Dr Seuss VS Shakespeare. Epic Rap Battles of History #12

Date: 2011
Posted by: Nice Peter
Cast: George Watsky (William Shakespeare), Nice Peter [Peter Shukoff] (The Cat in the Hat), EpicLLOYD [Lloyd Ahlquist] (Things 1 and 2)
Credits: Beat: Edward Cayce; Sean Barlett: Editing and Illustration
Duration: 2.50

There doesn’t seem to be any easy way of producing a list of what are the most viewed Shakespeare videos on YouTube, but there’s no arguing over which is the most popular of all. Currently boasting 79,272,036 views, this brash jape brings together William Shakespeare and the author of The Cat in the Hat in the promised epic rapping battle. First William Shakespeare fires off some piquant insults (“I’ll put a slug between your shoulder blades / Then ask what light through yonder poser breaks?), then The Cat responds (Dr Seuss himself remains silent throughout) with the expected retorts (“you bore people to death / you leave a classroom looking like the end of Macbeth”). Shakespeare fires back with a spectacularly rapid rap, gaining the others’ respect, only for the Cat to fight back with Things 1 and 2 … So who wins? You decide.

Epic Rap Battles of History is a massively popular YouTube series, indeed one of the leading channels on the site. The brainchild of Peter Shukoff (‘Nice Peter’) and Lloyd Ahlquist (‘EpicLLOYD’), it pits together historical and cultural figures, some fictional and some real, in comic contents that strike a successful balance between goofy humour and credible rap. Indeed the music tracks themselves have been released as successful singles, which along with an accompanying live show hour help support the high quality of the video productions. Others in the series include Darth Vader vs. Adolf Hitler, Albert Einstein vs. Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates, and Romeo and Juliet vs Bonnie and Clyde. The series began in 2010 and to date has reached five ‘seasons’, earning a number of Streamy awards along the way.

So what does this tells us about Shakespeare? He’s a guy in tights with a skull who uses weird words but must be honoured nonetheless. He strikes a peculiar balance between clown and sage, someone instantly recognisable yet never quite understood. It’s akin to the confusion that we feel when we look at the disappointing portraits of the man and try to square the balding bourgeois with our feelings of what a poet must look like within. He is pitted against Dr Seuss as one tongue-twister versus another, each playing with words for their own sake, each born rappers. It’s a video about mastery of language. It’s about respect for the man, no matter how he dresses.

There is – inevitably – a behind the scenes video as well.

Links: YouTube page
Epic Rap Battles of History site
Epic Rap Battles of History forum
Wikipedia entry on Epic Rap Battles of History

King John Rap

Date: 2009
Posted by: Tventura1000
Cast: Not given
Credits: Music: Wild Cherry, ‘Play That Funky Music’
Duration: 2.57

OK, so maybe this isn’t the greatest Shakespeare rap video – and there are a great many of them out there – but how many people have thought to rap to King John? Featuring three American students playing John, Frenchman and the Pope (a bold introduction of someone merely referred to in the play), with Wild Cherry’s ‘Play That Funky Music’ the chosen track, they goof around, rap (dubbed), have a swordfight and dance. And you get a pithy summary of the play, which shows they know whereof they rap. There’s nothing to suggest that this is a student project (and who would be teaching King John?), so one has to assume that this was done out of sheer love of one of Shakespeare’s minor plays. Full marks for novelty and enthusiasm.

YouTube page

H to the Rizzo

Date: 2009
Posted by: juicymedia
Cast: Horatio ft. The Crew
Credits: Directed by Anthony Wong for Juicy Media
Duration: 3.56

There are plenty of Shakespeare raps out there, mostly performed with a snigger by American high school students and not telling us a great deal beyond the realisation that fashion does not necessarily equate with relevance.

But this looks and sounds like the real deal. Made by a Los Angeles video production company, it has all the moves, poses (guns pointed at the camera), flash style (DeLorean car), clothes and locations (sunny Los Angeles with the Hollywood sign in the background), plus a fine music track. But then the words reveal that what is being played out is the relationship between Hamlet and Horatio, and not in any superficial manner but one in which real psychological dilemma is displayed through poetry. The text for the rap is helpfully given with the video:

I walk poetic with a bop in my step,
With a hip-hop heart beat pounding in my chest
Manifest smooth moves and work through the grooves
Yea, so suave they never catch me on review
Never one to intrude, calm collected and cool
As I, master the challenge and discover the balance
That provides me with talent to amaze the town with,
Level headed and steady as I keep my mind grounded
Cats torn between reason and passion, while I’m straight maxin
With the walkman blastin word, and I fused the views
Inked em in my skin, respect em like they kin
As they flow deep within, sweep through my veins to
maintain my persona from here to barcelona, cuz I’m my only owner.
And I stay low-key, and show the new kids how its supposed to be
Play premier, fresh fitted with gear, state of mind stays severe
Represent for the crew, Rearrange the frames of old flicks
of wicked kick it scenes yo of me and team, before we reigned supreme
and I swerve and I merge outta memory lane, supports the key to the game
I got yo back kid in fact thats automatic, so chill with the whack shit

Whaddup H, fresh fit, my boys got taste,
But yo the streets is calling, snakes forever crawling

(Horatio Phone)
Yo I just seen Claud with the federalis, back of the black denalis, handshakes with the jakes

Oh for real?

(Horatio Phone)
Word, he probably bout to squeal, so keep ya eyes on the trap and watch for the phone tap.

Damn, livin wicked and my man broke the code
Commited ultimate sin and shattered the oath
Composed on the road where our homie’s ghost rose.
Exposed and betrayed, the fucks wrong with today
Yo the parks where we played, the blocks where we stayed, the nikes fresh suede, and damn I’ve slayed
word life..feel like ive been tossed a grenade, pulled pin, im no longer in it to win it,
Yo I just hit my limit, H can you check into it?

(Horatio Phone)
Word, right this minute kid

Yo Ive had enough of the crew, its too much about you
Cuz im in need of cream, want more chains to gleam,
push bigger machines, fine dine quisine,
appear on everyscene, man fuck the low key
Only got one option, need Hamlet’s body droppin, outlined in chalk and locked in a coffin,
Devils swarming in my brain, but yo rebels maintain
G&R you got a mission, have techs split em hard, and make sure theres chance for a D&R

(Horatio Phone [To Hamlet])
Yo inside information, you needa watch your location
They plannin to attack armed with techs and macs
Best go grab ya vest and jet just like that

(Hamlet Phone)
Word is bond, pray I still see dawn

Deep sleep, dreams of reminicin, missin old times when rhymes was our only crimes and no one held a nine
Pager starts beepin, non stop, check the clock
4:07 now im stressin as I return the call, whats poppin?

(Phone Voice)
The guns went off and Hamlets body dropped

As the sun begins to raise and blaze across my face,
Lost in deep space, empty place left in my chest,
Frozen blood halts my breath, cuz my main man left
Whats the next step? Feel like I should follow,
fuck tomorrow, cuz I could hardly swallow, hallowed and cold,
But nah I cant leave the story needs to be told
I carry on tradition, no emissions, withs strictly poetic compositions, and I miss em
But I hold em on back, like ya’ll gold plaques
RIP Hamlet….

“Deep sleep, dreams of reminicin, missin old times when rhymes was our only crimes…” This reads like a compelling re-imaging of Hamlet to a hip-hop world, all the more startling for choosing to make Horatio the central figure rather than Hamlet. What is being said may not be clear to everyone, and it is a video to watch once for its own sake, and then again after reading the words and seeing that real drama is being played out. A smart imagination was at work here.

Note: The full on-screen title is H to the Rizzo – Horatio ft. The Crew – The Soliloquy

Vimeo page

Straight Outta Denmark

Date: 2004
Posted by: soonest2turn
Credits: Not given
Cast: Not given
Duration: 2.58

School project Shakespeare raps are scattered all over YouTube, and most are lame and annoying. This Grade 12 English project video from Canada stands out from the crowd by some realistic venom amid the goofy performance, and its strong language (a broadminded English teacher was involved, clearly). The lyrics show a strong engagement with the play, more than vindicating the exercise:

Straight Outta Denmark a crazy m———r named Hamlet
I’m a bad ass hero that’s tragic
Thoughts are pending, time’s not mending
Tragic means I die in the ending.

The full text is given on the YouTube page. Just a shame about the half-hearted lip-synching.

YouTube page

Crank that Shakespeare

Date: 2008
Posted by: zman15601
Credits: composer Jake Lehman, lyrics Bronson Domasky
Cast: Jake Lehman (singer, Hamlet, King Claudius, King Hamlet), Connor Downs (King Hamlet, Hamlet’s Friend, Ophelia, Gertrude, dancer), Jeffrey Moon (Horatio, crying spectator), Clayton Smoker (Shakespeare, Hamlet’s friend, dancer, backup singer)
Duration: 2.10

It is all too easy to sigh at yet another American middle school English project where the class has been encouraged to demonstrate that Shakespeare can be fun by producing a YouTube video. You may sigh even more at the all-too-obvious choice of rap, something whose novelty factor wore out years ago.

And yet, and yet. Look again. This is a terrific video. It displays such enthusiasm for the task in hand, which is to make a rap video out of the story of Hamlet. The lyrics are sharp, the editing is good, the music is strong, and the performances are goofy but dedicated to the cause. Care has been taken to make the individual scenes varied. In common with many such video spoofs, the titles are done in MTV-style, while the subtitles are helpful. Shakespeare himself turns up in the car for the chorus (“Hamlet here with my boy Shakespeare”) – he’s the one with a skull in his hand. It’s a fine English project that brings out such delight in recognising the vitality of the play.

YouTube page

Geto Boys/Macbeth Mashup

Date: 2007
Posted by: Scartol
Credits: Created by Scartol
Cast: Jon Finch (Macbeth), Francesca Annis (Lady Macbeth)
Duration: 5.13

A logical fusion of Macbeth with Gangsta rap, in this neatly-edited mashup of shots from Roman Polanski’s 1971 Macbeth (in widescreen), with Jon Finch as Macbeth and Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth, to the music of the Geto Boys’ ‘Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me’. There are numerous adroit matches between lyrics and action; note, for example, the timing of the lines (from the song) of ‘my hands are all bloody’.

YouTube page