Machine Gun Kelly Defends His Lyrical Ability As "Genius," Explains Apologizing To Jimmy Iovine
Exclusive: MGK explains his dogged quest for respect, the race factor, and what separates him from "friendly" White rappers like Mac Miller.
“I got a lot of family and you got a lot of fans / That’s why the people got my back like the Verizon man” – Jay Electronica, “Exhibit C”
Almost every emcee these days asserts that they have a “movement” of dedicated supporters showing and proving their loyalty to them, but very few actually do have the truly committed masses they claim to have holding them down.
But after just one viewing of the latest promo video for Machine Gun Kelly, no one can deny that the DXnext alum’s “Lace Up” movement has become one of the most powerful forces of “famdom” in Hip Hop today. In the aforementioned clip, an entire Best Buy’s worth of subscribers to MGK’s motivational movement – both male and female, White and Black, young and younger – share their emotional stories of sleeping on the cold concrete in Kelly’s adopted hometown of Cleveland, Ohio just to get a glimpse of their heartfelt hero while showing off their “Lace Up” tattoos and stacks of personally purchased copies of Lace Up the album.
So while sales figures for MGK’s just-released studio debut can never and will never even come close to matching the staggering 27 million YouTube views Kells’ now gold-certified first single “Wild Boy” has amassed, the movement a 22-year-old mohawked, tatted-up White guy with an eye-grabbing Punk Rock-meets-Hip Hop swag has inspired into an allegiant army of followers in just the last couple of years remains nothing short of remarkable.
During his most recent conversation with HipHopDX, the magnetic free spirit shared some of his contagious passion that has spawned a following unlike anything most of his contemporaries have ever seen. And in a respectfully polite and professional manner, the raucous rhymer shared some brutally honest commentary in response to the response his movement has garnered from some in the media and other self-appointed critics who have questioned the capabilities of the rapid-fire “Rage” rapper. The second spitter signed to Bad Boy Entertainment (which is distributed by Interscope Records) in the last five years to actually see his album make it to store shelves concluded his candid discussion with DX by revealing what it will take for his detractors and even his most supportive “Lacers” alike to get the full story of how one misunderstood kid became the inspiration to so many.
Photograph by Jonathan Mannion.
Machine Gun Kelly Discusses His Songwriting
HipHopDX: I don’t know if anyone has asked you about this yet, but I’ve been wanting to know what inspired that discussion between you and Waka [Flocka Flame] in the “Wild Boy” video about whether or not each of you considers yourself to be a good rapper?
MGK: Oh, that’s such a great question. The one thing I always trademarked in my videos – if you watch all of my videos, even if you watch the “Stereo” video that just came out, there’s always like an interruption in the middle …. It’ll be like a skit. It’s actually something that really happened. So that conversation really happened. [And] I always tell ‘em like, “Yo, go put that part in the video.”
Me and Waka [Flocka Flame], we had become like closer and closer to the point where we just feel like we can make fun of each other. The one thing me, you, critics, anybody that makes fun of Waka [for] is that he’s not lyrical, he can’t rap. And like, we wanted to fuckin’ make fun of the shit. He knows; he makes fun of himself for it. So we just decided to make fun of it and everybody thought it was mad funny ….
DX: I noticed that you weren’t willing to acknowledge any sort of lesser-than status [during that discussion]. And I just watched your interview with The Breakfast Club where you were getting genuinely frustrated with Charlamagne’s refusal to recognize your lyrical ability. Why do you care so much about what media or any other critic has to say about whether you’re a lyricist or not?
MGK: That’s a great point. My boys always ask the same question. They’re like, “Why would you give a fuck, man?” And... [pauses] dude, I think just from not being accepted when I was growing up I think this is kinda like high school for me, so I’m like, “Why don’t you [like me]?”
This is like a continuation of high school. I’ve always found myself not accepted. And, it’s funny ‘cause a lot of the times I won’t be accepted because of my own doing. Like, I’ll walk in and be like, Fuck everybody, fuck other artists, fuck people’s opinions, fuck critics and all this shit, and then I’ll turn around when people don’t like me [and] be like, “Why don’t you like me?”
But also I just think I have a really big personality that a lot of people just aren’t ready for, so … I’ll admit that the muthafucka [Charlamagne Tha God] ended up pushing my buttons, but that won’t ever happen again.
DX: Well, this isn’t intended to push your buttons but I do wanna explore this “lyricist” title a little bit...
MGK: Nah, please explore, man.
DX: When I personally think of an emcee that embodies the term “lyricist,” I think of cats like Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, J.Cole. When you refer to your lyrical ability are you speaking specifically about your flow, or do you think your writing ability is on par, is equal to, theirs?
MGK: First off, I speak exactly on what’s going on in my life. I don’t have to tell other people’s stories like other artists do. I have enough shit that goes on in my life where I can speak on my life and not have to make up and tell other people’s stories.
Granted, I am telling other people’s stories but I’m telling other people’s stories that are going through the exact same thing I’m going through. So I think the fact that I can take what’s going on in my world – which is a world that three-fourth’s of the world will never understand – and explain exactly what’s going on and put that pain and passion into it, I think my lyrical ability is fuckin’ genius.
I just know that I have a skin color. [And] I know that I didn’t take the friendly White-boy rapper route. I took the route that was like, Yo, I grew up like this; this is exactly what the fuck I’m seeing. You can hear it in my voice; you’ll hear it in my interviews. And, frankly, I’m done with people not acknowledging that fact.
“Fought every temptation, shit, I guess I’m David Ruffin, huh?” Like that line right there [from “See My Tears”] is a beautiful line, amongst thousands of other lines I’ve said that will just continue to be looked over. [But] eventually y’all muthafuckas are gonna catch this shit and be like, “Goddamn, he was speaking on so many things this whole time.”
Just because I came out with “Wild Boy” and not a song that – And just so everybody knows, “Wild Boy” just happens to be the first song muthafuckas heard. They didn’t hear [“Lead You On”] when I spoke on heroin addiction.
Or, “The Return” when I rapped four minutes with no chorus about just reality.
People just happened to hear “Wild Boy.” [But] even if you listen to “Wild Boy,” the way I flipped that and made a party song while still [being creative]. I told a story about smoking, drinking and fucking raging and it still was like a legitimate story without blatantly saying “I smoke weed, I drink and I party.” [Starts rapid-fire rhyming] “Bring it back into the states, put it on the scale / Measure out a half a eighth, put it in a shell / Split it then I roll it then light it up like it’s Independence Day / I got a bottle rocket, put it in the air.”
Wiz [Khalifa], who’s a good friend of mine, can say “I roll up,” I did this and this, and it’s very simple and easy for you to understand. And he’s put in the Top 10, but I’m put in like the negative 30. Like, I’m just lost on where the criticism is being [fairly doled out].
DX: You think the rapid-fire delivery is camouflaging the words …?
MGK: I 100% think the fast shit is definitely taking [away from the appreciation of my lyrics]. I definitely think it’s fuckin’ it up.
DX: You mentioned the powerful message of overcoming obstacles that runs through your album. Is that the main component in your rhymes that you want folks to connect with?
MGK: Yeah. I mean, isn’t that what we got in Hip Hop for? To like capture what happens in the environment? Like, Run-DMC let us know what was going on in Queens; I’m letting people know what’s going on in Cleveland.
DX: I was just listening to “See My Tears” and it really was like the song that took me out of your image. I wasn’t thinking about a crazy-looking guy jumping around on stage, I was thinking about how powerful the music and message of surviving struggle is and how I can personally relate to that.
MGK: Thank you, man. I’m glad you appreciate that track. That makes me stoked to hear that you listened to that song. I wish more people would listen to it.
DX: Yeah, in a perfect world that woulda been the first single.
MGK: Dude, right?
DX: I mentioned your image. I mean, it’s the obvious question: do you think your image and antics on and off stage are --
MGK: -- Yep.
DX: Overshadowing the actual music?
MGK: Yep. Yep. Without you even finishing the question, I already [know my answer]. Trust me dog, every question you’re asking me is like the question no one else asks me, but I think about every day.
Machine Gun Kelly Explains Being True To His Core & Who He Is
DX: So what do you do to overcome that? I mean, do you like calm it down, do you change; I mean, what do you do? Or do you just say “fuck it”?
MGK: You know what man? You just keep coming until they realize that they’ve been missing something that the rest of the world isn’t missing. You just keep coming, dog.
I’ll tell you like this, man, in my honest opinion, I think it’s beautiful that someone can come out with a song called “Wild Boy” and truly be a wild boy. I thought that was the whole part of why we love music and musicians, was that they lived up to the image they talked about? Gunplay was a gangster rapper; he went out like a fuckin’ gangster. It’s great to see people live what they talk about. That’s why I’m kind of shocked like, I thought this is what we all wanted in Hip Hop?
DX: Now, I gotta ask a bit of a hard-body question. You told DJ Semtex that rocking a Rock style of dress, but also the color of your skin is what is keeping some people from appreciating your ability. With some time to reflect on that statement, do you regret using skin color as a defense to why some folks don’t dig your rhyming?
MGK: No. Because, like I said, it has to do with how my image is. Mac Miller is a friendly White rapper. It’s easy to accept a friendly White rapper because what’s the automatic perception of a White boy? That he’s a nice kid.
[If you’re White] then I’m sure you know if you came out talking some hard shit … Do you think people would believe you? You could be the hardest muthafucka in the world, but because of your skin color [people won’t believe your story]. I mean, if you came out in sandals and talked about what was going on in Jeffrey’s house everyone would be like, “Oh, this is cool. I dig Jeffrey.” But when you come out and you say whatever the fuck of the numerous wild things I say then you’re [dismissed].
DX: But you know I gotta spin that: if you were Black, would there even be this level of attention on what you’re doing?
MGK: Good point.
DX: Isn’t the White guy rappin’ fast doing this and that, isn’t that the magnet to begin with?
MGK: Um … Nah, I think that me coming out of an area where no one else made it out of and me doing it on my own [is what drew people to me]. Keep in mind I was selling out shows long before any Diddy. And a lot of people don’t even know that I’m signed [to Bad Boy Records]. People would have no idea because I did it very organically. So, I mean, that’s my counter.
Machine Gun Kelly Revisits The Controversy Surrounding "Invicible"
DX: I asked if you wanted to retract at all those statements to Semtex because I know recently you felt compelled to withdraw your previous statements about hating “Invincible.” I understand you actually called [Interscope Records CEO] Jimmy Iovine and basically apologized for saying that?
MGK: No, no, I had seen him in person and did that. I’m more of like an in-person type guy.
DX: That’s gotta be the first time in your life you’ve ever done that with a boss though?
MGK: Aw yeah, definitely. All the other times I’ve been fired.
DX: I got a feeling you never apologized to your manager at Fuddruckers. [Laughs]
MGK: No, no …. That was my only one. You know why that was my only one? Because, genuinely he is a musician. So it’s like, regardless, Jimmy Iovine is a musician. That was something I had got to know. When I was in his office before – which is a rare thing for an artist to be – I was just like [in awe]. I mean, he’s been around since fuckin’ Lennon, man. [Anybody] that was fuckin’ with John Lennon you can’t really question that type of shit. I mean, you can, ‘cause obviously I did. But, you definitely know when not to bite the hand that is willing to feed you.
I think that’s the biggest part of being a soldier is that. I’m not trying to be one of those guys that just blames the label for mishaps in my career. At the end of the day, like I said, I started this shit organically and I’m gonna continue that. So if I fuck up it’s on me.
DX: I don’t wanna get you in any more hot water with the CEO, but I’m just personally curious to know if your initial impression of having that Alex da Kid produced beat with a sung chorus already on it --
MGK: -- Yep, another “Love The Way You Lie” [by Eminem]?
DX: Yeah, made you think something to the effect of Jimmy’s trying to make me copy Eminem’s approach?
MGK: Nah, nah, but I mean, I had got that feel. But, again, throughout the extremely stressful course of making that song – which turned into months and months, and me rewriting it three or four times – that frustration is what made that song turn into what it is. Like, when I said “What is this? Tear the whole page out” and you hear that page rip, that was really me ripping that page ….
The album, nobody [at the label] had ever heard the album until I just gave it to them like, “This is it.” But that was the one song that had some like corporate involvement. And you know what, it’s funny because now that’s like my favorite song to perform, so …
DX: The whole world hears it every Thursday night [as the theme music to NFL Thursday Night Football].
MGK: Yeah dude, right?
DX: Again, just out of curiosity, I don’t wanna keep beating a dead horse but I’m just curious, did you win the battle for that “Invincible” track or did Kendrick [Lamar] and Yelawolf just never record [their versions] to it?
MGK: Oh no, they did theirs. I don’t know how you knew about it, but yeah, they did their [versions].
DX: I asked that to ask this: if you thought in any way that whole situation was the real source of your now deaded friction with Yelawolf?
MGK: Oh, nah, nah, hell nah, we had our little issues prior to that. … The frustrations [with Yelawolf] were before that. I don’t know where those frustrations came from – still don’t.
DX: It was just a competitive thing you think?
MGK: I don’t know; I couldn’t even tell you, bro’.
DX: I do have one more “Invincible” question but it’s not about the origin of the track, it’s this: “Man, I come from holes in the wall, but they don’t know the path / Even if I told ‘em at all they wouldn’t know the half.” What about your path have you held back from speaking on thus far?
MGK: Man, you’re a really good interviewer.
DX: [Laughs] I’ve been doing this for a minute.
MGK: Nah, but it’s like I get the feeling you’re not really a fan of my shit, but you ask some good questions.
DX: ‘Preciate it. What about your path have you held back from speaking on thus far that you’d be willing to speak on at the moment?
MGK: I really just think that the things I’ve held back on are just things that – Again, people already can’t really handle my personality at what I’ve given them. So it’s like, dude, if you can’t handle this shit you definitely can’t handle me speaking on the drugs I was doing; you definitely can’t handle – Fuck, I talked about sticking it in a girl’s ass and people fuckin’ spazzed like, “My God, you’re the devil.” And I’m like, "Fuck you. I’m just a kid doing shit that everyone else is doing behind closed doors and speaking on it." So they’re definitely not ready to hear about me and my battle with substances; they’re definitely not ready to hear about shit that went on in my family. Fuck people, man, they’re not ready for that shit. Maybe I’ll give it to ‘em one day when I get some respect and people actually accept who I am as a person.