Have you’ve ever clicked on the video of Doug Funnie rapping “Trap Queen”? How about the absurdly inappropriate mashup of Lazy Town and Lil Jon’s verse from “Step Yo Game Up”? If so, then you’re familiar with the mixed up world where images of children’s TV characters are combined with the adult sound of hip-hop, an incongruous and endlessly shareable subgenre that’s thriving on YouTube.
Under the account Is This How You Go Viral?, 34-year-old Adam Schleichkorn has become a prolific contributor to this community. His work includes a brand new video of Bert and Ernie handling “Regulators” by Warren G and Nate Dogg, as well as the recent collection of Sesame Street all-stars doing Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Crossroads.” At the time of posting this story they already had over 960,000 and 1.7 million views, respectively.
Schleichkorn was first introduced to videos like this years ago when he saw one from Norwegian YouTube user Stian Hafstad called “Bert & Ernie tries Gangsta-Rap”—a somewhat misleading title, since the pair of puppets are mouthing the words to M.O.P.’s stick-up anthem “Ante Up.” Hafstad posted “Bert & Ernie tries Gangsta-Rap” in 2008. It currently has more than ten million views.
The first kids TV and rap music mashup that Schleichkorn made himself was a jumpy 56-second clip of Sesame Street characters rapping to “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” by Nas in 2012. Though there is some seemingly slapdash charm to many of these videos, it quickly became clear to Shleichkorn that they were far from easy to pull off well. “I realized that it did take me a long time to make these things good,” he says.
Since that first attempt, he’s transformed a crew of Muppet Show B-listers doing an unintelligible version of “Danny Boy” into them trading lines from the Beastie Boys’ “So What’cha Want” (1.5 million views). He’s had Dr. Teeth of the Electric Mayhem wild out on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” (over 763,000 views). He paired Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear with Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray” (over 658,000 views). And while Schleichkorn has had his most success with Jim Henson’s creations, he’s also had Barney hit Biggie’s verse from “Get Money” (over 204,000 views) and Spongebob Squarepants take on Three 6 Mafia (only 10,000 views).
Schleichkorn’s Muppets and Golden Age rap formula has become a dependable pairing. He says the videos attract an audience primarily composed of Americans in the 25 to 40 age range, with a 60/40 split between males and females. His Is This How You Go Viral? channel has eleven thousand subscribers, meaning he’s usually attracting attention from outside sources. His “Regulators” video even got reposted by from Warren G himself. “This is a song that I’ve had in rotation since middle school,” says Schleichkorn. “To see that he approved of my video is pretty much the coolest thing ever.”
Each one of Shcleichkorn’s videos start with him picking a song he loves. “I was the type of kid growing up who had an enormous CD collection,” he says. “I have at least 500 old school hip-hop ones in there.”
Once he’s chosen the track, he listens to it over and over to so he understand its entire mechanics. For the visuals, the watches hours of the show he wants to use. It’s in the editing process where things can get trying. “There are times when I’ll spend twenty minutes on a scene and then I’ll play it back, and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, this looks like shit,’” Schleichkorn says.
For years, Schleichkorn was making videos on YouTube primarily depicting pets singing along to songs: a cat to “Criminal” by Peter Tosh, a dog to “Babycakes” by Solo for Dolo, and variations on the Dramatic Chipmunk video with felines and lizards. Videos on his older channels, like Hidden Track TV, did pretty well, racking up between 100,000 and three million views. “I was right at the doorstep of getting to that YouTube stardom kind of level” he says. “I just never made it happen.”
When Schleichkorn’s professional life became a little steadier, he stopped worrying about trying to monetize his channel. He now freelances as a video project manager in New York City and makes his creations for YouTube in his free time. With the pressure to earn money from them lifted, he started Is This How You Go Viral? Schleichkorn says the the name came out of frustration, but it’s also kind of an in-joke, a cheeky reference to his previous failure.
Even though he’s not trying make a living from YouTube anymore, Schleichkorn admits that he’s still concerned about view counts. “In the back of my head I’m going for a million,” he says.
Of course, if fame is fleeting, then viral fame is like a lightning strike, and Shleichkorn knows that just because one of his videos does well, doesn’t mean another one will. He talks about “lucky” viral sensations with a hint of envy in his voice, saying, “Sometimes people just catch the right moment at the right second on camera.”
His “Regulate” video is on track to overtake “Crossroads,” which has been his most viewed kids TV and rap video to date, and was only released two weeks earlier. “I usually space them out much more, but the comments and new followers from [‘Crossroads’] are what really motivated me,” says Schleichkorn.
While its unclear where the online audience for videos like these will top out (or if it will flame out), the actual makers of The Muppets have shown they’re aware that the combination works, too. In an episode from the new Muppets show last October, they had the Swedish Chef perform the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” during a karaoke night. At first the others look on incredulously, but by then end, they’re enthralled.