Gym Class Heroes frontman Travie McCoy discusses his influence on the new generation, his leaked collab with The Alchemist & Lil Wayne, battling addiction, and his thoughts on Machine Gun Kelly's foray into pop-punk.
The worlds of hip-hop and rock have merged since the 80s. Aerosmith and Run DMC connected for “Walk This Way,” R.E.M tapped KRS-One for 1991’s “Radio Song,” and of course, The Beastie Boys and Rick Rubin’s earned five mics in The Source for Licensed To Ill.
And while Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Kid Rock evolved it into “nu-metal” by the mid-aughts, it was Gym Class Heroes who emerged as the unsuspected champions among emo crowds at Warped Tour. They didn’t necessarily cater to the pop-punk or hardcore sound entirely but the use of live instrumentation -- plus Travie McCoy’s proximity to Fall Out Boy -- allowed them to stick out, whether it was on tour opening up for Lil Wayne or sharing a stage with Silverstein.
As Cruel As School Children, which boasted hits like “Cupid’s Chokehold” and “Clothes Off” (both featuring Patrick Stump), celebrated its 15-year anniversary this past July. It’s an album that’s often overlooked in discussions yet in retrospect, opened the doors for the “emo-rap” era that paralleled Soundcloud rap. Though the sound of As Cruel As School Children largely paid homage to 80s pop, Travis McCoy’s flamboyant sense of style developed from the punk scene and the hip-hop scene growing up in Upstate New York.
“They rockin’ shit they would never rock -- never rock -- 10 years ago because of the same fear that I had to face growing up being different. Or feeling comfortable in my own skin and I caught a lot of flack for it,” he told HNHH. “It’s just like, yo, there’s no way that I haven’t influenced these kids, and not that I’m angry that I haven’t gotten my recognition but I want mothafuckas to know I caught hell for being different.”
The influence is deeper than simply his sense of fashion. He’s made key introductions to many of the stars of today. For example, Katy Perry, who he nearly named a mixtape after, made an early appearance in the music video for “Cupid’s Chokehold” while Bruno Mars had his first breakout moment with his hook duties on “Billionaire.” In fact, Lil Wayne may have not ever had Tyga under the Young Money umbrella if it weren’t for Travie McCoy bringing the “Coconut Juice” rapper to the 2007 VMAs -- before YMCMB crewnecks flooded high schools.
From working with Lil Wayne to El-P, Travie McCoy was able to occupy a unique space in both rap and rock and position it towards pop stardom with the release of his debut album, Lazarus. 10 years later, and he’s preparing for its official follow-up Never Slept Better, led by the single, “Spoonful Of Cinnamon.” The second single "Loved Me Back To Life" is set to drop on Wednesday.
Earlier this year, we chopped it up with Travie McCoy to discuss everything from the influence of Papercut Chronicles and As Cruel As School Children, to working with Drake, battling addiction, and the bittersweet emotions of watching skilled rappers like Machine Gun Kelly make pop-punk music.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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HNHH: Pleasure to speak with you, bro. I always say that your influence is in the imprint of the new generation of hip-hop, both musically and in fashion. I mean, the drip was insane.
Travie McCoy: You know, you look at these artists now. These SoundCloud rappers, or even -- and I hate this term -- emo rappers or whatever. I get asked all of the time, “Who’s your stylist?! Who’s your stylist?” And I’m like, I’ve been dressing myself since kindergarten. That’s just some natural swag that I was born with from my dad. I was wearing my dad’s clothes. My dad is just like me, he just never throws anything away. He keeps all of his shit. I was wearing lumberjack bombers in the sixth grade and middle school, rocking shit motherfuckers had never seen. It was weird to them, but to me, it was like, yo, this is my dad’s shit, and he looked fly as fuck rocking it. So, how could I not? I get that question all of the time, “Who’s your stylist?” I would never pay somebody to put clothes on me.
But back to what I was saying [about Soundcloud rappers], I caught a lot of shit for that, for being different. One, being biracial and being not only heavy into hip hop, but into the punk scene. All of that shit, hip hop and punk, had a huge effect on the way I presented myself visually. I just felt comfortable. And I’d get shit from both sides. White people would say, “Oh, you can’t wear a fuckin’ Hatebreed shirt!” Oh, well okay, come a little bit closer and tell me that and I’ll knock your fuckin face off. Or even, it would be like, ‘Name one song from the Grateful Dead.’ I’m like, ‘N***a, I’ll name you the last fuckin’ four records they put out.’ It was always a test.
"I feel like I knocked down a lot of doors for these kids to be comfortable having blue hair or having tattoos and all that. I don’t go out of my way to beg for credit. Honestly, it makes me feel good that these kids feel comfortable in their own skin doing shit that wouldn’t have been accepted in hip-hop like back in the day. Not saying that I made Tekashi 6ix9ine or nothing but like, bro, in the late 90s, early 2000s, you couldn’t be a Person Of Color and have rainbow hair. It just wasn’t poppin’."
From the other side, it was like, ‘Oh, this n***a Travie’s trying to be white.’ You know, I had piercings and tattoos and shit at a very young age. It’s like, ‘Oh, he’s trying to be a white boy,’ or whatever but like, look at these motherfuckers now! Tatted from the fuckin’ -- their whole faces is tatted, you know what I’m sayin’? They rockin’ shit they would never rock -- never rock -- 10 years ago because of the same fear that I had to face growing up being different. Or feeling comfortable in my own skin and I caught a lot of flack for it. But I feel like I knocked down a lot of doors for these kids to be comfortable having blue hair or having tattoos and all that. I don’t go out of my way to beg for credit. Honestly, it makes me feel good that these kids feel comfortable in their own skin doing shit that wouldn’t have been accepted in hip-hop like back in the day. Not saying that I made Tekashi 6ix9ine or nothing but like, bro, in the late 90s, early 2000s, you couldn’t be a Person Of Color and have rainbow hair. It just wasn’t poppin’.
There’s a song on the album where I speak on it a little bit ‘cause I bit my tongue for a long time. It’s just like, yo, there’s no way that I haven’t influenced these kids, and not that I’m angry that I haven’t gotten my recognition but I want mothafuckas to know I caught hell for being different. It makes me happy now that People Of Color can do whatever they fuckin’ want without the rite of passage or hell I had to go through.
The whole point of this interview was because we just passed the 15th anniversary of As Cruel as School Children. Between the live instrumentation and the overall production, it definitely helped blur the lines between genres, especially at the time.
That album and the first Papercut Chronicles, I feel like, fucked a lot of peoples’ heads up. They were like, what in the fuck is this? And then when we did As Cruel As School Children, we had signed to Fueled By Ramen and we got upstreamed to Atlantic Records so we had a bigger budget. The goal for me with that record was to show how much the 80s had an effect on me musically. We were four kids from four different walks of life who had all kinds of different musical inspirations and heroes, and all that shit came into play. The main goal was to throw the 80s love in there and I feel like it definitely fucked a lot of people’s heads up but it was also conducive to how we didn’t give a fuck about fitting into a box or chasing a lane. We built one.
Between Papercut Chronicles and As Cruel as School Children, I feel like the underground rap circuit -- if we’re going to dissect things for clarity -- they really fucked with your bars and your flow. It wasn’t only just the way you were putting together verses but your ability to put your life on display. It was very similar to guys like Atmosphere and a lot of those Midwest guys --
Slug was a huge influence and I could never deny that. When I got Lucy Ford, I was like, There’s rap like this? There’s rappers out here literally putting their lives on record? And that was kind of the Shiny Suit Days. The Puffy shiny suit days. And like, back then, I was into De La Soul and all that shit. Atmosphere opened me to a different world. Then I got into -- I dug deep into underground, like Non Phixion, the whole Def Jux camp. El-P is still my favorite rapper to this day.
"Slug [of Atmosphere] was a huge influence and I could never deny that. When I got Lucy Ford, I was like, 'There’s rap like this? There’s rappers out here literally putting their lives on record?'"
Do you still have that track with El-P? The one where you got him rapping over a beat that he didn’t produce?
I do and the beat was actually made by my man Tim William. El-P never really rapped over anyone else’s shit except Mr. Len and his own shit. To have him on that track that my man produced -- it was a pretty deep track. I had just come back from doing this documentary. I was the ambassador for a while for MTV’s HIV and AIDS awareness campaign. I went to India, I went to the Philippines, and I went to South Africa and I met with the ambassadors there. The whole point of it was afterward, I wrote a song about my whole experience.
When I got back, I was in this whole other space after experiencing all that shit. Tim and I wrote this song talking about how fucked up the world is. You know, I thought we had it bad here, but after seeing how people live in the Philippines and India, I was like bruh, we got it good good. When I got back, I was on some other shit. Me and Tim wrote that song and I sent it to El and he sent me the craziest verse ever. But I fucked up by not putting out the song soon enough and he ended up using the verse for another song. I still love him [laughs].
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That’s an excellent segue into my next question because I wanted to ask you about the song you had with Lil Wayne and The Alchemist but the song ended up on Tha Carter IV as “Abortion.”
And they took me off the motherfucker!
I’m not even sure if Alchemist’s original production is on the joint.
I don’t know if it was Streetrunner or Infamous but somebody definitely went back and -- I mean, Alc’ got credit for it. I think they kind of went back and re-did the beat. I still got the original of that song and I listen to it all the time because, one, Alc’ has been one of my favorite producers of all time and just to work with him and Wayne on the same song was insane. I think the song’s called “I Know Your Name.” I felt like I snapped the fuck on that verse. I’m like, ‘I’m on track with Wayne!’ And Wayne was at his hottest --
Yo, prime Wayne and I was like, ‘I can’t come weak on this shit.’ So, I snapped on it, and then when it came out on Tha CarterIV, I was like, ‘Really, bruh?’
As I mentioned, you won over the underground crowd with Papercut Chronicles through your lyricism and the overall type of vibe that Gym Class brought on that album with the live instrumentation. But on As Cruel as School Children, you’ve got the big pop records. You’re still rapping your ass off, but you’ve got those pop records and then you start occupying spaces with Wayne. What was inspiring you and, as a competitive rapper, what was driving you on As Cruel as School Children, in comparison to other projects such as Papercut Chronicles?
Just from the jump, I’ve always been super inspired by musicians in my circle. Like my intermediate family who makes music, especially lyrically. A lot of people probably won’t fucking get this, but Pete Wentz is one of my favorite lyricists in the world. He raps these dark-ass fucking lyrics into these happy-ass pop-punk songs, you know what I mean? But if you go back and read through some of those lyrics and it’s like, what the fuck?
It’s funny because I remember Dave Chapelle saying, “All comedians wanna be rappers and all rappers wanna be comedians.” I thought about that quote in the sense like where all dudes in fucking punk bands wanna be rappers. Now, all rappers wanna be in punk bands (laughs). It’s like the same shit. Especially now.
A couple of years ago we did a couple of dates on the Fall Out Boy tour and MGK was on that tour. After that tour, I’m peeping MGK’s shit -- and this is no disrespect to him whatsoever because I love that dude. We had a lot of good times on that tour shopping and shit. It’s like, the shit he’s doing now, I’m like, bro, you were and are one of the dopest rappers out. Like, MGK can spit. What he’s doing now just threw me for a loop. I’m like this is cool. It’s dope that you can play guitar, but that whiny fucking [groans] “my girl left me.” I’m like, that shit, it don’t rock with me. The thing is I’ve been so involved in that scene and heard so many bands do that. So, for me to hear a rapper, who I have so much respect for, kinda like fall back. I was just kinda like just, do what you want to do. Obviously, that’s how he’s feeling now. It’s not just MGK. It’s a lot of these rappers that actually have skill that are kinda dumbing shit down a bit to play into what’s poppin’ right now. That’s one thing I’ve always prided myself is the fact that, whether it’s me -- solo -- or Gym Class, we’ve never ever tried to fit into what’s the wave. We make tsunamis.
"I’m peeping MGK’s shit -- and this is no disrespect to him whatsoever because I love that dude. We had a lot of good times on that tour shopping and shit. It’s like, the shit he’s doing now, I’m like, bro, you were and are one of the dopest rappers out. Like, MGK can spit. What he’s doing now just threw me for a loop. I’m like this is cool. It’s dope that you can play guitar, but that whiny fucking [groans] “my girl left me.” I’m like, that shit, it don’t rock with me."
I feel like a lot of kids coming out have taken a note from that Warped Tour crowd, pop-punk scene. Even someone like Robb Banks showed you love on the ‘Gram one time. He doesn’t necessarily fit into the type of music you described but there’s a lot of stylistic elements that he took from that scene.
Rob’s my man. That’s my brother right there. When he hit me, I was like word. One, I fuck with him because he loves anime. I’m a whole anime fanatic. Two, if you were to put me and him on the same bill, you’d be like “what the fuck how does this work?” — and it doesn’t mattter. We’re two dudes who respect each other’s crafts and you’re going to enjoy yourself. Rob’s one of those kids I see a huge future for. Really dope kid. There’s this other cat, Jordan Hollywood.
I lived in Miami from 2009 to 2013, so I was put up on a lot of shit that I would’ve never had access to. Now, Miami’s the fucking hot spot. You got Jordan, fucking Rob, you got Kodak, Smokepurrp, all these n***s man. A lot of those artists aren’t my cup of tea but Miami is like the fucking hub of what’s popping right now. You gotta give those kids credit because they did it independently and without giving a fuck. That’s the most punk rock shit you could ever do. I can only imagine where they’re going to be five years from now.
Let’s talk about Batsquad. At the time, it felt like you had such a talented roster and things were in place for you to really launch a solid label. You had Axl on the label too, right?
Yeah, we had a little falling out at one time, but brothers fight and don’t always see eye to eye. Axl’s part of Batsquad, too. But, he came up to the crib for a couple of weekends and it was just like we never missed a beat. And Axl’s killing shit. Speaking of Axl, I gotta say rest in peace to Fred The God because Axl introduced me to Fred The Godson. Those two together -- if they had put a group together, no disrespect to L but Run The Jewels and Fred and Axl would’ve been on like -- they could’ve made the illest duo ever. And Fred, when he passed I didn’t sleep for two or three days. We all thought he was going to make it through. He had so much potential.
Tim William, who is absolutely a part of Batsquad. He and I, as well, kind of had a falling out but we’re back on good terms.
Tyga was a huge part of that movement coming up. I know everybody gives Wayne his flowers for bringing Tyga up --
I think Tyga gives Wayne his flowers for bringing him up and kinda forgets the fact that I put his first record out. That’s not throwing shade in any way but like, put people hit me up like, “Did you see this interview?” And it’s Wayne this and Wayne that. And I’m like, alright bet. If that’s how you feel, cool. I know what the fuck I did for that n***a. And I also know how much money I spent on doing what I did for that n***a. It is what it is. I’m not gonna hold any type of grudges but there are people out there that are opportunists. They see an opportunity, they gon’ jump at it. I’m not gonna fault him or shit on his name because -- I mean, look at where’s he’s at. I took him and Gata on their first tour. Shoutout to Gata because Gata’s fucking killing shit right now. He’s doing the Dave show with Lil Dicky.
"I think Tyga gives Wayne his flowers for bringing him up and kinda forgets the fact that I put his first record out. That’s not throwing shade in any way but like, put people hit me up like, “Did you see this interview?” And it’s Wayne this and Wayne that. And I’m like, alright bet. If that’s how you feel, cool. I know what the fuck I did for that n***a."
He was Tyga’s hypeman, then I guess him and Tyga had a little falling out but then he became Lil Dicky’s hypeman. That show with him coming out with being bipolar, which I am myself, opened it up to a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that there’s a lot of mental health issues going on in the culture. Before it was like, you pussy if you go to a therapist or you pussy don’t know how to deal with life. It’s the worst fucking mentality ever. All you’re doing is making people with actual mental health issues feel like it’s not okay to talk about it which is putting them in isolation, in which some end up offing themselves because they feel like they aren’t tough enough to get through it. That episode where Gata opened up about his bipolar, that shit made me cry, bro. People need to know white people aren’t the only ones out there dealing with mental illnesses, you know?
"Shoutout to Gata because Gata’s fucking killing shit right now. He’s doing the Dave show with Lil Dicky. He was Tyga’s hypeman, then I guess him and Tyga had a little falling out but then he became Lil Dicky’s hypeman. That show with him coming out with being bipolar, which I am myself, opened it up to a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that there’s a lot of mental health issues going on in the culture."
Just on the topic of Gata, he recently did a No Jumper interview where he revealed that you and Tyga aren’t actually cousins. Can you verify this?
Oh, no, no. I met Tyga, he handed me a mixtape on Melrose. I was out in L.A. shopping. This is a funny story. You know, being on the road, I get demos and mixtapes all the time. Me and Matt, the drummer of Gym Class, we had this running joke like, “Let's start the record label called Roadside Records”. The joke was, “Yeah give us your demo and we’ll sign you to Roadside Records.” Our motto was “your demo hits the streets the same night” which means as soon as we get your demo, we throwing them bitches out the bus window. (laughs)
For some reason, I didn’t throw Tyga’s out. I kept it and listened to it like, homie got potential and he had a lot of energy. So I took him under my wing. I put this motherfucker through training camp. I had him sending me verses every other day. We started doing interviews, and he was like, “This my big cousin Trav.” So a lot of people had the misunderstanding we were blood-related. It’s just like, that’s my play-play cousin. I still consider him my cousin because of all the shit we’ve been through together. But yeah, Tyga’s not my real cousin, not blood cousin, but definitely family to me. I couldn’t be more proud of what he’s accomplished since we first met on Melrose.
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When was the last time you guys talked?
Probably like a year ago, like right before the pandemic. He had a show in the city. He’s doing his thing, I’m doing mine. As long as he keeps doing his [thing], I’ll be proud of him.
Let’s talk about Forgetting Katy Perry real quick. That was the mixtape that never actually materialized. You dropped so many dope joints from the project without it ever being released.
Shout out to Stress The White Boy.
I think he had a joint with “The Ghost Of Travie McCoy and Katy Perry” which I believe had another title. A smooth, jazzy sample.
I think it might have been “I Can’t Wait” by Nu Shooz but he found an acoustic version of it but I wanted the original 80’s version but he found the acoustic and just crushed it. That shit hit so hard.
The reason I didn’t put that mixtape out fully, was because I didn’t wanna seem like a sour sop. I didn’t wanna seem bitter or like I was in my room crying every night because of what happened. Like, I fucked all that shit up, that was on me. I didn’t wanna make her seem like the bad guy. But then she dropped a song called “Circle the Drain” where she threw me all the way under the bus. Then I was like damn, you don’t want that beef [laughs] but I let her rock. I was like, fuck it. She got her emotions out. I put out a couple of songs where I said shit I had to say. But beyond that, it’s like keep it movin’.
"Had I put out that mixtape [Forgetting Katy Perry], I would’ve felt like a simp. There were a lot of songs that we did for that mixtape that didn’t necessarily have to do with her and our relationship that ended up making it out there. I did a joint with Joe Budden that was fucking crazy."
Had I put out that mixtape, I would’ve felt like a simp. There were a lot of songs that we did for that mixtape that didn’t necessarily have to do with her and our relationship that ended up making it out there. I did a joint with Joe Budden that was fucking crazy. I also did another joint called “Get High” with Tame One from Artifacts which was one of my favorite joints. It’s all about smoking bud or whatever but there were a lot of joints that weren’t necessarily aimed at her in particular. A lot of those are on YouTube, I think.
We were going to take those songs that weren’t about Katy and put them out together on a mixtape called Death Comedy Jam. A lot of the songs that we started for that ended up online and they’re still out there. I talked to Stress last week and him and I are definitely gonna get up soon and start working on some new shit.
Gym Class Heroes was able to perform with Fall Out Boy and all these pop-punk bands then go and open up for T-Pain and Young Money. I think I just saw a picture with you and Nicki on the “I Am Music” tour.
I think it was like they had never been introduced to a n***a like me before. A funny story about that tour, about two weeks into that tour, I get off stage and I go into my dressing room, and Wayne’s stylist is going through my wardrobe case. I’m like, “1) why are you in here? 2) who the fuck are you? 3) why are you going through my shit? And she’s like, “I’m Wayne’s stylist. He likes what you been wearing on this tour.”
That explains everything.
Everything. So listen, after that tour, Wayne stopped wearing the fucking 4XL Bape hoodies, the size 40 jeans. He started wearing skinnys. After that tour, Wayne changed his whole shit up. I don’t wanna say I’m the one responsible but I am [laughs]. Like deadass. After that tour, like visually, he was a whole different rapper. A whole different person. Not to say I influenced him to get into skateboarding but like the whole way he presented himself and dressed. Like, deadass I caught his stylist going through my wardrobe case. It was mad weird, it was mad weird.
I never brought it up to Wayne or anything but I definitely got on her ass, for sure. I was like, “You can’t just come into my fuckin’ dressin’ room and go through my shit.” After that tour, I think everybody noticed like “Wait, this is Lil Wayne? Like what the fuck?” That tour ended up doing so well we ended up doing secondary markets so, instead of doing a four-month tour, it was like a six to eight-month tour. It was crazy.
Then Lil Wayne drops Rebirth, right?
I’m not gonna say a damn thing.
Just on the topic of Wayne, I wanna get back to As Cruel as School Children. The deluxe had several solid remixes with formidable MCs. But for starters, can we clarify the meaning behind “Viva La White Girl?”
A lot of people thought I was a huge cokehead after putting that song out. But it’s a metaphor for how addicting music can be. Obviously, coke was the reference, and Wayne dove straight into it. I feel like the fact he said what he said and dug in so deep and then you have the Gym Class part, it made it even more ambiguous which made the song more mysterious. People were like, Is he talking about cocaine? Well, Wayne obviously is but like, the basis of the song is just talking about how addictive music can be. Not only music in and of itself but the art of making music.
When you hear a dope song, your pleasure receptors react the same way when you do cocaine, not that I would know. I’m not a cocaine addict. I’ve had my issues with addiction but not cocaine. But if you go back and pick apart the lyrics, you’ll see. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book, you know? I feel like everything that I’ve made musically is a choose-your-own-adventure book. I don’t feel like it’s my job to explain every lyric. You take what you want from it. I would be happier to hear what you got from it than what I have to tell you.
Another record I wanted to ask you about is “Overdose” with Drake. How did that song come about and what do you remember from working with Drake so early in his career?
Oh shit. My man, Omen, who produced it, was like, ‘I know this kid Drake from Toronto who’s dope.’ He sent me his first mixtape. It might have been Comeback Season. I was like, ‘Oh shit, homie’s nice’but you could feel the Kanye presence there. Omen was like, ‘I wanna put out this mixtape.’ Something called You Be the Judge or something like that. But it was me, Drake, and Mickey Factz. We were all tryna outdo each other, obviously, as you do on a crew track. But that was like the first song that a lot of Americans heard Drake on. Omen had us all kinda talk about our verses and shit and take videos so he could post them. Drake did his and was like, ‘Y’all know who had the hottest verse on that shit.’ So I was like, “Oh word, n***a? Word? It’s like that?” [chuckles] but it was all friendly competition. That mixtape was crazy. Omen put all three of us together. But, yeah, “Overdose on Life” was the first time Americans had heard his voice, and then all to the fucking races.
"My man, Omen, who produced it ["Overdose"], was like, ‘I know this kid Drake from Toronto who’s dope.’ He sent me his first mixtape. It might have been Comeback Season. I was like, ‘Oh shit, homie’s nice’ but you could feel the Kanye presence there...But that was like the first song that a lot of Americans heard Drake on."
Yeah, I mean, Drake definitely had a strong following in Canada already that was beginning to bleed stateside by that point.
Of course. K-os was my dude [from Canada]. I did a joint with him called “I Can’t Leave You Alone” on his record Black on Blonde. Real talk, I don’t even think Kevin even knows this, but my whole verse on that was about my relationship with heroin. I didn’t want to straight-up tell him because the song was about a female you don’t want to mess with anymore but I was like this is a great way to get this off my chest without being super vivid. Without people being like, ‘Yo, this mothafucka a junkie’ [laughs]. This was back when I was being a knucklehead and that shit helped me. Not that I would promote, it’s not the way.
How much did addiction impede your career?
I was a professional bridge burner at one point. One, I never did drugs with anyone else. I’d always be isolated and I never wanted people to know that I was on drugs. But it’s hard for people to think you’re not doing drugs when you’re like drooling on yourself. It’s hard to hide that. To me, it was so embarrassing and it felt like I had a weakness. The last thing you want people to think when you’re in that position is that you’re weak.
"I was a professional bridge burner at one point. One, I never did drugs with anyone else. I’d always be isolated and I never wanted people to know that I was on drugs. But it’s hard for people to think you’re not doing drugs when you’re like drooling on yourself. It’s hard to hide that. To me, it was so embarrassing and it felt like I had a weakness. The last thing you want people to think when you’re in that position is that you’re weak."
There were times I had to cancel shows, cancel tours. It got crazy. It took one morning waking up and just going to my medicine cabinet and throwing my pills away and saying, like, “I’m choosing to live.” I never thought I’d see 30, bro. Real talk. And I’m turning 40 next month. But that morning, I woke up like “I need help.” That’s all it takes. All it takes is for you to realize that you can’t do this shit by yourself.
If there’s advice out there I can give to anybody going through what I went through — all it takes is to tell somebody you need help. Tell somebody you really trust that you need help and they’ll help you. There’s a whole community of people out there going through what you went through or worse. Just going to rehab, I’m hearing stories. I’m like, “Damn, I thought I had it bad.” You’re hearing this pop star with unlimited access to money and drugs.
There was one point when we were doing shows at colleges and small clubs, kids would throw pills onstage. I’d have my assistant run around and grab all the bags and at the end, I’d just pour ‘em out on the table and go online and figure out what each pill was. I did a deep interview in the UK where I said, “Please, please don’t throw pills on stage.” I can’t even tell you how many times during Warped Tour, kids would bring me their four-five-months sober chips and stuff and be like “I wanted to give this to you, you did this for me.” I still have a whole box of them upstairs. Not to be cheesy, but like Peter Parker said: With great power comes great responsibility. Not that I ever signed to be a superhero or a savior of the world but at the same time, I would never glorify what I went through. I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to go through what I’ve been through.
So, I wanted to talk about signing to T-Pain’s Nappy Boy. I guess on a more specific note, signing directly to a rapper. Do you think that’s a good idea?
Pain and I, we clicked like this on the first day of tour. The same sense of humor and everything. I remember he had a Segway on the third day of tour and he let me rock it all the time and a few days later he brought me one and I was like, ‘Really, bro? Stop it.’
So, he had a whole studio on his bus, and a stripper pole. And when Pain records [at Hit Factor], he always has five fucking flatscreens with porn on each one. I’ve never seen some shit like this. It’s the craziest thing. At one point, he was obsessed with Jada Fire. We actually did a song called “Left Hand Girl” where we’re talking about jerking off and he had a line where he said, "Jada Fire DVD” or some shit. That was a little different, you know what I mean?
"When T-Pain records [at Hit Factor], he always has five fucking flatscreens with porn on each one. I’ve never seen some shit like this. It’s the craziest thing. At one point, he was obsessed with Jada Fire. We actually did a song called “Left Hand Girl” where we’re talking about jerking off and he had a line where he said, "Jada Fire DVD” or some shit. That was a little different."
But we did a song called “That’s Not Cool” on his bus. Then we started talking more and more and I was like, ‘Why don’t you just produce a whole album for me?’ He was like ‘Fuck it. You Nappy Boy now.’ I remember the night I got my Nappy Boy chain on stage, I think it was in Atlanta. You know, you see everybody get their Roc-A-Fella chains or their YMCMB chains. I never thought in a million years I’d get chained onstage. It felt so good. There was never anything contractual, just all love. It still is.
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Let’s talk about the album to close. You dropped “Spoonful Of Cinnamon.” You were in your 20s when you dropped your last single as a lead artist and you’re going to be 40 when this album drops. So what kind of maturity should your fans expect?
Don’t expect anything. I didn’t expect the album to turn out how it did. The whole album was produced by Jerry Kritzstein and co-produced by myself. Matt from Gym Class played drums on almost every track. I wanted to keep it the least feature-heavy as possible so there are probably two or three features from up-and-coming artists. My homegirl Hamzaa from the U.K. who’s fucking amazing, and my man Teddy Swims. If you haven’t heard of him yet, please peep him. Homie looks like a Hell’s Angel but sings like fuckin’ James Blake. It’s crazy. I got my man Frank from The Gallows, a hardcore band from the UK, to do the intro.
The album’s called Never Slept Better. We fucked with a lot of frequencies that make you relaxed. It’s the frequency that Gregorian Monks chant in and we fucked with a lot of frequencies. It’s very trippy but don’t expect anything. Whatever your expectations are, it’s not going to meet any of them. As far as good music goes, you’re gonna love the album. It’s probably the most proud I’ve been of a project in my life.
Will you be spittin’?
Of course. Over the years, I’ve gotten more comfortable with my singing voice but I’m rapping up some shit, boy. Believe that.
How did the album come about?
We, as Gym Class, went down to Nashville to start this album. About two sessions in, things got a little rocky. I don’t want to get too into details, but we got to a point where there was some inner turmoil going on. A lot of us were like, ‘Maybe, this isn’t the right time.’ Then, I was like, fuck that. I’ve invested too much of myself into this album to not see it through. So Jarrad and I said, “Fuck it, we gonna make it happen.”
When we were through, we were like, ‘This is like nothing I’ve heard.’ Jarrad was like, ‘This isn’t like anything I’ve ever done.’ So we went in at like 11th hour and did like three or four more joints and “Spoonful of Cinnamon” was one of them. Just get ready for a ride. Smoke you a fat one, put your headphones on, and just fucking vibe.
I’m excited to hear it. Does that mean we’re never gonna hear and see Gym Class Heroes back on the road?
That’s not the case at all. I think when the time is right and all the bumps and potholes are filled in, it will happen. I’m a Gym Class Hero for life and Matt is too. When the time is right, it’ll happen.