults constitute material breaches of the agreement by defendants,” the pair’s lawyers wrote. “By reason of defendants’ continuing uncured defaults, the sum of $28,095,000.00 is immediately due to being paid under the agreement.”
The lawsuit from Timbaland and Swizz Beatz isn’t the first time this year Triller has been accused of not paying its bills. In June, boxing reporter Dan Rafael reported that Triller had not fully paid several fighters from a May 2022 bout. And earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that Triller had a spotty history of paying Black influencers that had been recruited to join the platform; the company strongly denied those allegations.
It’s also not the first sign of tension between Timbaland/Swizz Beatz and Triller. Back in February, Verzuz faced backlash when it was announced that the latest battle would be exclusively aired on Triller’s $2.99-per-month premium service. Later in the day, Swizz Beatz assured fans that the show would still be available on Instagram and other free platforms: “I was out of the country don’t ask me who did it,” he wrote with a laughing emoji. “It’s fixed.”