Nice Peter and EpicLloyd — the maestros of Epic Rap Battles of History, the epically popular YouTube channel — are powering down their studio for the next three months as they hit the road in their first tour.
The ERB tour, which will give fans a chance to rub elbows with the duo and even join them in onstage battles, will span 51 cities in 14 countries over the course of 82 days. It kicks off Aug. 16 at L.A.’s Whiskey a Go-Go and is slated to wrap Nov. 1 in Paris, making stops across the U.S. and Europe in between.
That may sound like a grueling schedule, but Nice Peter and EpicLloyd actually see the in-real-life tour as a welcome break from their workaday YouTube careers. “We have worked 100 days in a row making videos this year,” said Nice Peter (above left), whose real name is Peter Shukoff. “We regularly work 14-hour days, so it will be nice to get away from the computer.”
Epic Rap Battles of History, affiliated with Disney’s Maker Studios multichannel network, is among the most-subscribed channels on YouTube, with 12.4 million followers. ERB’s videos juxtapose famous personages past and present in one-on-one rap throwdowns, a conceit that’s resulted in more than 3 billion views across multiple platforms. Their greatest hits — many of which they’ll perform on tour — include Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney (110 million YouTube views), Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates (99 million) and Hitler vs. Vader 2 (74 million).
One thing the ERBers claim they don’t expect from the road trip: a profit.
While other major YouTubers are extending their digital brands into moneymaking ventures like books, products and merchandise, music labels and feature-length movies, Nice Peter says he and EpicLloyd are mainly looking to have fun and connect with their fanbase.
“We didn’t set out to tour to make money,” Shukoff said. “As much money as we’re going to bring in, we’re investing that much into the tour.” For example, he said, ERB splurged on a high-end tour bus for themselves and their eight-person crew: “We wanted to be comfortable,” he laughed.
Tickets for the concerts, which will each run about 90 minutes, will be $18-$25 depending on the venue. “We were just honest with ourselves,” said Shukoff. “We wanted to make it so we could afford to do what we wanted for the tour, but also make it so people can afford to come.”
The ERB team briefly considered selling a premium VIP pass that would offer exclusive in-person facetime with them but ended up scrapping the idea. “We wanted to let everyone who comes to the shows have a chance to meet us,” Shukoff said.
“It will be great to interact with the audience,” added EpicLloyd, aka Lloyd Ahlquist. “Everywhere we go, people tell us who they want to see in a rap battle. If the audience starts talking about something, we definitely want to fit it in.”
While ERB is on tour, they’re not planning to release additional rap battles on YouTube, although there will be behind-the-scenes footage they’ll share with fans. “The thing we’ve been blessed with is, these videos continue to get watched and re-watched,” Shukoff said.
Epic Rap Battles, like many of the biggest YouTube channels, was an accidental hit. Originally, Shukoff and Ahlquist, who met in Chicago and worked together in a touring improv-comedy troupe, launched ERB on YouTube in 2006 in hopes that it would lead to bigger music and entertainment projects. Instead, they found that making rap-battle parodies on the Internet actually let them pay the bills.
Asked about their favorite all-time battles, Nice Peter says he’s particularly fond of Eastern Philosophers vs Western Philosophers, pitting Sun Tzu, Confucius and Laozi against Socrates, Nietzsche and Voltaire. As for EpicLloyd, “My favorite one is usually the one we’re working on.”