This is the first single from animated quartet Gorillaz's third studio album, Plastic Beach. The song was leaked on the net hours before it was due to premiere on Britain's NME Radio. On his Twitter account Gorillaz's Murdoc Niccals attributed its leakage to Russian pirates. He wrote: "A leak! A leak! Plastic Beach has sprung a leak! One of those Russian pirates has put a bullet hole in my island! My single's leaked! STYLO!"
The song features R&B singer Bobby Womack crooning the chorus, as well as rapper Mos Def, who joined Gorillaz as an animated character named "Sun Moon Stars" on the album. Womack told Rolling Stone about being recruited by Gorillaz for Plastic Beach. "They called me from London and said, 'Man, we want to do something with you.'"
Womack added that when the unfinished track arrived at his California home he was going to turn down the collaboration but changed his mind after his daughter recommended the band. "In the days when I would get loaded, I would have thought this was great," said the singer. "Now that I'm straight, I think I'm too square to know where they're at. I kept listening and thought, 'Damn, why do they want me?' It's all new to me. The only thing that convinced me was my daughter said, 'Dad, you got to do this. They're awesome.' I said, 'You're hip to them?'"
Womack went on to say that he thought Gorillaz was a band of actual primates until his daughter explained they are a rotating cast of musicians: "I thought she was talking about a real gorilla. I said, 'I worked with a lot of people, but I never worked with a gorilla.'" Womack then called the band and agreed to participate. "I just called them back and said, 'I want to be a help and bring something to the table. I gotta be honest though, I don't know why you want me.' They said, 'It's about a plastic ocean. Just imagine yourself in a plastic ocean. Just get on there. Do what you wanna do. It'll work out.' It should be interesting."
Before cutting this track, Gorillaz already had a connection with Bobby Womack. On "Gorillaz On My Mind," their contribution to the Blade 2 soundtrack, rapper Redman dropped the lines "Soul survivor, I write with Bobby Womack hands."
Miles Leonard, president of Parlophone (Gorillaz' UK record company) described this in Billboard magazine as: "a dark, twisted track that sounds like the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack on MDMA."
Womack told Q magazine March 2010 that he gave the band a scare during the recording of this song. He said: "I'm diabetic, and after an hour I could feel myself passing out. Last thing I remember is thinking, Lord, don't let this happen to me. They walked me to the couch and gave me a banana. In two or three minutes I woke up and said, 'Let's go again.' They said, 'No, we got it on tape.' I know it musta freaked them out because it freaked me out. Murdoc kept a straight face. He said, 'I'm telling you, man, you're my idol.' I said, 'well don't kill your idol.'"
Bassist Murdoc told The NME: "This is a new sound for Gorillaz. An electro-ish 'crack funk' sound, with a little bit of politics and a lot of soul going down. With 'Stylo', I wanted the music to feel euphoric, whilst still putting across how precarious our tightly packed situation is now, worldwide. Where we're at as a species on this overpopulated planet ('Coming on to the Overload. Overload. Overload')."
The song's animated music video, which was directed by Jamie Hewlett, follows Gorillaz bass player Murdoc Niccals through a dangerous trip to the mainland from his new home on the Plastic Beach. The bassist together with 2D and an android Noodle find themselves being pursued in a car chase on a desert road by bounty hunter Bruce Willis. Murdoc recalled of the video shoot, "Someone was chasing me through the desert! Luckily I had my camera crew following me and they captured it all on film, so I've cut it up and stuck it back together for my 'Stylo' video! That'll learn me not to leave the safe, toxic, isolated haven of Plastic Beach."
The clip set a new record for a music video premiered on YouTube. It was viewed a record-breaking 900,000 times in its first 24 hours on March 2 2010, the day of its release, beating out previous record holders U2 and Weezer.
UK reggae artist Eddy Grant alleged that this song plagiarizes his 1977 track "Time Warp" by using the same keyboard section as his hit. "This is pure piracy, it is an obvious infringement of my song," he said. "Anyone who knows 'Time Warp' will know this is 'Time Warp' with people singing and rapping over it, [along] with funny little noises. 'Time Warp' is a very popular song and has been a staple of the DJ scene for many years and I feel total disrespect from Gorillaz and their management company. It's such an obvious copy that from day one the band and their management should have taken control of this situation with EMI Publishing. I would like the outcome to be that the band admits that they have lifted my song, that I have a full credit for the song and an apology from the band."
Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees was meant to sing on this as well, but he turned down Gorillaz at the last minute. According to a Reddit AMA with Damon Albarn he developed a "mysterious ear infection" while on the way to the studio.