Gym Class Heroes' Travis McCoy. photo by Cha0scontr0ll

Gym Class Heroes

Here’s an easy way to get me to notice your band (coincidentally, it’s also a good way to score a hit single): make a catchy single that references yet another catchy single. It’s how I became acquainted with the rock/rap group Gym Class Heroes. Their first hit single, “Cupid’s Chokehold”, not only sampled Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America”, but featured the recognizable voice of Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump. They followed it up by repeating the exact same formula: “Clothes Off!!” also boasted a chorus by stump and a large chunk of Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off”. As opposed to outright samples, these new songs were built on the choruses of those moldy oldies, and the gambit worked-at least for me. I found myself in possession of GCH’s breakthrough album As Cruel as School Children, and actually found it enjoyable in a mindless fun sort of way.

Fast-forward a year and a half later. GCH lead singer Travis McCoy is something of a star, the band boasts a Gold album, and they’re back with their follow up, The Quilt. This album has a much more pronounced hip-hop influence than its’ predecessor, with guest appearances from the likes of Busta Rhymes and production from beatsmiths Cool & Dre. Nevertheless, McCoy has more charm and variation in subject matter than the average commercial emcee, so it’s not what you would consider the typical hip-hop album in 2008. It also boasts more than its’ share of influences from other genres-featuring bits of emo-ish rock, ska, and plain old pop.

Gym Class Heroes' new album "The Quilt"

Gym Class Heroes

Unlike many artists who jump genres randomly, GCH are fairly successful no matter what style they’re in. Don’t Tell Me It’s Over is a b*tch slap at the band’s critics featuring an impassioned rap from McCoy and a sung (!) chorus over rock guitars by Lil’ Wayne. The aggressive, defensive tone continues with Peace Sign, Index Down (think about that for a second…ah, you get it now?!?), which features one of the best verses Busta Rhymes has committed to tape this millennium.

While the band goes easy on the Eighties hit references this time around (Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” is referenced briefly on one track), they still come up with hooks galore. Live a Little sounds like it was ripped straight from Green Day’s “Dookie” (and yet another song, Coming Clean rips a title from the same album), while on songs like the melancholy but touching love song Live Forever (Fly With Me) (which features vocals from Daryl Hall…yes, THAT Daryl Hall) score on an emotional front. Another interesting introspective track is Like Father Like Son (Papa’s Song), which sits in between admiration and criticism. Hip-hop songs that find rappers praising their moms are fairly commonplace, but songs about admiring pops are few and far between in ths genre, so it’s a nice change of pace.

While Patrick Stump is still around (the Fall Out Boy frontman produced over half of the album and contributes vocals, albeit in a less blatant manner than on the previous album), the album’s other recurring guest is singer/songwriter Terius Nash AKA The-Dream (the guy who wrote “Umbrella”). While his appearance on first single Cookie Jar is fairly forgettable (McCoy might have forgotten that all the cookie metaphors were used up on Raekwon’s “Ice Cream”), the toe-tapping Kissin’ Ears is a fun, although slightly dirty, treat. The-Dream’s thin, nasal voice is perfect for the song.

While The Quilt doesn’t have any out and out stinkers, the album fades a bit towards the end. I’ll fully admit that I sort of tuned out after Kissin’ Ears-the remaining three tracks (with the semi-exception of album closer Coming Clean) are bland and boring. It seems like they were just added to pad out the album’s running time. It’s a problem that only manifests itself a time or two during the album’s first three quarters (the rocking Blinded by the Sun and the aforementioned Cookie Jar are the only songs out of the first 11 that will probably be unchecked from my iTunes).

Hip-hop and rock have not always had simpatico-I’m sure we all have the same reaction of disgust whenever we hear the words “Limp Bizkit”-but Gym Class Heroes blend both genres fairly well. The band is pretty versatile (and it’s nice to hear a hip-hop or even hip-hop flavored album without ONE sample), and McCoy is certainly more skilled than a Fred Durst, with his only competition in the rock-rap realm as far as skill set being Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. He’s actually also a lot more of a skilled MC than current favorites like Young Jeezy or T.I., and certainly more varied in his subject matter. So whether you like hip-hop with your rock or rock with your hip-hop, give The Quilt a shot. It’s an enjoyable album that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and at a time when hip-hop and rock are both suffering from a bit of humor deficiency, it’s a much needed relief!