“When Gorillaz rampaged onto the scene in 2001, it was perfect timing. The ’70s animated band Josie and the Pussycats had just starred in a full-length live-action feature, with a soundtrack helmed by some of alternative rock’s best (Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo; Bif Naked; and Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, to name a few). The bubblegum flick, with origins in the Archie Comics universe, was the litmus test for Damon Albarn’s rock and hip-hop hybrid.
Gorillaz were undeniably cool. By pairing the Blur mastermind with underground graphic novelist Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl), the project opened up a realm of possibility for both auteurs. Albarn demonstrated his affinity for experimentation throughout Blur’s career, infusing house, trip-hop, Francophile pop, African choruses and more, sometimes within a single song. But even with a delightfully scattershot record like 1994’s Parklife, which ranged from the giddy disco of “Girls & Boys” to the calliope dream “The Debt Collector”, on his resume, Albarn wanted to break free of rock’s shackles.
“Finally, someone let me out of my cage,” rapped Del tha Funky Homosapien on the first Gorillaz single, “Clint Eastwood.” Amid spaghetti western strings and plodding refrains, Del and Albarn made a modern-day “Walk This Way.” It was more cynical than the Run-DMC–Aerosmith collaboration, but it was just as significant in its shifting of cultures. New millennium, new rules: Hip-hop fans, rockers, rave kids and everyone in between could get down to this jam…”