For Gym Class Heroes frontman Travie McCoy, whose biggest song to date is the 2006 #1 smash "Cupid's Chokehold," talking about the highs and lows of love has never been a difficult task. So to deal with his onetime relationship with Katy Perry—which ended in 2009, at which point she began dating Russell Brand, who she's now engaged to—he couldn't help but poke fun at his situation with the upcoming Forgetting Sarah Marshall-inspired mixtape, Forgetting Katy Perry.
The New York native's first solo release, Lazarus, which will be released on Fueled By Ramen/Decaydance, as well as T-Pain's Nappy Boy records, stays in line with the mixtape's humorous, self-deprecating tone. It also boasts collaborations with T-Pain and Cee-Lo, as well as the Bruno Mars-assisted lead single, "Billionaire," which currently sits at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100. Complex sat down with McCoy to chop it up about what he's learned about from working with T-Pain, what he told Lil Wayne before the rapper started his prison bid, and (of course) his relationship with a certain busty pop vixen.
Interview By Toshitaka Kondo
Complex: How involved was T-Pain in the recording process of Lazarus?
Travie McCoy: He was working on his record downstairs in the Hit Factory while I was working upstairs. He was like my big brother. I'd record joints, go downstairs, and get the okay. If he was bobbing his head and laughing, then I knew we had one. If not, go back upstairs and get to working. He was basically there for the whole process, but he was caught up in doing his record. He was more on some Mr. Miyagi shit.
Complex: He didn't produce anything on the album?
Travie McCoy: No, there's three or four tracks on the mixtape that he did. I'm giving everything to Clinton [Sparks] tomorrow. So it'll drop in a few weeks. It'll be out before the album for sure.
Complex: You got the same release date as Plies. Do you share his affinity for gaudy chains?
Travie McCoy: I got a big Nappy Boy chain. I whipped it out for the ["Billionaire"] video. I'm not a big bulky jewelry dude. Lately I've been on my antique jewelry shit. I got turquoise jewelry and some vintage shit. I'm on tour all the time, so I stop at thrift shops. The minute we hit a town, I'll have my assistant Googling thrift stores. I have him go check beforehand then we go there. I like little, subtle shit.
Complex: Does T-Pain still wear that "Big Ass Chain"?
Travie McCoy: Nah. It wasn't really a big-ass chain, it was a big-ass charm. The chain wasn't that big, it was the fucking piece that was big. My boy did that. He did a couple G-Shocks for me. He's a sweetheart, man. Customer service at its finest. He'll fly out to clean your shit on his penny.
Complex: What'd you learn from having T-Pain involved in the process of this album?
Travie McCoy: I don't use this term loosely, but he's a genius. Watching him in the studio, he takes the craft of songwriting so seriously. Being around and absorbing all that, I took that upstairs with me. It was really helpful to have him downstairs while I was working. Anyone who takes the craft of songwriting seriously I radiate towards. Spending time with Daryl Hall was a dream come true. I picked his brain a lot because Hall And Oats is timeless. Pain is definitely a genius in his own right. Thr33 Ringz is definitely one of my top 10 albums. It's one of those albums you listen to front-to-back.
Complex: Moving on, how have things been going with your cousin Tyga?
Travie McCoy: He's working on the Chris Brown mixtape. I put out his first record on my imprint, Bat Squad, off of Decaydance. I put him in front of Wayne at the VMAs and they hit it off, and now he's Young Money and I couldn't be more proud of him.
Complex: How did you meet Wayne?
Travie McCoy: I met Wayne before the whole VMAs thing. It was kind of on some mutual respect for each other-type deal. We did the "Viva la White Girl (remix)" and he killed it. I was like, "Wow."
Complex: Was that the first time you ever met him?
Travie McCoy: Yeah. I had bumped into him at events and whatnot, but that was the first time we really chopped it up. That's another dude whose work ethic is amazing and inspiring.
Complex: Did you speak to him before he went to prison, or have you spoken to him since?
Travie McCoy: Actually, I did speak to him beforehand. He was at Hit Factory grinding, like when he was making ten videos [during Super Bowl weekend]. I basically told him to keep his head up. I haven't had a chance to write him, but I just got his address.
Complex: Did you hear he just got in trouble because he had iPod headphones, which are considered contraband in there?
Travie McCoy: Really? Wow, I didn't know that. That's crazy. That reminds me when I was younger, I had been writing graffiti since I was 11, and when I was grounded not only would my dad take away the TV and the Nintendo, but he would take away all my pens and shit. I couldn't even draw. So I couldn't imagine not having music. Well, 1) being in Rikers and not having your livelihood and 2) not having your music. But I can imagine what's going to happen when he gets out and what he's going to have for us.
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Complex: The first time I ever heard of Drake was on a track he did with you, "Overdose on Life." When did you meet Drake?
Travie McCoy: We were introduced through Omen, who produced the track; we met in '07 after we did the record at the Warped Tour. I met him in Toronto and we kicked it all day. He is such a humble and sweet dude. Super-talented. It was the same vibe I got when I met Bruno. I was like, "This dude is gonna be a star." You catch that vibe and here we are today and he is that dude. When you have that much hype behind you, there are gonna be a ton of people questioning you. I'm sure Wale and Asher went through it. People are gonna try and see what the hype is about and test it.
Complex: Let's get into some songs off Lazarus. Can you talk about the inspiration for the record, "The Manual," that you and T-Pain did together?
Travie McCoy: There's no instruction book to this type of lifestyle. People ridicule you for the silliest thing, like what you wore to an event. At the end of the day, I'm just being me—if that's not good enough for you, tell me what is. Usually people don't have an answer.
Complex: "Akidagain" was obviously inspired by Ahmad's classic, "Back In The Day." What made you decide to go in that direction?
Travie McCoy: That's just one of those timeless records. The hook in itself is so nostalgic. It takes you back to that Ahmad song, but at the same time we got the Betty Wright kids choir to sing it. And you can't lose with kids. It's a record looking back on where I came from 'til now. The first verse is grade school, second verse is high school into college, and the third verse is where I'm at now and reflecting on the first two verses. How things changed and the things I deal with now, and how much easier things were back then. That's kind of like my throwback track.
Complex: In that song, you talk about finding out about Wu-Tang Clan from Rap City and your favorite song being "Can It Be So Simple" that summer.
Travie McCoy: The song means summer to me. It was the summer of '94. Remember when you could get 10 cassettes for a penny? I did it with a fake name, Jarvis McCray. Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Midnight Marauders, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and 93 'Til Infinity. I listened to those records over and over. If it wasn't for those albums, I wouldn't be in the position I'm in now. They were like my hip-hop boot camp. Those four albums definitely molded me. As years passed, I got into a lot more underground and backpack-type shit. I would take the four-hour bus trip from upstate New York—Geneva—just to go to Fat Beats to see the new hot shit. This is back when Arsonists was popping, Non Phixion was killing shit, and Cage was destroying. Bobbito and Stretch had everything on lock.
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Complex: Was "Don't Pretend" written from personal experience?
Travie McCoy: Of course. That's probably the most personal joint on the record. I wanted to keep the record fun and upbeat and positive. When Chad Beatz, who produced that for me, played me it, I was like, "Whoa." We got Colin [Munroe] to sing the hook. Emotionally, I wanted it to come across almost like I was crying. Luckily enough, I had just landed in Miami. Whenever I'm away from Miami for a while and come back, those first three days I have the worst allergies in the world. I recorded it the day I got back, so my allergies were fucked up, I was so congested. I recorded it then listened back and it sounded like I was teared up. I wanted that raw emotion to come across. Listening to it, you're like, "Damn, he's definitely going through some shit." I was second-guessing putting it on there, because I didn't want to kill the vibe, but it's the last song on there. The last song you listen to is a setup for the next Gym Class record that is a lot more introspective and personal.
Complex: So was the song about Katy Perry?
Travie McCoy: Ehh...
Complex: There is line that says "Was I just another step in the progression for you?"
Travie McCoy: It was hinting more to the career aspect—but not to throw stones, but I think it was inspired by that whole situation. At the end of the day, I think anyone who has been thorough some shit can relate to that song. It could have been about my girlfriends before, but I'ma keep it real with you, it was definitely about Katy Perry. [Laughs.]
Complex: With that particular line, do you feel you were used as a step in her progression to upgrade to Russell Brand?
Travie McCoy: I definitely felt a certain way about the whole situation. Having a year and a half to reflect on it, you start questioning everything...
Complex: Like "Did she ever really like me? Was she just with me to get with a bigger star?"
Travie McCoy: Exactly.
Complex: There was a lyric "I knew about him the whole time, the hotels, the phone calls, the whole nine."
Travie McCoy: It is what it is. It's straightforward. The timelines... she got engaged so quickly after. I was like "Really?" I had to sit back and reassess what was really going on. After you have some time to start thinking about it, you start putting things together. It's been a year in a half. I'm over it. I'm a lot happier and I think the record reflects that. The summer is coming up and the last thing I wanna do is put people in a sad mood for summer.
Complex: Are you still in contact with her?
Travie McCoy: Nah.
Complex: So you gave her no heads-up about the mixtape?
Travie McCoy: Nah but I'm sure she knows. The mixtape is not airing out any dirty laundry. If anything, it's me poking fun at myself. If you've seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall, that's my life. I'm that dude.
Complex: What scene from that movie could you relate to the most?
Travie McCoy: The entire movie, minus the resort. No awkward run-ins yet. But just the coincidences that went down and the fact that it's Russell Brand.
Complex: Have you ever spoken to Russell Brand?
Travie McCoy: Nah, I haven't.
Complex: Are you concerned with people perceiving you as being bitter because of the mixtape?
Travie McCoy: Nah, I think the title will throw people off a little bit, but I think when they hear the music it'll be okay. I think there is only one reference to Katy on the mixtape. It was just that the title was so fitting, I had to take advantage of it.
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WATCH THE VIDEO FOR TRAVIE MCCOY'S NEW SINGLE, "BILLIONAIRE" FEATURING BRUNO MARS: