“Too rock for hip-hop, too hip-hop for rock,” has been the tagline for the upstate New York quartet, Gym Class Heroes. After name-dropping a who’s who of important scene bands in the catchy “Taxi Driver,” GCH developed a nice following, and after signing to Pete Wentz’s label, Decaydance, and releasing their heart-on-sleeve debut The Papercut Chronicles, people started paying attention, expectations began to build, and the Heroes began to worry: can we top Papercut? Fortunately, it is safe to say that their second album, As Cruel As School Children, not only surpasses their previous effort, but it is also going to serve as their launching pad into the big time. Produced by Sam Hollander and Patrick Stump,School Children’s fourteen track offering is heavy on the hip hop side this time around, yet still possesses that full band sound. Influenced more by frontman Travis McCoy’s obsession with 80’s R&B, GCH have added more depth to their lyrics and music on album two.
“1st Period: The Queen And I” begins the album with a salsa-like guitar strum from Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo backed by the jittery bass of Eric Roberts. McCoy’s lyrics flow nicely and possess your ear immediately. “2nd Period: Shoot Down The Stars” features the thumping from drummer Matt McGinley and the up-down contrast between Disashi and Roberts. The chorus is what stands out here; McCoy carries the melody very well, singing about following your dreams and not let people shit on you and what you want to achieve. The following song is the obnoxiously catchy “New Friend Request.” While it’s almost impossible to not enjoy this song, lyrically I think it’s lame, but Travis’ delivery saves it. “Clothes Off!” is going to be the song that breaks this band through. Featuring Stump shrieking, “We have to take our clothes off/to have a good time,” Travis’ flow resembles Will Smith, but the musicianship on this song is stellar, as it has a club vibe to it. Following this is the first of three “Sloppy Love Jingles,” which is basically skits of Travis rhyming over his battles with love and trying to hook up with a girl at the bar. Personally, I don’t like any of these and they just kill the overall mood to the album. “Viva La White Girl” is a slow jam, showing that the band is very capable of slowing things down. “7 Weeks” features The Academy Is… Will Beckett on chorus, and this is one of the stronger tracks on the album. Roberts’ bass is chunky, Disashi’s guitar sets a chilled vibe, and Beckett sound pretty good on the chorus, executing a nice falsetto. “It’s OK, But Just This Once!” is good musically, but this song really doesn’t stand out. “Biters Block” has a menacing tone to it, as the bass creeps along with McGinley’s tight drumming. The chorus features children singing followed by Speech (of Arrested Development fame) laying down the lyrics. “Scandalous Scholastics” is my least favorite track, as the opening verse reminds me of a boy band harmony. This track is full of cheese, as it is about Travis bumping uglies with his teacher. “On My Own Time (Write On!)” makes up for that misstep, though. The track grooves throughout and this track is Travis’ vindication, showing that he can overcome the pressures and write a good album.
The album displays the theme of a school day, even with all the tracks divided up into a school schedule. The cover displays the school outcast, the underdog, which is exactly the niche of GCH. They are going to surprise many and take the charts by storm with this release. While there are some shortcomings lyrically, the musicianship from Disashi, McGinley, and Roberts is much better than what they showcased on Papercut. Also, Travis’ delivery is still very good, and I’m glad he branched out his lyrics to other topics than the usual “emo” staples we hear in many albums today. As Cruel As School Children is perfect for those who don’t listen to hip-hop at all and may be that gateway to the genre for them. Experienced hip-hop fans will probably scoff at this and not even give it the time of day, but I ask that you give it a shot, as you may find 3-4 tracks you really dig. Gym Class Heroes have released an album that will make them the third band from the Decaydance roster to make it huge. If they release the right singles and market it the right way, it is very possible that you’ll see this band climbing the charts on TRL. While the staying power of this album will come in question, the replayability and enjoyment is rather high. Add As Cruel As School Children to your summer playlist and get ready to watch these guys become Heroes of more than just the gymnasium.