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Underrated Artist: Gym Class Heroes created the emo-rap genre

Emo-rap has hit the mainstream over the past few years as it fuses two different styles of alternative music styles together: emo and rock. Artists like Lil Peep, Twenty One Pilots and Juice WRLD have garnered success from implementing hip-hop style techniques into their rock-based sound. It’s a unique genre of music that has defined many artists. One band rose to fame in the early 2000s by implementing such techniques in their music style.

Gym Class Heroes is a New York emo-rap band that formed in 1997 by lead singer Travie McCoy and drummer Matt McGinley. Although their genre is mainly rap-rock, their influences include hip-hop, funk and reggae. The band slowly rose to fame in the early 2000s after having signed to Fueled By Ramen and Decaydance (now DCD2), the independent record label of Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, in 2003.

In 2005, the band released its first album, “The Papercut Chronicles.” “Cupid’s Chokehold / Breakfast in America” was released on this record, which is considered one of the band’s biggest hits as it peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. In fact, the song trended on TikTok in 2021 where creators would show off their significant others or new hair/fashion style.

The song features Fall Out Boy vocalist, Patrick Stump, who sings the chorus and a portion of the background vocals. His vocals swing with the twangy guitar and thumping drums of the chorus: “Take a look at my girlfriend / She’s the only one I got / Not much of a girlfriend / I never seem to get a lot.” The chorus and rhythm are sampled from Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America.” The difference lies in the verses where McCoy raps over the swaying rhythm. Although the two songs are extremely similar, Gym Class Heroes’ rendition of the track is the perfect concoction of rock and rap.

Gym Class Heroes’ next record, “As Cruel as School Children,” was released in 2006. The album featured a rerelease of “Cupid’s Chokehold / Breakfast in America,” which did not differ from its original other than the addition of extra female background vocals. The album’s lead single, “The Queen and I,” features William Beckett of The Academy Is… during its chorus, similar to the structure of Patrick Stump’s additional vocals on “Cupid’s Chokehold.” Speaking of the Fall Out Boy vocalist, Stump also provided the vocals for the chorus on “Clothes Off!,” the fifth and final single off the record.

It’s important to note that also at this time in their career, McCoy featured on Cobra Starship’s track, “Snakes on a Plane (Bring It),” alongside Beckett and Maja Ivarsson of The Sounds. The single appeared during the credits of Snakes on a Plane (2006). McCoy rapped on the latter half of the pop-punk track, which added a hip-hop flare to the track.

Their next album, “The Quilt,” was released two years later in 2008. This album features more rap artists like Estelle (“Guilty As Charged”), Busta Rhymes (“Peace Sign / Index Down”) and The-Dream (“Cookie Jar” and “Kissin’ Ears”). Daryl Hall from Daryl Hall & John Oats also features on this record in the song “Live Forever (Fly with Me).” The album is more of an alternative-style record, but it carries a heavy amount of R&B and hip-hop, especially in tracks like “Catch Me If You Can” and “Drnk Txt Rmeo.”

A sequel to their first record, “The Papercut Chronicles II,” was released in 2011. Leaning more into a pop sound, the album features vocals from pop singers like Adam Levine from Maroon 5 (“Stereo Hearts”) and Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic (“The Fighter”). Their most streamed song comes from this record - “Stereo Hearts.” Although this track leans heavily into the pop aspect of the album, the song holds up as a solid R&B song with McCoy’s flow during the verses.

As of now, “The Papercut Chronicles II” is the last record released by Gym Class Heroes. The band went on a six-year hiatus a year after the album came out. In 2018, the band returned briefly for a performance where they opened for The Offspring and 311 on their Never Ending Summer Tour. Unfortunately, the band returned to their hiatus state afterward, but they soon reawakened in 2022.

Gym Class Heroes is set to perform at this year’s When We Were Young Fest along with several other bands like Green Day, Blink-182 (more on their return here) and Good Charlotte. It’s an exciting time to be a Gym Class Heroes fan, although it’s uncertain whether or not their return will remain permanent.

Moreover, Gym Class Heroes is an incredibly important band to consider when deciding the influential factors that created this new wave emo, hip-hop, rock and R&B concoction. They were the first to smoosh together two completely different genres, emo and rap, and be able to successfully hit the mainstream. Although the band is somewhat inactive, it’s hopeful that their comeback in October will bring in more fans and show others to appreciate their legendary status.


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