“I came out of a dying city/Brought back life.” A fellow Ohioan explains how the 22-year-old rapper made it happen.
Written by Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm)
Life and death exist simultaneously on a stretch of Euclid Avenue that runs through downtown Cleveland.
On a sunny day around noon, you might notice the life. Through the windows of Potbelly, a recently-opened sandwich shop, a line stretches almost out the door. Across the street on East 4th, which intersects Euclid, executives lounge on the plethora of patios that extend off the entrances of the high-end restaurants that call the alley home. There are local gems like Noodle Cat and Cleveland Pickle and there are national chains like Jimmy John's and House of Blues. There are people. There is energy. There is life.
Take a stroll to the east, to the block of Euclid between East 9th and East 12th, on a rainy day, and you might be more inclined to notice the death.
Vacant storefronts rest beneath signs whose font and color could only have survived in the early '90s, their windows sprinkled with dust. The block is quiet, save for a few smokers who would like to enjoy their cigarette in silence. There are calls to revive this area, to open retail shops in the countless available spaces, but no progress has been made.
Euclid Avenue is almost too perfect a metaphor for a city that once boasted the sixth largest population in the country. Cleveland is constantly rebuilding itself, rebranding its image as it attempts to pull itself out of an era that has pulled at its population and its pride. It is both living and dying at the same time.
Cleveland is constantly rebuilding itself, rebranding its image as it attempts to pull itself out of an era that has pulled at its population and its pride. It is both living and dying at the same time.
At the center of where life meets death in Cleveland, there is Machine Gun Kelly.
Peer closely enough into the dust of one of those vacant storefront windows, and it isn't hard to make out the words “lace up,” MGK's mantra and title of his debut album, that have been hurriedly scribbled with someone's finger.
Kelly's presence is strong in the city he settled into at the age of 14 and immediately called his home. In an era where hip-hop artists bemoan the lack of airtime their songs are given on local radio, MGK's records are in regular rotation on Cleveland radio stations thanks to his strong connections with tastemakers like DJ Stephfloss and DJ EV. It is a relationship that Cleveland's last hip-hop star, Kid Cudi, never really cultivated here, and MGK’s connection to this Rust Belt city is something that hasn't existed since the days of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony in the early '90s.
If it’s hard to believe that someone could love a forgotten city so passionately, just take a minute to listen to MGK’s music. To count Kelly's mentions of Cleveland in the music he has put out over the years would number in the hundreds. The 22-year-old goes out of his way to make sure you know where he and his EST boys reside, and that it is a source of pride, not embarrassment.