Machine Gun Kelly, one of Complex's 15 New Rappers To Watch Out For, won't sidestep issues of allegiance. He's more Cleveland than you. To hear him tell it, he knows no other way to be. Like Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders, MGK walks around with his city spread across his back, though you'd be wrong to call it a burden. His hometown pride, along with his youth, is the main source of his energy, the fuel for the fire behind his high-octane delivery.
Complex spoke with the young spitter on August 3, the day of his signing with Bad Boy. Only a brief period of time removed from the momentous occasion, MGK was only excitement and anticipation. Keep reading for his thoughts on Cleveland, the difficulties of pulling ladies in NYC, and what the signing means for his movement.
Oftentimes, I’ll interview artists from smaller places that people haven’t heard of. But that’s not the case with you, though, obviously being from Cleveland.
Machine Gun Kelly: I think it’s never been put on the map though. I mean, outside of Bone [Thugs-N-Harmony]. Like, I’m a real Cleveland motherfucker.
Born and raised there?
MGK: Not born there; I was born in Houston, but I was only there for two weeks. But I’m talking, as far as Cleveland goes and my roots there, as far as being in the streets and really being a people’s—you remember when Paul Wall came out? I’ve never used this comparison, ever; it’s weird. I can’t believe I’m fucking doing it, but when I met Paul Wall, he really was the people’s champ. Like this dude fucking sat there and shook every person’s hand. When he toured with Fall Out Boy and he was just like [shaking hands with] every person, really being “that guy.” It’s the same thing with me and Cleveland. Everyone in Cleveland knows. They want to see us win. We’re hometown heroes. We never had our break, so it’s kind of like everyone is rooting for us, which makes today [the day of the signing] such a beautiful day. I’m not a person where you have to ask, “So, where are you from again?” For me, the questions always start, “Being that you’re from Cleveland…” I’m so Cleveland, it’s a goddamn shame.
What does that mean to people outside the city? What are the stereotypes?
MGK: I think a cool association is that it’s a typical Midwestern city. It’s a blue-collar city. You have to work for everything.
I’m from Pittsburgh, so...
MGK: So you know. That’s awesome. That’s a great commonality to have.
They’re sister cities in some ways.
MGK: Most definitely. Detroit, too. Those cities—the ‘Burg, Detroit and Cleveland—they’re all very poor, very working class. I take pride in coming out of it, because nothing usually comes out of that. Especially because Cleveland has got nothing but negative press the past two years.
With LeBron James?
MGK: Yeah, that really fucked the economy.
One of the things that you can say about Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit is that they all have a strong sports presence.
MGK: You know what though, I feel like it’s strong but not even because of the teams’ records. It’s because the fans are so hardcore. Steelers fans: so hardcore. Browns fans: fuckin’ nuts. It’s not how many games you lose, ‘cause us Browns fans show up every time. It has the same meaning and carries all around the world too. We did like 4,000 in Cincinnati, right? But we’re talking about a show with 4,000 kids. Unsigned, no single, nothing. I mean, I can’t say that today. Then the next week we did Texas and it’s 60-100 people, but that’s still the almost-famous stage. But it’s awesome because those 60-100 people were hardcore fans. Probably like five Lace Up tattoos in Houston. It’s a cult type thing, just like with the sports fans.
People associate Houston with car culture. The car culture informed the music in a lot of fundamental ways. Is there something analogous in Cleveland? You and the other MCs coming from the area, do you see certain similarities?
MGK: I think that we have a lot more energy in our vocals than in the beats. We make the beats; the beats don’t make us. In the South, a lot of the beats make the song. Beats are just—[Makes car trunk thumping sound.] And you feel like, “Oh shit!” But I think if you take one of my bigger songs, like “Cleveland,” the beat is very simple. It’s a sample, a kick, a couple of snares, and horns. Very simple, very laid back. But the song is one my most energetic. Right when it comes on—“I’m so Cleveland”—you feel it, even though the beat has no kicks or anything when I come on.
How is Kid Cudi received in the city?
MGK: He moved out a long time ago. I mean, big ups to him for the success that he got and stuff like that. But I think our music reflects a different sound.
Your mission statements are different.
MGK: I think the artist community is very tight-knit. We all watch each other, but we didn’t get to watch him—he moved to Brooklyn. It’s different. It was different for us blowing up. We all watched Ray Cash blow up, Chip Tha Ripper, myself; we all knew each other. You can’t go back and down my credibility in Cleveland, you can’t. Like the only thing you can say is he wasn’t born here. Like Ludacris wasn’t born in Atlanta. Wiz wasn’t born in Pittsburgh. We can go on for days, but at the end of the day, I represent Cleveland very well.
Since you’ve accumulated more success, are you received differently in the city now?
MGK: I wouldn’t say that we’ve achieved success.
What’s left to accomplish?
MGK: Well, the label announcement was nuts. I’m excited to go back to see what the city thinks. I think we want to see one of the singles from Lace Up: The Mixtape transfer to a major scale, which is what we’re going to do. We just want to see a Cleveland boy win.
On the scale of “Black and Yellow”?
MGK: Yeah, that’s cool. I wouldn’t do that because I did it with “Cleveland.” “Cleveland” went viral but it didn’t necessarily pop. I didn’t have that support. I didn’t have a deal when I made “Cleveland” or anything like that. So I wouldn’t go and re-push that again, but like I said, I’m so Cleveland in everything I do, from the tattoos to the mentality.
Are you doing a show whenever you go back on Thursday?
MGK: Nah, we do probably two home town shows a year. You saw The House of Blues show a couple of months ago? Dawg, that was probably the best show that they’ve had at that House of Blues, and that’s from a local motherfucker.
Is that your favorite venue to play in the city?
MGK: Yeah. Except like at Q Arena, which is like Madison Square Garden to us.
What makes House of Blues best?
MGK: The sound. Also, it’s so tight-knit. We could have sold a lot more; the show sold out weeks before the concert.
So you could’ve done another venue?
MGK: Yeah, but at that venue you get to see everyone’s face. 2,000 people. You’re so close.
Do you see a lot of the same faces? Do you recognize fans?
MGK: I recognize fans at every show.
MGK: People travel. When I say it’s like a cult, I mean people travel to Texas from Cleveland. That was crazy. [Even] Connecticut.
Connecticut? Those aren’t short drives.
MGK: No, those are like 12 hours, 19 hours. You see the Lace Up tattoos at the front of the shows. I bring them up on stage and let them rock out on the song with me.
I heard that people were getting Lace Up tattoos before you even got yours.
MGK: They got so many cool ones that I had to get another one. So I have two now.
Since you’ve been traveling, you’ve been away from Cleveland. What are you anxious to do when you get back?
MGK: Because we have a good status now, I have sex with a lot hotter girls in Cleveland.
That’s the top thing for you?
MGK: Kind of. Now we won’t have to keep going for the 6s. Cleveland, we get home, it’s like 9.5 to 10s. We get so much Ohio love that the 10s will come out for your boy. New York City, I’d probably pull a 5.