Everyone loves a sick beat and some solid rhymes. Rap is really just poetry with sound effects, after all. Rap for the internet age is just the latest chapter in the long, storied history of hiphop. That's why this week, we're reviewing the hit web series Epic Rap Battles of History by comedians Peter Shukoff (or NicePeter) and Lloyd Ahlquist (aka EpicLloyd). The basic premise of the series revolves around two (or more) historical figures, fictional characters, or pop culture icons engaging in a battle of verbal wits. But the really cool part is that all of the battles are based on viewer suggestions. At the end of every battle, fans can comment on who they think won the battle and who they'd like to see go head-to-head next. The series also occasionally features guest rappers, from popular YouTube personalities like Rhett and Link to Weird Al and even Snoop Dogg!
EpicLloyd as Vlad the Impaler and NicePeter as Count Dracula.
Aside from clever lyrics that reference the worlds of both characters, it's clear that NicePeter and EpicLloyd do their research when coming up with new battles. The lyrics are sprinkled with details about the lives of the figures being portrayed to more obscure homages to intellectual properties they have in common. It can sometimes be months between releases, but I'm honestly okay with that. They take their time to make sure it's just right, and it shows. I also like how, even though the lyrics are composed well before the battle is recorded, the final product doesn't feel scripted. Another thing I love about the series is how they're not afraid to be totally bizarre. As stated above, the matchups are based on viewer suggestions, and fans of the series have come up with some truly creative face-offs, a personal favorite of mine being Genghis Khan vs. The Easter Bunny. Generally, those participating in a battle will have some type of common thread (Wright Brothers vs. Mario Brothers, for example), but some matchups are completely out of left field. At times, I don't think the completely unrelated figures going up against each other works, but I do like that they're not afraid to be weird. My one big issue with the series is that, at times, the lyrics go a bit too far. I understand that the point of a rap battle is to point out the flaws in one's opponent, from their rhyming skills to how they can keep up with the beat, but at times I think the disses go a bit too far and are downright tasteless. One example is in the Goku vs. Superman battle, when the final verse makes a reference to beloved Superman actor Christopher Reeve's paralysis. I'm all about a good diss track, but I feel that some subjects are, and should be, taboo.
EpicLloyd portrays Robin Williams while paying tribute to The Genie. In contrast, there are also times when they handle difficult subject matter surprisingly well. For example, in a Battle Royale between famous stand-up comedians, all of the rappers featured have some kind of controversy tied to them (George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Joan Rivers, and Robin Williams, respectively). I was concerned how they would address the crimes of Bill Cosby or the death of Robin Williams, but they managed to put together a battle that made me smile. Spoiler: Bill Cosby was rightfully called out on the problematic details of his career, and Robin Williams got a tasteful big finish.
Overall, I give the series 4/5 Crispy Chicken Wings. It definitely has a lot going for it. It has well-researched subject matter and clever comebacks, and it's a great study in lyrical structure. But some of the battles just don't flow well. Stay Crispy. - Reba
*Make sure to tune into The Crispy Soul Podcast, where we go more into depth on this topic, available on all major streaming apps.