Q&A with Epic Rap Battles of History co-creator Epic Lloyd
In 2010, comedians Epic Lloyd and Nice Peter were performing in a freestyle rapping improvisation show titled “Check OneTwo.” One of the show’s games involved them extemporaneously battle rapping as famous figures suggested by audience members. Peter later proposed the idea of translating the rap battle concept over to the digital video realm of YouTube. Lloyd agreed, and they immediately went to work on producing, writing and editing their first rap battle, John Lennon vs. Bill O’Reilly.
One year and over 300 million YouTube views later, the Epic Rap Battles of History have firmly cemented themselves as one of the premier online video series/channels and turned Epic Lloyd and Nice Peter into internet celebrities. Each episode features famous historical and fictional characters duking it out in a musical fight for lyrical supremacy, spitting insulting lyrics alluding to each other’s personal histories and quotes. Notable rap battle matchups have included Einstein vs. Stephen Hawking, Abe Lincoln vs. Chuck Norris, and Darth Vader vs. Hitler, not once but twice. The Lumberjack was able to secure an email interview with Epic Lloyd concerning the rap battles’ immense success, the planning/conceptualizing that goes into each battle, and how hot those studio lights really are.
Epic Lloyd (EL): Big shoutout to NAU: I lived there for a little while; my wife went to grad school up there; I love that place. I worked at the Mad Italian for a while, and shout out to the NORAZ poets: Christopher Fox-Graham and those dudes up there are pretty sweet.
The Lumberjack (LJ): The concept for the Epic Rap Battles originated during your freestyle improve rapping show “CheckOneTwo.” Did you initially believe it would translate well into the vast viral video realm of YouTube? Did you ever think it would achieve the level of runaway success that it has?
EL: No, I never thought it would. I never really gave it that much thought; it was a fun thing that my buddy was like, “Hey, you wanna do this?” and I was like, “Yeah, let’s do that. That sounds really fun.” I’ve always known that I run with a bunch of talented people and that my friends are real talented, but this wasn’t the type of project where I was like, “Alright, this project is going to be the biggest project I’ve ever done,” which probably makes the most sense that it did become real big just because it was very natural and organic. I never pictured it being this big, I’m jut really happy that it is.
LJ: Explain to me the process that goes into conceptualizing, planning and writing the lyrics/music for an Epic Rap Battle of History. Do you and Peter just view all the YouTube comment match-up suggestions and pick one collectively?
EL: We always pick a suggestion as the next match-up. We’ll scroll through a bunch of them, [and] there are so many of them that basically at this point we can say “Hey, we want to do a rap battle with Joan of Arc,” and then let’s just scroll through and we’ll find Joan of Arc versus somebody who is cool. Or every once in a while we’ll be looking through something, and we’ll something that jumps right out at us and is immediately like perfect for both of us. We go back and forth sometimes.
The conceptualization of each battle really depends on who it is that is battling. We try to really do each character justice, so we usually start by picking out the match-up, and then we find the beat, or we get the beat made, and we write the lyrics. And then we never know what the bits are going to be until we have the lyrics written. They really depend on what comes out in the lyrics, so, the song gets written first and tracked first, and then we make a shot list of all the different lists and then we shoot it and go into post into the editing part.
LJ: You guys seem to have a fully-fledged team associated with the creation of the Epic Rap Battles: costume design, make-up artists, prop people and plenty of extras. How did you get all these people to help out? Are they all friends and volunteers?
EL: No, everybody is on staff. This is our production team; they all are our friends, not all of them, but many of them are our friends, but there’s nothing volunteer about it. This is our job, and that’s what we do. We have a lot of people who are really talented helping us so it’s sort of a really cool thing to be able to work with A) a bunch of your friends and B) on a project that is really fun.
LJ: Describe your working relationship with Maker Studios. Why did you and Peter decide to become a partner of theirs?
EL: Our working relationship with the studio is similar to any studio. They provide the infrastructure and a lot of the resources to create the battles and to create the videos. Pete was already partnered with Maker before we ever did the rap battles so when he did decide to partner with them it was before he’d ever really done too much YouTube stuff at all, and they partnered with him and his channel was already starting to grow when we started to do the rap battles.
I partnered with them a long time after the rap battles had already taken off speed just because it made a ton of sense; I was running a comedy club in Santa Monica and the battles they just started getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and it was like, “Man, we should really be working with Lloyd too.” They brought me in one day to talk to me about partnering my channel, and the next thing I knew it was like “Actually, we want to bring you on as a big-time producer for the rap battles and really in a more permanent way,” so it just kind of fit naturally.
LJ: Out of all the characters you’ve gotten to portray (Ben Franklin, Napoleon, Chuck Norris, Ghenghis Khan, etc.), do you have a favorite? Or a least favorite?
EL: For me, I mean, it’s hard. Hitler [is my favorite], as gross as it is for my to say that, [but] it’s just been so successful and it’s been so good to us that it is hard for me to not say it. Plus, I feel like he lost in both battles. You can’t have Hitler be that triumphant, but he is kind of fun to play. I also really liked playing Napoleon. I thought Napolean was really fun for me. Those are probably my favorites.
How hot is it inside the studio in front of all those bright lights while wearing heavy clothing? You guys always look sweaty beyond belief in the behind the scenes videos.
EL: Yeah, it’s [expletive] hot man; it’s really hot, that’s a really great question. It’s hot. We got some fans now which help a lot but we drink a ton of water and we try not to do too much for too long without taking breaks.
LJ: Have there ever been any mishaps or accidents while shooting?
EL: Small ones. If you look on Captain Kirk vs. Christopher Columbus in the BTS (Behind The Scenes), the guy that we had playing Spock, this guy named Omar, Pete accidentally smacks him in the face, and we put that in the BTS, so that was pretty hilarious, but no one really got hurt. Knock on wood.
LJ: Have your production values gradually increased as the Epic Rap Battles have progressed? Some of your latest battles feature very elaborate usage of green screens and special effects (especially Dr. Seuss vs. Shakespeare and Hitler vs. Vader 2).
EL: Yes, they have. As the battles have grown, our staff has grown. The first battle we did, it was me and Pete, one guy on a camera, and one guy as a director, and it was like upstairs in front a sheet that was a green screen. Now we have a full staff [of] producers, editors, costumers [and] make-up artists, so, yes, they’ve definitely grown. We always try to boil it down to the decisions that we made at first. We want to make sure the root of all the decisions that we make is coming from the same place as they were when we first started. We just have a lot more toys we can play with now.
LJ: Both you and Peter are very active outside the Epic Rap Battles and have your own personal brands. Is it all hard to distinguish yourselves from the Epic Rap Battle video brand? Is that one of the main reasons you guys decided to give the Epic Rap Battles their own channel?
EL: Yeah, it was. One of the main reasons we decided to give the Rap Battles its own channel is because it is a big brand now and giving it its own channel gives it room to just be what it is, and if people just want to watch the rap battles, they’ll go to that channel. Pete has tons of fans and I’m starting to have more fans, and when people want to see what we do they can come to our channels, but this way when I’m doing videos on my channel I don’t have people just screaming at me just to do a rap battle, ’cause that is what the majority of the people coming onto the channel know me from. And it also helps us grow our other channels as well; it’s a nice way that YouTube works as far as the brands helping one another out.
LJ: When you’re not working on the next Epic Rap Battle or managing your two other comedy companies, what do you do for fun, Lloyd?
EL: I spend time with my wife. I like to surf: I surf a lot. I love just going and checking out a live hip-hop show and poetry slam and I own a bar so I certainly do my share of drinking beers with the buds. Play me a little video games once in a while, but it’s hard because this job is like the funnest job I’ve ever had, so I like work, like we’re on Christmas vacation and people are like, “Yeah, I got to go back to work.” and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m excited to go back to work.”
LJ: Over 300 million YouTube hits, worldwide internet acclaim, dancing in front of a green screen dressed as Genghis Khan threatening to eat the Easter Bunny and his family. How much fun is all this?
EL: It’s [expletive] fun. It’s a ton of fun, man, I don’t know what else to say. I feel real lucky; I feel real inspired to work real hard so I can keep doing this for as long as I can. But yeah, it’s real fun.
LJ: In the Season 2 sneak-peak videos, viewers have seen glimpses of Master Chief, Mario and Luigi. Can you at all give any hints as to any other future Epic Rap Battles of History participants?
EL: Not more than that. The fun of this series is that you never know exactly what is going to be coming next. It’s kind of like an advent calender or something like that. I hate to spoil it; I’ll just say keep watching, stay tuned and we’ll do our best to never disappoint. We have some great [expletive] coming up.