An Epic Interview with Epic Rap Battles
You’re in the middle of a crowd in a dark, underground club reminiscent of the final scene of “8 Mile” (shout out to Cheddar Bob). Waiting for the DJ to spin that shit, the crowd goes wild as the contestants make their way on the stage. You catch a glimpse of the rappers and you don’t believe your eyes. Darth Vader and Adolf Hitler are about to sling rhymes at each other.
Thus is the premise of “Epic Rap Battles of History,” the creation of comedy duo Peter Shukoff, a.k.a. Nice Peter, and Lloyd Ahlquist, a.ka. Epic Lloyd. What started as an idea for a segment of an improv comedy show has turned into one of the most watched and subscribed to YouTube channels of all-time. The series has shown rap battles between everybody from Beatle John Lennon and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly to Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee and Mr. Muppet Jim Henson. The duo will be bringing their epic rap battles to life at High Dive in downtown Gainesville on Monday.
While talking with Shukoff this past week, I learned a little bit about what to expect at the show, how everything got started and the characters that have been most memorable to play.
Shukoff had previously used the Epic Rap Battles of History content in solo shows, but this is the first time a whole concert has been built around the series. He said there are about 30 costume and prop changes throughout the show, as he and Ahlquist transform into a vast array of characters from history and pop culture.
In addition to Shukoff, Ahlquist and the DJ on stage, one entity is absolutely imperative to the show: the audience. Audience participation is heavily encouraged at shows, with members of the crowd frequently joining on stage to rap their favorite segments to the raps. This leads to a unique experience at every show, making the audience the third creative partner of the group.
“Twelve shows in and the set has changed 12 times,” Shukoff said of the audience’s influence to make each show a unique experience.
Audience participation has been a part of the success of Epic Rap Battles of History long before the live show was ever constructed. Shukoff said the group takes the suggestions of commenters on YouTube very seriously, often having that feedback influence where they take their comedy act.
When talking about the original influences for the act, the idea stemmed from Shukoff’s geeky fascination with history and Ahlquist’s love of rap music. While the duo may be trying to make people laugh with their act, they do try as best as possible to remain faithful to the facts of history, hoping that their audience may learn a thing or two while watching the videos. In addition to remaining faithful to the facts, the group tries to remain faithful to the character of the people they portray. Shukoff was especially nervous about recently portraying Jim Henson, because Henson is a childhood hero of his, and made an extra effort to get the mannerisms and puppeteering of the Muppet master down perfectly.
While the production value of the videos has increased and the characters they have portrayed have gotten more extreme (Shukoff said of wearing a RoboCop suit, “You’re too hot, clausterphobic, and you can’t see.”), the videos that are most engaging to the audience are due to quality music.
“At the center of all the videos is a good song.”
So for all you Epic Rap Battle fans out there, make sure to snag your tickets in advance. This is one musical journey through space, time and reality you won’t want to miss.