Gym Class Heroes

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Gym Class Heroes

Rock group, hip-hop group

The eclectic style of New York's Gym Class Heroes could be labeled as danceably clean hip-hop, emo-rap, or hip-hop for the pop-punk set. Billboard's Susan Visakowitz wrote, "A hip-hop quartet that plays live instruments, GCH combine skillful rhyme slinging with sturdy pop hooks: a winning combination that ensures far-reaching accessibility." With ties to MTV-popular pop bands and a tight relationship with emo-pop superstars Fall Out Boy, Gym Class Heroes began as an unknown alternative rap group. After years of touring, seemingly out of nowhere they had the best summer song of 2007, a song that was originally released in 2005 and then redone and re-issued more than a year later. "Cupid's Chokehold," the band's un-ironic take on Supertramp's 1979 song "Breakfast in America," provided the catchiest hook of the year, helped by the fact that Fall Out Boys' Patrick Stump sang the classic rock chorus in between MC rhymes. "The whole fun element of hip-hop has disappeared," MC Travis McCoy stated to Fueled By Ramen. "Everybody takes themselves so seriously, it's become a fashion show more or less. We wanted the vibe to be as fun as possible."

Gym Class Heroes' MC and lead singer, Travis McCoy, grew up in Geneva in upstate New York. In 1997 McCoy met fellow drummer Matt McGinley in high school gym class. A fan of hip-hop and of the hardcore scene in Syracuse, McCoy also had a place in his heart for 1970s and 1980s soft rock and dance-worthy R&B. This penchant for classic and danceable soul and funk pop would prove to be Gym Class Heroes' biggest asset, with its appeal to both teenagers and older listeners. Using live instrumentation instead of just samples and loops, Gym Class Heroes developed in the pop-punk and independent scene. With guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo and bassist Eric Roberts on board with McCoy and McGinley, the quartet dubbed themselves Gym Class Heroes and in 2001 self-released the recording For the Kids.

While most of the hip-hop on the radio at the time was either deadly serious or too ironic, Gym Class Heroes aimed to bring a more enjoyable, light-hearted musical aspect to their game. From the start, the group focused on using the R&B and blue-eyed soul pop of the 1980s as a running theme with their advantageous hip-hop pulses. "The music was not only fun and innocent," McCoy told Fueled By Ramen, "it was really well crafted. Some of the arrangements in that stuff just blow me away. Those are the songs that last forever." To support For the Kids, Gym Class Heroes went on continual tours wherever they could. In 2003 they began work on the playful record The Papercut Chronicles. The songs in progress were so unique that before the album was completed, Fall Out Boy's lead songwriter Pete Wentz wanted to sign the band to his own new label, Decaydance, an imprint of indie label Fueled By Ramen. In 2004 Gym Class Heroes signed to Wentz's label, and in February of the following year they released The Papercut Chronicles.

Upon the album's release, the band once again hit the road, this time with indie punk and pop bands, including stints at Van's Warped Tour. The Papercut Chronicles included the song "Cupid's Chokehold," a track that would later become the band's biggest claim to fame; but at the time, the band toured with little or no major press following. Show attendees who arrived early and caught Gym Class Heroes' performance were often caught off guard by the band's hip-hopped-up pop. "It's something different, and it always takes a while for kids to get used to something different," McCoy told Tony Pascarella of The Trades. "I don't take offense to it; it's cool when by the second song when I see them dancing."

By 2006, with Fall Out Boy's popularity at a substantial international level, there was also more interest in Gym Class Heroes. That summer Gym Class Heroes delivered As Cruel as School Children (not surprisingly, co-produced by Fall Out Boy's Stump). Although the record was a much more personal album than previous efforts, As Cruel as School Children was made as much for the band members as it was for their Internet-generation fans. Indeed, it was on the Internet that Fall Out Boy and Gym Class Heroes gained fans, even as radio was slow to catch on. It was a unique album. "So while you're a little confused about the concept of a hip-hop/emo axis, well that's the point," wrote Alternative Press's Eddie Fleisher. "Music is music, regardless of the genre. This album is proof."

As Cruel as School Children featured a number of guests, including Arrested Development's respected MC Speech and William Beckett of The Academy Is. The track listing was actually listed in "periods," as in high school periods. "Maybe it's borderline arrested development; I don't know," McCoy declared to journalist Brian Mansfield in USA Today, of the album's "school" elements. "I feel like I can relate anything I'm faced with today to something I faced in high school. We all know that kids are cruel as hell in school. That stuff either makes or destroys your character." McCoy told Pascarella, "When it came down to putting the album together, I just went through all these old notebooks and found stuff. It's definitely a super-personal album. It's about two years of my life in a nutshell."

For the Record …

Members include: Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo, guitar; Travis McCoy, lead vocals/MC; Matt McGinley, drums; Eric Roberts, bass.

Group formed in Geneva, NY, c. 2001; self released For the Kids, 2001; signed to Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen, 2004; released The Papercut EP, 2004; The Papercut Chronicles, 2005; As Cruel as School Children, 2006.

Addresses: Record company—Decaydance Records/Fueled By Ramen, 11054 Ventura Blvd., Ste. 225, Studio City, CA 91604. Management—Crush Music Media Management, 60-62 East 11th St., New York, NY 10003. Website—Gym Class Heroes Official Website:; Decaydance Official Website:; Fueled By Ramen Official Website:

Decaydance intended on pushing "The Queen and I" as the first single from As Cruel as School Children, but after the LP's release radio stations began to spin the track "Cupid's Chokehold" from The Papercut Chronicles. The song caught on across radio stations nationwide, so the label shifted focus to capitalize on "Cupid's" success. In November of 2006 the record label reissued As Cruel as School Children, including a re-recorded version of "Cupid's Chokehold" with superstar Stump on vocals. It still took some time and much more touring and exposure, but soon "Cupid's Chokehold" had millions of kids singing along. By the spring of 2007 the song was a certified hit. The tune went to number four on Billboard's Hot 100 that spring and its video became an MTV regular. "I don't want to ever let that song be bigger than the band," drummer McGinley admitted to Jeff Hahne of Creative Loafing Charlotte about "Cupid's Chokehold." "I want to look back in 20 years at a thick catalog of dope songs. I think we're well on our way to having that."

That summer their next single, "Clothes Off!" was released. Riding on the success of "Cupid's Chokehold," the new song was an instant MTV favorite. Like "Cupid's Chokehold," it borrowed heavily from an old pop song. The wryly sung "Clothes Off!" was a retro rehash of Jermaine Stewart's 1986 smash "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off," and once again Stump sang on the chorus. Gym Class Heroes appear to have found a recipe for winning success, borrowing from both the old and the new. By the summer of 2007, "Clothes Off!" was on the top of MTV's TRL show, and tours commenced with Gwen Stefani, Panic! At the Disco, and Fall Out Boy. Gym Class Heroes have remained humble. "I'm glad we came up the way we did and had the experience of booking our own tours and putting out records ourselves," McGinley told Hahne. "I think it helps us appreciate everything that's happening now."

Selected discography

For the Kids, self released, 2001.

The Papercut EP, Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen, 2004.

The Papercut Chronicles, Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen, 2005.

As Cruel as School Children, Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen, 2006.



Billboard, February 3, 2007, p.44.

Creative Loafing Charlotte (Charlotte, North Carolina), June 20, 2007.

USA Today, March 18, 2007.


All Music Guide, (September 1, 2007).

Alternative Press, (September 1, 2007).

Fueled by Ramen Official Website, (September 1, 2007).

The Trades, (September 1, 2007).

—Shannon McCarthy