Though Culture Creators’ fifth annual Innovators and Leaders Awards brunch was in person this year, the group — which spotlights the best of Black culture — spent its Saturday event celebrating quarantine entertainment.
Swizz Beatz, co-founder of hit virtual music battle series Verzuz, received the Icon Award, while Derrick “D-Nice” Jones, the DJ behind Instagram Live’s Club Quarantine, was recognized with the Innovator of the Year Award.
“I always knew that when creatives celebrated each other it would work, when two creatives get together instead of being in competition and pitted against each other — although it is called Verzuz, it’s still a celebration,” Swizz Beatz said during his speech at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angles, in front of a mask-less (and vaccinated) full ballroom reminiscent of pre-pandemic times. He was presented the award by son Nasir Dean, and during a brief onstage Q&A the producer also addressed recently selling Verzuz to Triller Network — as part of the deal, he and partner Timbaland became Triller shareholders and split part of their stake in the company among the 43 artists who have performed on Verzuz so far.
“We turned down hundreds of millions of dollars of money that wasn’t in our favor. We went with the company that allowed us to bring our friends, allowed us to bring our family, and still run the company and have ownership in that company,” Swizz Beatz said. “When people heard that me and Timb sold Verzuz, they didn’t really understand the concept of why we did that. You can own 100 percent of nothing and I don’t like that when it comes to our culture we can’t sell anything. They can sell everything but we can’t sell anything or we sold out. Nah, we sold in,” adding that as Triller makes plans to go public in the coming weeks, “all 43 artists are going public with us. It’s going to be the biggest creative IPO in history.”
When D-Nice took the stage shortly after, he looked back on the last year when he was dubbed an overnight success by some media: “I’ve been in this business 35 years, this is the longest night ever.” He also remembered the origins of Club Quarantine, becoming one of the first to popularize Instagram Lives in what would eventually draw the likes of Michelle Obama and Joe Biden. It turns out those celebrity guests may not have been as much a surprise as it seemed, though; D-Nice revealed how he called friends connected to both Obama and Biden to ask them to join the party, and in Biden’s case, in the lead-up to the election, one woman on his team responded, “Hell yeah he better get in there, he needs Black people!”
“It was beautiful to know that something that started with 200 people ended up becoming something that kept the world inspired during a very dark time,” D-Nice continued, wrapping up with, “Black music and Black people save the fucking world.”
Other honorees at the show included former NBA player Baron Davis, TikTok exec Kudzi Chikumbu and Beyoncé’s personal stylist and wardrobe curator Zerina Akers.
Akers, now 13 years into the business with a roster of superstar clients, said she is now “hoping to utilize my platform and when I am featured in Vogue or contributing to a project that when the light shines on me, I can reflect it to these other young kids coming up.”
“I’m so thankful I get to contribute to the platforms that I do, I get to create work that will outlive us all and contribute to the culture in a meaningful way,” she added, while teasing a possible Beyoncé fashion moment at Sunday’s BET Awards. “Stay locked in for BET tomorrow!”