“A hip-hop quartet that plays live instruments, Gym Class Heroes combine skillful rhyme slinging with sturdy pop hooks: a winning combination that ensures far-reaching accessibility,” Susan Visakowitz of Billboard wrote about the New York-based band that rose to fame seemingly out of nowhere with the 2007 summer hit “Cupid’s Chokehold.”
Of course, when it comes to the competitive music industry, the term “out of nowhere” can almost never be applied, as many musicians struggle to gain recognition and wander around in relative obscurity before eventually making a big break that only makes them seem like an overnight success. Such is also the case with Gym Class Heroes, set to perform in Jakarta on Saturday.
The band’s roots can be traced back to 1997, when lead singer and MC Travie McCoy first met drummer Matt McGinley in high school — during gym class.
An avid listener of hip-hop, McCoy also held a soft spot for rock music and R&B. It was this personal taste of McCoy’s that would later dictate the flavor of Gym Class Heroes’ eclectic musical style.
Guitarist Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo and bassist Eric Roberts were quickly recruited to complete the formation of the band, and Gym Class Heroes was born. In 2001, the group self-released its first album, “For the Kids.” Thanks to the band’s preference to use live instruments instead of samples, as is commonly done in hip-hop, the music had a unique sound that had a demographic-spanning effect.
Looking back at Gym Class Heroes’ beginnings, McCoy has stated in earlier interviews that while the band had always intended to deliver a fresh and light-hearted sound, the music also contained a deeper meaning.
“The music was not only fun and innocent,” McCoy said. “It was really well crafted. Some of the arrangements in that stuff just blow me away. Those are the songs that last forever.”
Having released its first album, Gym Class Heroes relied on heavy touring to get its music out. It eventually caught the attention of Pete Wentz of American pop punk band Fall Out Boy, who was looking to sign the band to his new label.
Since Fall Out Boy was the new darling of the MTV crowd at the time, this new collaboration put Gym Class Heroes automatically into the spotlight. The February 2005 release of “The Papercut Chronicles” was followed by “As Cruel as School Children” in 2006 — with the latter being a much more personal effort.
“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 said about the album in an interview with USA Today. “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.”
It was the very same album that guaranteed Gym Class Heroes a deserving place in the entertainment industry. The single “Clothes Off!” was an instant hit, much like “Cupid’s Chokehold.” The band won the MTV Video Music Award for best new artist in 2007. Gym Class Heroes followed up with “The Quilt” in 2008 and “The Papercut Chronicles II” last November.
Despite major mainstream success and having toured with renowned music acts such as Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco and Gwen Stefani, the members of Gym Class Heroes have remained down to earth — still remembering their early days when they were just a bunch of high school kids longing to get out of the gym to play some music.
“I’m glad we came up the way we did and had the experience of booking our own tours and putting out records ourselves,” drummer McGinley said. “I think it helps us appreciate everything that’s happening now.”