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.
Cleveland women vs. New York women.
MGK: New York women: so hot and I can’t get any of them. None of them like me. Here in this office, that girl right there [gestures to an intern], she’s pretty hot and hasn’t looked at me once. Not once. No interest in me.
MGK: If I go over there right now, or when she’s on break, she’s not going to talk to me.
Is it something about New York?
MGK: I don’t know what the fuck it is. Honestly, I look in the mirror and I’m not the greatest looking kid. But I feel like I can pull an 8. Maybe a 7. I don’t approach a 9 in New York. I feel like 7 is do-able. But the 8s hate.
Alright, so you’re going to go back to Cleveland and you’re gonna have sex. What about food or things like that?
MGK: So I live at my manager’s mom’s house, which is funny.
How did that come about?
MGK: I was legit homeless and I was just always going to her. I kept crashing there but I acted like I was chilling. Chilling with my toothbrushes and shit.
Chilling with your bags.
MGK: Yeah, but at the end of the day she caught on. She’s so cool. She’s so laced up. Her mom is like the laced up champion. MGK’s #1 fan, by far. She probably somehow knows this interview is going down right now. Like, she’s probably going to text me, “Great Complex interview,” right when I leave. But I miss my daughter, too. My daughter’s a rager.
I didn’t realize you had a child.
MGK: Yeah, she’s two. She’s really cool. I really don’t do much at home. We can’t go out that much. Believe it or not, we’re kind of famous back there.
Is that frustrating?
MGK: It sucks, ‘cause so many people expect so much from you. I went to the mall with my daughter one time and it was nuts. People were pushing her out the way for a picture. I’m like, “Ok—definitely not going down, but thank you for trying.” Girls would come sleep with me when I had my daughter there. The fans—like, guys say crazier shit than the girls.
MGK: A Milwaukee kid. When I was in Milwaukee, I had the most awkward interaction ever. I’m on stage and this guy in the front row, laced up shirt and everything, all he says the whole show is, “Fuck me, fuck me.” So weird.
And it was sincere?
MGK: It was so sincere. I wasn’t mad at him at all. But he did not know the lyrics. No lyrics, just “fuck me.” No New York girls look at me like the Milwaukee guys do. [Laughs.]
So is it refreshing to come to a city where you can be more mobile.
MGK: Naw, I hate it more. I go to Times Square everyday because at least one person there will recognize me. Last night, 1 o’clock in the morning, in my room, bored as fuck, I go out. Made sure to wear long sleeves so none of my tattoos would show. I just roamed, so pissed. If someone looks at me like they know me, I act like I’m looking at my phone and just stop right by them.
And wait? Do you feel like you make yourself approachable to people?
MGK: Fuck yeah, very much so. I don’t think I seem like the nicest person, but I feel like everyone knows about my connection with my fans, about how genuine it is.
Let’s talk about the signing.
MGK: So a couple of hours ago I announced that we signed my label to Bad Boy/Interscope, which is a big, big deal. That’s a label deal. That hasn’t been done in a long fucking time.
They scooped up the whole label.
MGK: Yeah, they scooped the whole thing, which is awesome. So it’s me and my friends.
How long has this been in the works?
MGK: We actually had a big bidding war between all the labels, and Puff and Jimmy Iovine were like, “We don’t want to touch your movement, we’ll let you keep it like it is.” And it came down to a Kanye/Roc-A-Fella situation. What they were offering, the opportunity they gave us, it was unlike any opportunity that anybody has seen in so long. Puff and Jimmy just believed in it the most. And here I am, they haven’t touched it. The album will be called Lace Up.
You have total creative freedom?
MGK: Yeah. It’s cool, really cool.
Is there a release date?
MGK: First quarter. I’ll drop an independent DVD and a couple of songs this month, then I’ll tour.
You’re on a label now, do you plan on any major…
MGK: No, man. Whatever you’re about to say, no. We’re keeping it the same.
So you’re going to use the same studio?
MGK: Oh yeah, we’re recording the whole album in the same studio.
Because some people feel pressure, making that leap from the mixtape to the album.
MGK: We don’t know that we’re signed, man.
That’s the mentality.
MGK: Same staff, same team, same management. Same shitty shows. Hole-in-the-wall venues. Good stuff, good stuff.