Release Date: Sep 9, 2008
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative, Rap
Two years ago, Gym Class Heroes’ kitschy, ’80s-inspired formula made them pop stars, propelling their breakthrough CD, 2006’s As Cruel as School Children, up the charts with hits like ”Clothes Off!” and ”Cupid’s Chokehold. ” Now The Quilt finds them working with some of the biggest names in urban music (Busta Rhymes, The-Dream, Tricky Stewart, Cool & Dre) in a misguided effort to be taken seriously as a hip-hop band. The Roots they are not.
Quilt is an East Coast group of Anna Fox Rochinsk, Shane Butler, and John Andrews. They've been touring the basement show circuit and putting out occasional, limited-run releases since 2009, although I hadn't heard of them until this year's SXSW festival, when my band shared a makeshift wooden stage with them, at an unofficial backyard showcase in South Austin, hosted by WNYU. The odor of smoke, brisket, and crawfish stew seemed the perfect accompaniment to their twangy, somewhat ramshackle blend of 1960s psychedelia, mantric blues, and folk, and I remember realizing that they were the first band I had heard all week whose vocal parts included classic, three-part harmonies-- and whose use of a Farfisa was less retro-futuristic than straight-up retro.
The Quilt is as good a name as any for Gym Class Heroes' post-hip-hop pop collage, as they weave together discarded strands of junk culture into something new yet naggingly familiar. More than most of their peers, they embody all the glorious and maddening contradictions of their generation. Raised in the heyday of hip-hop while steeped in the irony of '90s alt-rock, persistent nostalgia for '70s kitsch, and '80s new wave, Gym Class Heroes see no borders between any era or style, mixing and matching the parts to create funky Frankensteins that feel as pop as they do rap.
The hip-hop-meets-rock hybrid so poorly milked during the earlier part of the decade has, for the most part, hobbled away from the spotlight, all its gimmicks long expired. And yet, upstate New York's Gym Class Heroes have managed to grow in popularity. Their relatively meek take on hip-hop, punk and soul, all well within a pop framework, works because it comes off naturally.