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4 Side Projects That Blew Up

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Ah, the side project – an escape exit to reinvent your sound, escape the artistic confines/expectations of the main gig, or experiment with ideas that could potentially damage your overall legacy. In most cases, a side project is a win if it isn’t completely unlistenable. But there have actually been a few cases where they weren’t just great, but actually even eclipsed the success of the bands/groups through which its members first entered the spotlight.

1) Gnarls Barkley

When the duo of CeeLo Green and Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton first came to be in 2006, the idea behind the group seemed more novel than anything else. Green – whose soulful voice and riveting standout performances on songs with Outkast and his own group Goodie Mob – had been struggling to break through with his two previous solo records, while Burton had yet to fully deliver a real and complete project, having had the most notoriety with his buzzed-about Beatles/Jay Z mash-up The Grey Album. The pair released the undeniable “Crazy,” a single that would be certified double-platinum and win a Grammy. With two albums under their belt, Gnarls Barkley went from a goofy-named side project into a legitimate band.


2) Gorillaz

Another idea that seemed to jump straight out of a stoned dorm room brainstorming session, Blur frontman Damon Albarn’s concept for a cartoon band instantly grabbed the public’s attention with the tripped out sound (and visuals) for Gorillaz’s first single “Clint Eastwood” in 2000. Working with a rotating cast of producers, musicians, and vocalists for every project since, Gorillaz has become the perfect vehicle for Albarn to experiment with styles and directions – and has found greater success in the States than Blur ever did.


3) Run the Jewels

Though both Killer Mike and El-P had achieved some impressive goals over the course of their individual solo careers (the former nabbed a Grammy for his show-stealing spot on Outkast’s “The Whole World,” while the latter spun independent hip hop on its head twice through his first group Company Flow and later as the founder/label head of underground hip hop label Definitive Jux), few could have predicted that their unlikely collaboration would bring them the hugest audience yet as they both prepared to enter their 40’s. With a propulsive live show, hard-hitting musical aesthetic, a willingness to give away their albums for free, and an interesting counterbalance of individual styles and personalities, Run the Jewels transformed from a one-off tour project into one of the biggest rap groups on the scene today, playing nearly every festival worldwide.


4) The Postal Service

Doubling as a side project and sort of indie supergroup, The Postal Service – comprised of Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel), and Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley) – released just one album in their career, 2003’s Give Up – a record that would become their label Sub Pop’s highest-selling album since Nirvana’s Bleach. Though they reissued the album and went on a reunion tour over a decade later, the group announced its permanent disbandment shortly after.

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