MTV loves these guys, and why not? They’re quirky, energetic and offer an easy-to-swallow version of alternative hip-hop for the kids of today, who don’t want to bother themselves with knowing who The Roots are anyway.
Four friends from upstate New York, Gym Class Heroes have been playing around with fused elements of rap, rock, R&B, and funk since their self-released album in 2001. That record was the product of plotting that began when MC Travis “Schleprok” McCoy met drummer Matt McGinley during their high-school gym class. Heroes was officially born with the additions of bassist Eric Roberts and guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo. The boys took their wry humor on the road immediately, playing everything from birthday parties to local festivals, but the tipping point for the band came in 2003 after Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz heard some work-in-progress material and became an immediate champion of the group. Wentz ultimately signed the guys to his Fueled by Ramen label imprint, Decaydance, in 2004.
Gym Class Heroes’ attempt at a new twist on hip-hop is an obvious intention: All information offered on the band quickly heralds the use of humor in their lyrics, as well as the fact that they favor the use of live instrumentation over samples. The fact that the album’s very MTV-friendly single, “Cupid’s Chokehold”—actually a take from the group’s previous album, The Papercut Chronicles—centers around the very prominent use of a Supertramp sample doesn’t really represent this description of the band well. With their instruments, the band doesn’t quite present any sort of exceptional talents, but they are clearly comfortable with mixing genres. Hip-hop flavors mainly come courtesy of the band’s lead singer/rapper, Schleprok, who earned some sort of stripes by clinching MTV’s Direct Effect MC Battle in 2002, and proves why in a few exceptional lyrical instances on this album, like the opening track, “1st Period: The Queen and I”. For every winning moment on the record, though, there seems to be just another losing one to counter it, which is why the group’s “on the fence” reputation applies beyond their genre-bending ways. The most cringe-worthy of these comes courtesy of “3rd Period: New Friend Request”, a ridiculous song literally penned about romance over MySpace. Granted, As Cruel as School Children is written like a concept album—almost wholly about high school, dating, and drinking—but there is only so much you can hear about those subjects before you begin to question the band’s range of lyrical creativity.
The ultimate problem facing the group is the inevitable one that applies to all “hip-hop bands”: fans of rap don’t take them seriously, and the rock kids just won’t give them a chance. They’re a hip-hop band on a pop-punk record label. It’s a tricky balance, and though ambitious, As Cruel as School Children seems more like a tease for when the band finally gets their formula right.