Interview with EpicLLOYD from Epic Rap Battles of History
Lloyd Ahlquist, AKA EpicLLOYD, is an entertainer who probably doesn’t need an introduction, that is if you’re caught up on your YouTube celebs. He’s one-half of Epic Rap Battles of History, one of the most popular series on YouTube (over 3 million subscribers and over a billion views for the ERB series). Fans get to watch iconic figures duke it out lyrically. Darth Vader vs. Hitler and Mr. Rogers vs. Mr. T are just some of the crazy examples. We had the chance to chat with the lyrical genius about ERB, Dis Raps For Hire and more.
John “Spartan” Nguyen: Hey Lloyd, how’s it going, man?
Lloyd Ahlquist: Good, how are you?
John: Good, good. I just wanted to say that your stuff’s awesome.
Lloyd Ahlquist: Thanks man, appreciate it!
John: Epic Rap Battles, it’s a huge, huge thing. Do you ever see yourself not doing ERB in the foreseeable future?
Lloyd Ahlquist: No, I mean, I’m doing rap battles for the foreseeable future for sure. I love the project; I love doing this. It’s kind of a dream to work on a project that you really love to work with, so I don’t see myself not doing rap battles anytime soon.
But we have set out kind of a more structured production schedule for the battles which allows us to have a little bit of downtime, sort of between seasons and stuff. So when we’re in that time, we can do other projects and stuff which is nice; we can kind of recharge our energy and pursue other creative outlets. But yeah, I’ll be doing rap battles for a while.
John: That’s sweet. That’s actually great to hear that you guys will be doing ERB for a while, because some people might get bored of one project and move on.
Lloyd Ahlquist: If we start to hate the project then nobody’s going to win, because we’re probably going to not make the best videos anyway. Right now we’ve been doing like six battles, then we take a little break, then we do another six battles, and we take a little break. So that really helps us recharge and you know, explore other creative outlets which is – really helps the overall effort to make the rap battles good. You go do other things, you work with other people, you sort of put a little bit of spice in your soup and then you come back to the battles.
John: And I just want to know how do you go into researching all the different iconic figures. Like, once you choose it do you guys research it extensively?
Lloyd Ahlquist: Yeah. For the last battle we’re reading books, we’re watching movies on Gandhi, and we’re watching movies on Martin Luther King, Jr. We’re reading all kinds of everything. We also try to get what the internet’s take on the characters are and what their opinions of the characters are and really just dive into that character as hard as we can for the two or three weeks that we’re gonna be working on that battle.
John: And do you guys ever worry about just getting the facts wrong or anything like that?
Lloyd Ahlquist: Yeah, we do our very best to make sure that everything is as accurate as possible because we know how smart the internet is really, because we’ll get called on it. If we make some kind of misquote on someone or say something they didn’t do, we’ll definitely get called out on it so we understand how important it is for us to get it right, you know? I wouldn’t say nervous, it’s because you know how important it is that it’s a really high priority to make sure that all of our facts are straight.
John: Have you guys been able to just do all the videos without anyone noticing errors?
Lloyd Ahlquist: I mean, we’re sort of notorious for having a misspelling or two in a battle. If you notice in the first Adolf Hitler versus Darth Vader episode, we actually spelled Adolf wrong in the opening, so we’ve kind of gotten to the point where it’s like – it’s kind of like – we’ll misspell something – you can’t be perfect every time.
Lloyd Ahlquist: It’s going to happen from time to time.
John: You’re an emcee, an improviser, an actor – you’re like everything. So out of all those things, which one’s your favorite thing to do, including rapping?
Lloyd Ahlquist: Yeah. It’s tough to say. I like doing them all; I like them for different reasons and it really just depends on who I’m doing them with. If I’m improvising, you know, I’m improvising with a bunch of strangers in a festival somewhere, then it’s probably not going to be as much fun as if I’m improvising with my best friend.
So I would say, I like each one and each one helps me. I started doing hip hop; I started writing rap songs as an outlet because I was doing so much comedy at the time that I wanted to do something that wasn’t so funny. But they each make me an entertainer; I consider myself an entertainer more than like a comic or an improviser or an emcee. So I feel like they’re all an important piece of the same puzzle, you know?
Lloyd Ahlquist: Kind of sounds like I’m skirting. I’m not trying to skirt the question; that’s really how I feel, you know?
John: It’s all about entertaining the people.
Lloyd Ahlquist: Yeah, you know? And also, this is sort of a day and age when you have to be an editor, you have to be able to record your stuff because all these guys – we’re doing editing, we’re sometimes recording ourselves, we’re sometimes our own cameraman. And because of the way the internet is and YouTube is and the way that the world is now, you kind of have to be able to do that or you’ll get sort of left behind.
John: I heard you said you wanted to do hip hop to get away from comedy, but now you’re fusing both rap and comedy together. That’s like the best of two worlds for you.
Lloyd Ahlquist: It’s pretty great man. I’ve gotta admit, it’s pretty great.
John: And I’m pretty sure you get this question asked a lot, but out of all the rap battles, do you have a favorite?
Lloyd Ahlquist: Yeah, people ask me that a lot and I have like a sort of sweetheart love affair with the Napoleon Bonaparte versus Napoleon Dynamite battle. I thought it was sort of a simple battle, but both of the performances were fun to watch and there were some pretty funny lines in there.
And also the guy who produced the beat, he’s worked with us a bunch before, but he’s been an old friend of mine for a long time. He’s been making beats for me for a long time so – and that was the first time we worked with him on a battle. It was really nice to bring him in. So that’s probably one of my favorites from season one. In terms of season two, the Hitler character was really fun to play because it’s so notorious.
John: I think that’s everyone’s favorite.
Lloyd Ahlquist: It was fun to do a rematch and we haven’t done it since. There was so much anticipation for it because it was the first episode of season two. I was so excited to do a comeback, and that one’s pretty special to me too.
John: I wonder when you guys start doing these battles, do you guys know what the internet’s going to choose, like in terms of who is going to win?
Lloyd Ahlquist: Yeah, I mean, we always set down a rule and very early in the battles we decided that we couldn’t write the laughs and decide who was going to win, you know, make someone a clear winner. We come at each other as hard as we possibly can from both sides. And the internet has their favorites. Sometimes I know when I get beat I go “Damn! I got beat there!”
But there are some surprises sometimes. Sometimes people just like one more than the other and you never know why. And it also changes which is weird too, like people watch the battles in waves, like usually the first people to watch the battles are people who are subscribed to the channel and usually younger kids. The waves of comments will come in right away from them.
I think about the Freddy Mercury versus Frank Sinatra; the first whole wave of comments were like “I don’t even know who Frank Sinatra is” or “Who is this guy?” or whatever. Then I think older folks who have a job or they’re not on their phone all day, they’ll watch it later and then they’ll start to chime in. Then maybe they like Frank Sinatra more, so they focus more on that. It’s interesting. I never know what’s going to happen.
John: It’s crazy how that works. You guys have some special guests. I could ask you your favorite special guest, but I’m thinking it’s going to be Snoop Dogg, errr, I mean Snoop Lion.
Lloyd Ahlquist: I mean, Snoop D-O-double G or Snoop Lion now, it was such a dream come true to get to work with that guy. You know, listening to hip hop as a kid and growing up, you start to define yourself through certain people and he’s one of the main ingredients. Specifically Pete, he really adopted a lot of Snoop’s style of slow – listen to him, it’s a big influence on his rap style if you listen to him rap. Listen to him as Mister Rogers.
A lot of times when we cultivate the characters and how we’re going to rap. We’ll use other hip hop artists, and we’ll be like “Yeah, a little bit of Busta Rhymes, a little bit of Biggie, it’s this guy, it’s that guy,” and there’s just so much Snoop Dogg in Pete anyway that it was great.
John: How did you get him on board?
Lloyd Ahlquist: You know, Snoop Dogg has a good relationship with Maker Studios and working inside the Maker Studios network, so he was excited about Maker Studios. He’s a great guy because he’s been in the game twenty years, but he’s doing things that are cutting edge constantly, all the time. So he was right on board with the whole YouTube wave and the internet wave and he’s been working as part of the Makers Studio system.
And then when he came in it sort of made sense, the way that features work. Collaborations is one thing that makes videos successful. So it made a ton of sense for us to work together. We had the opportunity to meet him, we got along and then we met him again. It was cool and the idea for him to be in a battle came up. We thought it would be great to work with him in a battle, but we didn’t really want to pitch to him until we had an idea about it. Santa versus Jesus was a popular suggestion for years, and for us it was like “Yeah?” For us it was a little obvious.
But then the idea of Snoop Dogg playing Moses came to us and we were like – Snoop Dogg as Moses is the coolest thing. And so we pitched it to him and he dug it. It just kind of went from there.
John: Yeah, and it’s a great video. So I guess now’s a chance for us to insert some suggestions for the next Epic Rap Battle?
Lloyd Ahlquist: For sure man, hit me!
John: So what about Bruce Willis versus Liam Neeson, Die Hard versus Taken?
Lloyd Ahlquist: Not bad. Not bad. Have you seen the Keye and Peele sketch about Liam Neeson?
John: Not yet.
Lloyd Ahlquist: It’s fantastic! You’ve gotta watch it; it’s so funny. Okay, what else you got?
John: Okay, I don’t know if you watch The Walking Dead?
Lloyd Ahlquist: That’s my favorite show on TV ever!
John: Okay sweet. You guys can have the black characters rapping about how they keep on dying.
Lloyd Ahlquist: (Laughing) Like T-Dog or Tyreese or something? Though Tyreese is still alive right now though.
John: Yeah, like T-Dog versus the inmate that got shot up at Woodbury.
Lloyd Ahlquist: Yeah, that poor guy. We would have to do something like a mini-Epic Rap Battle because for the world, I don’t know if they know The Walking Dead, but for Walking Dead fans, that would be so sweet!
John: Let’s talk about Dis Raps For Hire.
Lloyd Ahlquist: Yeah.
John: Can you reveal any future special guests you have planned?
Lloyd Ahlquist: I’m trying to keep special guests a secret so people will be excited to come and watch the video and give them something as a surprise. Season one is going to come out and season two is already starting, and I’m going to try to upload it at the same time as the rap battle. People will be able to check that out and we’ve made a CD for season one. I’m going to sign a bunch of them and there’ll be a sticker, CD and t-shirt kind of combo deal. There’s only going to be about a hundred of them and that’s already coming out, so that’s kind of cool.
John: The last question I have, for anyone who wants to see you perform, where can they see you live?
Lloyd Ahlquist: Yeah man. I own a comedy club in Santa Monica with my friends. It’s called M.i. Westside Comedy Theater, and I perform there every Thursday at 10. I do improv comedy in that show, so it’s not the rap battles.
John: Thanks for doing the interview with us.
Lloyd Ahlquist: Thanks for calling us up and being so supportive of the videos.
End of interview.
Epic Rap Battles has recently launched its app. Check out the links below.