The series pits public and cultural figures, both historic and contemporary, against each other in satirical ‘rap battles’. It was launched in 2010 by comedians Lloyd Ahlquist and Peter Shukoff, known as EpicLLOYD and Nice Peter online.
Speaking to Express.co.uk Mr Ahlquist explained how ERB was launched, its viral success, and how portrayed figures, including Donald Trump, have responded.
He commented: “Epic Rap Battles of History started when I was I think 31.
“I left college in 1998 and moved to Chicago to study and perform comedy. So I was working and touring and grinding for the better part of 10 or 12 years.
“I used to do a freestyle comedy rap show and one of the segments was called celebrity rap battle and we would ask the audience for suggestions and that was the seed that became epic rap battles of history.”
Epic Rap Battles of history co-creator Lloyd Ahlquist (portraying Trump – right)
ERB videos typically feature two historic or cultural figures taking it in turn to make jokes about each other via rapped verse.
Those featured so far include Winston Churchill, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Sherlock Holmes, Joseph Stalin and Darth Vader.
Mr Ahlquist noted the channel grew swiftly after its launch stating: “We have a very different story to a lot of YouTubers in so much as I wasn’t going YouTube videos for years beforehand and chipping away and finally this happened. I was doing comedy but it wasn’t YouTube or videos.
“So when that second video went as big as it did it was like what, I didn’t really quite understand it.
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Winston Churchill portrayed in a ERB video
“YouTube was a very different place back then – there was no reference of a ‘YouTuber’ or YouTube famous or any of that so there was nothing to compare it to. So we were like ‘what is going on? These numbers can’t be real’. That was the thing for me – the numbers. Just these large numbers with commas in them. That was hard to fathom for many years.”
The first ERB videos were uploaded on Mr Shukoff’s personal channel, before a specific channel for the series was started which now has over 3 billion views.
Currently ERB is on its sixth season and has featured 80 different battles.
When the eighth episode of the first series was produced the two co-creators were able to make working on ERB their fulltime jobs.
Prior to that Mr Ahlquist was also working at a comedy club he owns in Santa Monica.
Asked about the ERB writing process he replied: “At our best, when we do the best or when we’re at our most focused – and this last season has been some of our best writing in my opinion – we take joke submissions from our writers and even from our patrons on Patreon.
“We’ll research for weeks and read and conversate then we’ll take jokes, rhyming couplets, where if you just mashed them together it would be very choppy and it would make sense as jokes but wouldn’t be a very cohesive song, and we pick the best ones.
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Lloyd Ahlquist portraying Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in an ERB video
“So we take all those things then cram them into a song, then we just polish and polish and polish, then Pete [Shukoff] and I usually get together just he and I, or he I and Zac [Sherwin], and just bang them out and make sure they all make sense and punch them up. And the lyrics continue to change right up to the recording process and inside the recording process as well.”
Videos published by ERB are meticulously researched, and usually laden with in-jokes for those with detailed knowledge of the time period or cultural setting.
Mr Ahlquist links this work to the series enduring popularity.
He said: “We’ve never employed researchers we’ve always dug into it ourselves and we really go pretty deep into it. We did Jim Henson and Pete just had puppets all over the studio for weeks.
“When I did Steve Irwin I knew how beloved that character is so I sent out the lyrics to a friend who lives in Australia and I was like can you say these because I don’t want to get the accent wrong that’s awful.
“So the research is a big part of honouring that character and I think a big part of the reason why most of the people we’ve done and portrayed in the battles have always enjoyed it almost as a badge of honour. We’ve never had too much trouble with people being like ‘take that down’ – it’s kind of nice!”
Videos produced by ERB frequently go viral, attracting enormous audiences.
The channels most popular video, a contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ahead of the 2012 US Presidential election, has been viewed over 149million times.
This success means ERB videos sometimes come to the attention of those they parody, when dealing with contemporary figures, including Donald Trump who unusually has been featured in two separate contests.
Epic Rap Battles of History co-creators Lloyd Ahlquist and Peter Shukoff
Mr Ahlquist welcomed the celebrity reaction commenting: “No one’s ever had an issue.
“We’ve definitely had people say they like the videos.
“Donald Trump even tweeted us!
“David Copperfield got in touch with us. When we did Napoleon Dynamite the director of the movie got in touch with us – he loved it! That’s always really fun!”