'Epic Rap Battles of History' Duo on First Live Tour & Upping the Epicness: 'It's a Good Addiction'
Peter Shukoff and Lloyd Ahlquist are the two names behind the popular (yet odd) parings of Darth Vader and Adolf Hitler, Dr. Seuss and William Shakespeare, Justin Bieber and Beethoven, and Abe Lincoln and Chuck Norris.
They're the creators of the "Epic Rap Battles of History" YouTube channel, which is home to 12.5 million subscribers, more than 80 million views each on six of their videos and seven certified Gold singles from the Recording Industry Association of America. "Epic Rap Battles of History" has charted 40 titles on the Billboard Comedy Digital Tracks chart, with eight of them reaching No. 1. Their various tracks have sold a combined 449,000 downloads in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music.
The duo are improv comedians who take famous names throughout history and pair them together to create an "epic" rap battle. Their subscribers then chose the winner of the battle and share their input on who the funnymen should pair up next.
The "Epic Rap Battles of History" concept first came together about 10 years ago, Shukoff tells Billboard, when the two friends first met freestyle-rapping at a party in Chicago.
"Then, years later, Lloyd is managing the West Side Comedy Theater in Santa Monica and he gets this email looking for YouTube songwriters and writers. One thing led to another, and pretty soon I was making YouTube videos almost full-time," Shukoff says. "Then me and Lloyd got together and we were trying out different ideas, and one of them was the 'Epic Rap Battles of History.' We tried it out, and it went well and we kept doing it."
Shukoff, also known as NicePeter to his YouTube fans, said their first video, "John Lennon vs. Bill O'Reilly," blew up and made the front page of YouTube. But it was when they released their second video, "Darth Vader vs. Hitler," that their channel really got popular.
The "Epic Rap Battles of History" creators say they are now professionals at making their songs, compared to their old grassroots ways. Ahlquist, also known as EpicLLOYD, says it used to take them around 280 hours -- or 12 days -- to make one video. Now it takes them about six months to create six videos, which includes writing the song, creating the costumes, editing and posting.
"It's kind of an addiction. It's a good addiction," Ahlquist tells Billboard.
Now, the two comedians are taking their viral show in front of a live audience. On Sunday, Shukoff and Ahlquist will embark on their very first U.S. and international tour, starting in Los Angeles. Shukoff says fans should expect a rap concert, but with a comedic twist.
"The tour has been a long time coming," Ahlquist says. "One of the best parts about the show is that we get to bring fans up on the stage to rap with us. They know every single word of every single song because they love it so much."
Although the duo will be putting off creating their rap-battle videos while on tour, they never stop thinking about their upcoming season -- and who could potentially be a guest star. Shukoff says his dream collaboration would be with Sir Mix-A-Lot, whereas Ahlquist would rather battle it out with actor Tom Cruise.
"Epic Rap Battles of History" is in the top 20 list of the most-subscribed YouTube channels, and their subscriptions only continue to increase. From struggling comedians 10 years ago to now, the two friends don't have any regrets.
"I don't think I'd have it any other way," Ahlquist says of the "Epic Rap Battles" success. "I feel like it makes me grateful every single day."
Watch the season 4 finale below and check out the tour dates here: