For the past seven years, Lloyd Ahlquist (aka EpicLLOYD) has built a massive digital brand as one half of the duo behind Epic Rap Battles of History. The YouTube channel has amassed 14.2 million subscribers and garnered more than 2.5 billion views to date. As time-consuming as it is to write, produce, and sometimes star in videos, Ahlquist has been steadily carving out his own creative identity with music albums, acting gigs, and most recently his own scripted show Epic Studios.
Epic Studios follows Lloyd Steflan (Ahlquist) from Chicago to Toronto after his estranged father dies and leaves him the deed to a ramshackle recording studio in Canada. Much like Flight of the Conchords or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Epic Studios features an original song per episode. Yet unlike either show, Ahlquist’s was created specifically for digital–each of the 13 episodes runs only about 10 minutes and will be available for free on Ahlquist’s YouTube channel.
“A lot of people are going to watch on their phones and the music videos, which are fast and flashy and pop-y, are about two to three minutes of that 10 minutes so the story gets there and it stays funny,” Ahlquist says. “I think the level of quality matches any sort of paid subscription platform that we have out there like a YouTube Red or a Fullscreen. Ours is just on regular old YouTube–that’s what used to be really exciting about YouTube is that you can see everything for free.”
The concept for the show was born out of friends prodding Ahlquist to expand his acting and rapping skills beyond Epic Rap Battles of History. He entered the idea for Epic Studios in the Stand Up and Pitch contest at Montreal’s comedy festival Just for Laughs. It didn’t win but it caught the attention of the right people who eventually paired Ahlquist with Toronto-based production companies iThentic and Farmhouse.
“I would never look a gift horse in the mouth about the popularity of Epic Rap Battles–it’s awesome to be recognized from that. But I wanted to see what else I can do and where else I can go,” Ahlquist says. “So it takes a little bit of stamina to explain to people what this is, to explain to people that I’m doing different things.”
Epic Rap Battles of History and Ahlquist’s other YouTube series Dis Raps For Hire both rely on a level of collaboration with the audience in the sense that they help fuel Ahlquist’s creative decisions on what and who to write raps about. Working with feedback and suggestions speaks directly to Ahlquist’s improv background and also helped to frame Epic Studios.
“Collaboration for me is far more natural than anything else. I come from an improv comedy background so it’s sort of in my blood to listen and bounce ideas off each other,” Ahlquist says. “In terms of Epic Studios, it was like, ‘What would you like to see me do more of? You like me rapping? Let’s put a rap song in these episodes.’ I have a certain personality that I think people respond to–let’s make a character that’s like that and maybe blow it out a little bit more and see what happens.”
Watch episodes of Epic Studios here.