Remember that kid you picked on for not having the latest kicks? Or the one you made fun of for having problems at home? How about the one you beat up in the gym just because? Well that guy is now the most popular kid in school, and he goes by the name of Machine Gun Kelly.
Growing up was never easy for the Cleveland city native. Sleeping on other peoples couches, seeing close friends go to prison for life and witnessing family members just disappear became a regular occurrence. However, that’s all changed now after some seriously hard grafting, which in turn lead to him securing a record deal with, a man who knows a little thing or two about the music industry, Diddy.
Sitting down with SoulCulture on a brief trip to the UK, MGK, unusually cool, calm, and casual – his video antics sit him at the completely opposite end of the emotional scale – gives us an insight in to what a not-so-renowned hip-hop city looks and sounds like, explains his hate for the word YOLO, and informs us that DMX in the booth is just as you’d expect him to be.
With his debut album now in stores, Lace Up is the result of many years grinding it out on the Cleveland underground scene. With smashes such as ‘Chip Off The Block’ and ‘Cleveland’ putting him on the map, the rapid fire spitter has definitely earned his stripes as far as hip-hop goes.
“Everything you’ve heard on record is not fabricated,” he explains. “Everything I’ve spoken on so far have all been pertained to my life, and I haven’t had to reach out and use other peoples stories yet because I’m not at that point in my career where I’ve rapped so much that I’ve run out of shit from my life to talk about.” With so many trials and tribulations, MGK’s rap sheet as far as his life makes Joe Budden’s past look like a Toy Story sequel.
One record that cuts deep into these turbulent times is “The Return.” Featured on the Bad Boy signee’s 2010 mixtape Lace Up, he discusses his violent home life, tiresome school days, and a relative that endangered his life.
Particularly interested in the lines, “My schizophrenic cousin tried to end my life while I’m sleeping,” we asked MGK to elaborate. “[He] was actually someone I grew up with,” he says. “His name’s Marco. He was my dad’s older brother’s son. My dad’s brother had died in a car crash so my dad took him in.”
Outlining that he believed his uncle’s side of the family had a history of mental deficiencies, he continues to describe Marco. “He was like the older brother I never had. He was in my life before I was even born. He was really smart, [and] definitely my dad’s favourite. He had schizophrenia, but this mother fucker went to Pepperdine which I’m pretty sure is an Ivy League school. So he was really really smart but [in the end] it just came down to him stopping taking his shit.”
Recounting the events that lead to the above mentioned line, MGK admits, “Basically he isn’t around anymore because of the statement I made in the song.” He continues, “My dad actually told me everything when I turned 18. Me and my dad got in this huge argument, it was kinda like the falling out argument that we had, I had blamed him for [Marco] not being around and shit.
“I always thought my dad had killed this mother fucker or some crazy shit [like that]. My dad ended up telling me that when I was asleep one night [Marco] had come in my room, left, sat next to him and told him that he didn’t think I should… It was really creepy the exact statement that my dad [said to me]. It was some shit like I shouldn’t be in the house anymore or I shouldn’t be around anymore. He was hinting at the fact he [thought I should die], and after that, when he kinda threatened my life, my dad sent him away. I guess he’s still in a psychiatric ward.”
Big on his city, Kelz was a hometown hero way before the national and international fame. With the only major names, other than himself, to come out of the Forest City being Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and KiD CuDi, we’re told that Cleveland is a funny town as far as hip-hop goes; “We hold down the weird people,” he says. “It’s like Gucci Mane came [once] and he was bigger than Jay-Z. It’s weird.”
Quick to come to the defense of his city he adds, “I think that’s what was sweet about it. We had our own little scene there. Growing up in Cleveland was cool because we had this really internal scene. There was a point in like ’05/’06 where Cleveland was so hot but none of y’all knew about it because it was very very internal. So I grew up idolizing weird people.”
Admitting an admiration for southern music, MGK sits back with a smile on his face to recount a chance meeting with the King of the Grillz, Paul Wall. “What was cool about Cleveland was the south got a lot of their start through Cleveland. So I got to watch [the likes of] Paul Wall, Mike Jones, and Chamillionaire [blow up]. I got to watch them come to the place I used to work at before they had any of the chains and shit that they [now] have. You know what I’m saying? The place I was working at was this airbrush shop and [one time] Paul Wall didn’t have any clothes for his show, and I remember witnessing this and being like, ‘Oh my God! We just gave this mother fucker a shirt. That’s crazy’.”
Being that his flow is of a high octane nature, we decide to visit the rapid rhymers influences as far as emcees go. Surely Twista we ask, to which he replies, “Definitely Twista,” and then adding, “Definitely Bone Thugs, [and] what’s cool about that is we actually have a good relationship now. We just saw them in Sweden the other day. How weird is that man? Machine Gun Kelly and Bone Thugs in the same town overseas in Sweden. It’s fuckin’ weird. We went and partied together.”
Also touching upon an artist who appeared on the remix to his Billboard smash “Wild Boy,” MGK states, “Mystikal was big. There was certain rap that I was allowed to play in the [airbrush shop] and Bone Thugs was one of them [while I could also play] any No Limit [Records]. So I think Mystikal was a big inspiration on how my flow developed.”
Besides Machine Gun Kelly, Cleveland is also the starting point for the act of raging. “Raging is taking negative energy and turning it in to positive energy, which sometimes can end as negative energy because you can do dumb shit that [puts] you in places like jail, which is negative,” he explains with a grin on his face.
Describing one of the craziest raging moment he’s ever witnessed, Kelz laughs and says, “We did a show in Bowling Green. It was sold out and you couldn’t get in. [This guy] broke the fucking window with his head to get in. He spent like three weeks in a hospital, and after he got out of hospital he went to jail.
“I was thinking, “God damn dog. Was the concert really worth it?” You know what I’m saying? He busted it down and all the people rushed in and he didn’t even get to see the show. He was the one laying on the ground all bloody while people trampled over him to go and see the show.” Showing us an injury he sustained recently raging at a show, he adds, “It always involves blood man. Even this was just from one show. You know what I’m saying? We’re always coming home with battle scars after our shows.”
While never claiming he started the act of raging, fellow Cleveland native KiD CuDi last year caught a few feelings over the word raging. Posting on his Tumblr page, “There’s only one original rager, and that’s me. I started this rage shit. The lifestyle, the term, the whole new meaning and definition of the word,” he didn’t directly call out MGK, but a few jabs were steered at one another. Admitting, “I was actually really upset about it [because] I was like, “Dude, it’s a fucking word.” You know what I’m saying?,” we move swiftly on.
While moving away from CuDi, beef is still on the menu. This time it’s with Eminem protege Yelawolf. With a slight period of going back and forth with each other earlier on in the year, the pair seem to have now stopped taking pot shots. “We talked about doing a record together when I first saw him after confronting him about the whole situation,” the young rhymer informs us. “He gave me his number. I texted him and was like, “Yo, we should do [a record]. Let’s make it happen.” [However] I never got a response.”
Breaking down what actually happened, MGK goes in to a bit of detail – “There was the one interview where he was like, “Machine Gun Kelly fans mistake me for him and I’m just like fuck it yeah I’ll sign your Birkenstock.” He was putting me in this category [as if] I have these preppy rich fans, and that’s so the opposite of the case. I just came off the Tech N9ne tour which is a very very very grungy [event]. I don’t need to speak on the types of fans I bring out. Shit, we just came from Germany. We were bringing out straight punkers over there.”
Explaining his disappointment in how he handled the situation first time around, MGK says, “I had so many peoples opinions in my ear that I came off like this regretful mother fucker, when really my first reaction in any situation when someone says some smart shit to me is like, “Fuck you.” I’m a very, very, very, very un-soft mother fucker so when I see the response to this day I’m just disgusted that I even let peoples opinions get to me.”
Thinking a little bit more, he adds, “I’m the type of mother fucker now that’s like, ‘Dude, whatever man.’ At the end of the day that guy has had a lot of great opportunities. I’m a fan of his image and his work. If anything I think me and him should have done a record. I think that would have been the best move.”
Another two things you can associate with Machine Gun Kelly include Lace Up and EST, but what exactly are they? “Lace Up is like a mantra. A lifestyle. It’s a sign. A greeting. Lace Up is something that you kinda find your own definition to and you attached it to yourself or your life however you like,” he explains.
He uses an example from his European trip to describe its impact; “That’s why you have all walks of life that has it tattooed on them because it’s so broad. [I’ve] even witnessed it over here with people who can’t even speak English but you can do this (demonstrates the Lace Up ‘L’ with the thumb and index finger) and they’ll understand you perfectly. That’s very unique.”
As for EST, he says pointing to his EST tattoo on his collar bone, “It stands for Everyone Stands Together. It’s also the obvious; established [followed by] the year you were born. We cross out the year you were born because it doesn’t really matter when you were born. We speak for the young, the old, the middle aged. Even on mine the 1990 is crossed out.”
Making the mistake of comparing ‘Lace Up’ to the worldly popular YOLO, hilariously MGK let’s his distaste for YOLO comparisons show – “I fuckin’ hate YOLO! Fuck YOLO dude. YOLO is the worst thing ever. Death to YOLO. I hate YOLO and I hate anyone who supports YOLO.
“I hate white bitches that have that shit tattooed on their fuckin’ thighs. That shit is the worst. Fuck you! That’s so whack man. It’s honestly like… it’s a fun expression but the second shit gets commercialized that’s the second it becomes corny. That’s why I never describe what Lace Up means.”
With a slight grimace on his face, he continues with, “I never want just dumb ass drunks or College bitches that have no attachment to the meaning of my music walking around on campus like, “Why don’t you just fuck him? Fuck it… Lace Up!” I don’t want that. Just yesterday we were going up the Eiffel Tower and we had to go up that fuckin‘ elevator, and I fuckin‘ hate elevators, it was just like, “Fuck it just get on that bitch. YOLO.” It’s just funny. We say that shit as a joke. It’s funny. It’s not some shit that means something to us. Lace Up is something very, very strong.”
Telling us a few funny stories about how he came to be a part of Diddy’s Bad Boy imprint, the first involves leaving the music mogul hanging when his presence was requested.
“The first time I talked to Diddy I was in my basement. I had just got back from New York meeting with all these labels. I was laying in bed and my manager was like, “You’ll never guess who’s gonna call your phone in thirty seconds.” I was like, “Who?” She said, “Diddy.” I was then like, “Get the fuck outta here.” Sure enough thirty seconds later my phone rang – “Hello. Is this MGK? OK, I’m going to connect you to Puff.” [Diddy comes on the phone] “What’s up kid?” We started chopping it up. He wanted me to come out and see him, and I was like, “Ok.” Then I hung up the phone and was like, “Nah I’m not gonna go out and see him,” and I didn’t. He called back a week later and people were like, “What the fuck were you thinking? Why would you just play Puff?”
Obviously meeting him eventually, MGK’s first party experience with Puff was one to forever remember for more than one reason. Flying to Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps, Kelz remembers acting a bit like a big girls blouse – “We got stuck in an elevator together for like twenty minutes with 15 other people, and I was about to be the biggest pussy ever. Like I said [before] I fucking hate elevators. So I was [feeling] claustrophobic. The air was thinning and everyone was drunk.
“I almost told Puff to shut the fuck up because we pressed the help button and the lady was like, “Hi, what’s going on? Is there a problem?” Everyone was drunk and Puff was like, “Help Mother Fucker!” He was joking around about the shit at first. I was sitting there like, “Shut the fuck up. Tell them that we need help mother fucker for real.” They thought we were a bunch of drunk mother fuckers so they just hung up and no one came to help us and we ended up just getting ourselves out of that elevator. We had to climb out halfway between floors. It was so sketchy.” Adding a bit of information regarding the time spent outside of the elevator, he excitedly states, “This mother fucker showed me the craziest time. He took me to nine different clubs.”
Touching briefly upon his debut album, Lace Up, the Cleveland City representer describes an album with its fair share of genre hopping.
“I definitely dance around with genres on it. [Do] you remember on Chicken-n-Beer by Ludacris [and] that ‘Southern Fried Intro’? It’s a great intro. A crazy intro. I’ve tried to mimic how intros used to be. I got Avenged Sevenfold on it, well I got Matt Shadows who is the lead vocalist, and I got Citizen Gates, one of the lead guitarists. Avenged Sevenfold for those that don’t know are a metal band, and obviously from the opening track I already played with the genres. [On it] I’m rapping very, very, very hard bars. Fast bars [in fact] over a hip-hop beat but at the end you kinda hear the guitar shredding, and you hear the vocals scream.”
Listing a couple of other guest spots that feature on the album, MGK announces, “Me and Lil’ Jon took it all the way back to ’03, with an Eastside Boyz feel [to it]. Explaining the way in which he delivers his bars on this go round, he simply says, “I just attacked any fucking track I had.”
Admitting he is and always was a huge DMX fan, Kelz explains how they came to work with one another. “DMX had heard that I was such a big fan,” he explains. “I kept putting the vibe out there that I was a huge DMX fan and I guess one of his assistants ended up hearing about it and was a fan of my shit as well. So we got together and he gave me a chance. It took us about four hours to even listen to any music because we just got so caught up just talking to one another. We found so much common ground between conversations.”
So what was it like working with one of his idols? “When I got in the studio with him it was exactly how I pictured DMX to be. He was just very DMX. He was exactly how you’d think he would be. He’s crazy as fuck. He talks from the heart. He switches it up and gets fucking mad in a second. You know what I’m saying? And when he raps in the booth it’s some shit to see. It’s definitely some shit to see. He punches the air and shit. He barks. He means it. It’s not a gimmick. It’s really trippy.”
Eating into important tour schedule time, our time with MGK comes to a standstill. However, before he darts off to wherever he’s required in the world next, knowing DMX the way he does now, we just have to get his opinions on X’s recent belittling of both Drake and Young Jeezy. “I think that when DMX, or any [other] artist, says another artist’s name I think it’s awesome. I thought that’s what hip-hop was about,” hestates.
Finishing up he adds, “When Drake came to my city he had the balls to bring me out before I was even really hot. I mean, I was hot in my city, but I wasn’t hot nationally or even hot enough for a mother fucker of his stature to even bring me out. So obviously I’m not gonna speak down on him at all. But when DMX is saying these things about the Aaliyah album and the Drake thing it makes sense man. That was DMX’s old girl.
“What if Aaliyah didn’t like [Drake]. You know what I’m saying? As big a Nirvana fan as I am, or Sex Pistols fan, I never really play with their stuff because I’m kinda like, ‘Kurt [Cobain] could’ve hated me.’ So I don’t even like to delve in to the that.”