I’ve seen a million artists come out of Cleveland. I’ve seen a handful find success. The rap biz is fickle. There isn’t a formula to make it. You can’t get a rap degree at college, intern for a year and then get an entry level position with a firm and work your way up. There is a lot of guesswork. You have to have talent. You have to have luck. But most of all, you have to have “IT”.
When I first met MGK, I didn’t know he had “IT”. He was a goofy kid who I genuinely enjoyed hanging out with. We would do shows at Peabody’s and at that time I was absolutely the Host God. I did every show, thanks to my friendships with Troy Nethken and Earth ENT and Rick Coleman and Zelakhan from Supreme Fortune ENT. And at every show, MGK would appear next to me on stage and immediately begin asking for a set. He was never on the set list, and I would say “Bro, we’re behind schedule already- I can’t get you on!”. So he would smile, and wait. He would crack jokes and have us dying. He was so hyper. I mean CRAZY hyper. But he would never get mad or throw a tantrum. He’d just wait his turn.
Eventually, he’d get to do a song. And no one really cared. Sometimes we’d just do a little interview on stage so he could say he had a single coming out. Sometimes he’d just get to do a real quick acapella. But it all ended up the same. The crowd was anxious for the headliner and didn’t care about this lanky white kid who was clearly just another kid from Cleveland that wanted to be the next BONE.
Until the day it all changed.
I felt something different when “Lace Up” came out. I was driving down the freeway and I saw a care with “LACE UP” on the back windshield made out of duct tape. They couldn’t be talking about the Machine Gun Kelly kid, right? And then one of the kids I worked with asked me if I knew who Machine Gun Kelly was. Not Chip The Ripper. Not Al Fatz. Not Corey Bapes. Machine Gun Kelly. I said “Yeah, but I don’t think we’re talking about the same guy. The one I know is a big tall white kid- I don’t think you know him.” Then he pulled up a picture his phone, and there was my show buddy, MGK. I knew something was up.
The next show we did at Peabody’s was the night before Easter. Chip The Ripper was headlining the show and the whole city was out. MGK showed up and we went through the usual “let him get 5 minutes” routine with the show promoter. Right before Chip, we put Kells on. The place erupted. The crowd knew every word. Girls were screaming at him like crazy. All of a sudden, I found out: MGK had “IT”.
From there on, the myth began. Next time I saw MGK was at the Ohio Hip Hop Awards in the Flats. I grabbed him for a real quick interview ( I wish I still had it), and it was just before the epic bidding war between Jimmy Iovine and Diddy. I remember telling him one piece of advice that I’m sure he doesn’t remember: Don’t abuse the power you have because you can make a difference.
This kid doesn’t have fans. He has FOLLOWERS. EST is like a cult. And he is the Messiah.
This project reflects that bond. There is a method to MGK’s madness. I don’t want to say his music is formulaic, but you are starting to see some patterns that are directly related to his diverse fan base. Little touch of rock. Lots of talk about fighting demons. Cleveland cadence. Couple street songs. One or two pop ballads. MGK.
I know some purists who don’t like it. They’ll say that he should just pick one style and go with it. But great artists can dabble in different genre’s and have success. I like MGK best when he makes street anthems. On his last album I loved “Alpha Omega”. On this album, “The Gunner” and “Golden God” fill that role. And my favorite track, “Trap Paris” with Quevo and Ty Dolla $ign is a surefire street anthem for the summer. But if he just stayed in that lane he’d miss a whole lot of people who want to hear other sides of what he can offer.
Tracks like “At My Best” feat Hailee Steinfeld and the monster hit “Bad Things” feat Camilia Cabello speak to his new followers, the one’s who have helped take him from Cle-God to Joel Osteen prophet status. His most loyal EST fans just aren’t sure what to make of these songs yet- they don’t like the fact that what used to be theirs must now be shared with the world, but the rest of us will tell you that making hit records is a rare feat, and if this means that he has to cross over a little, let him cross over! You play the game to win. These tracks are what “Winning” looks like!
He’s trying to get into some rock stuff- most white guys do at some point. I respect it. I just hope that his inner Kurt Cobain stays suppressed enough to let his inner ODB shine through. He brings Rock N Roll to hip hop in a way that feels genuine and never forced. I hope it continues.
This album isn’t FOR me. I like it- it’s a good listen, and knowing where he was when I met him, I can’t help but support and root for him. But this album is FOR the kids who got through rehab with his voice as the soundtrack. This is FOR the kids that camped out at EST fest in tiny tents, just hoping they’d get to say hi to him. This is FOR the kids that put LACE UP on their back windows in duct tape hoping he’d see it on the freeway.
This is FOR the followers. The devoted. The legions of MGK’s family that know him as CLEsus. Enjoy Bloom. It’s yours 4Life.
You can download MGK “Bloom” here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/bloom/id1224393397