Upon entering a room with Machine Gun Kelly, the first thing you notice is that he most definitely is not your average rapper. Standing 6’3”, he is a pale, blue-eyed statue covered in tattoos. Combine this with the tufts of blond hair forming a mohican under his hat and the silver spiked jewellery decorating his neck, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this guy was part of an entirely different musical genre than the hip-hop he’s championing - and hearing him speak doesn’t do much to shake that opinion either.
Aesthetically, MGK is the result of an eclectic taste in music and a life spent as an outsider. Hailing from Ohio, he is a product of the suburbs - a paradox of colliding worlds and amalgamated genres. His young career already has the accolades to prove it; this year alone he has toured with veteran Midwest MC Tech N9ne, has been a part of Vans’ Warped Tour, and is about to embark on another with Rick Ross’s hip-hop heavy Maybach Music Group.
Immortalised by Blink 182, who sang “I couldn’t wait for the summer at the Warped Tour”, this tour is an American adolescent rite of passage and dangerous territory for an artist like Machine Gun Kelly. In the same way that 50 Cent was bottled off stage at Reading Festival in 2004, having an act such as Kelly on the bill was asking for the same outcome, but instead he was accepted, embraced and appreciated. Speaking in further detail about Warped, it’s occasionally hard to believe that he isn’t a member of a punk band, relaying stories of kids “ripping down the fences” and creating “huge, huge, huge circle pits” at his shows. The stories are recalled in some awe and disbelief and with the sincerity missing from the try-hard ‘rock-stars’ of the hip-hop scene, such as Lil Wayne, who has tried to achieve what comes so naturally to Kelly for years.
His upcoming album ‘Lace Up’ even features a collaborative track with American metal-heads Avenged Sevenfold. Sticking out amongst the more in-keeping features from artists such as Twista, Bun B, DMX and Wacka Flocka Flame, he admits: “I’m sure a lot of my fans won’t even know what the fuck an Avenged Sevenfold is, and I’m sure a lot of their fans won’t know what the fuck an MGK is.” But, with mutual respect, Kelly tells Clash that the group “dedicated the mosh-pit to me” when he went to their live show in Las Vegas.
Further discussions about politics reveal that MGK is more than just a visual reference to punk. He speaks for an extended period both intelligently and with conviction about “the State” - all off the back of a question about his Anarchy tattoo. It all boils down to him believing in “all men being equal, which is not what it is when you have government because, like I said, you have State, and when you have the State that can come in and justify taking whatever they want from you, which is like your freedom, that shit is fucked up.” As certain as he is regarding his own views, he is childlike when unsure of himself, asking Clash questions when lacking answers of his own and worrying that “they [the media] see people like me as a douchebag who actually has an opinion on shit.”
The root of his inner Anarchist was born from an unsettled childhood, and revealing lyrics from his early mixtapes openly tell his story. Taken from his track ‘The Return’, MGK raps “It’s no wonder growing up under the roof of a tyrant / That I’d grow up to be the poster boy for defiance”, and although he admits that he was “young and dumb and shit”, he becomes strangely intense recalling small incidents of power struggle between himself and his father as a child - showing Clash how he was and wasn’t allowed to hold his eating utensils, saying his father would “smack me around the back of the head” if he did so incorrectly. It’s no wonder then that Kelly has always been drawn to the underground, summing up our time together with the statement: “I just think rebellion, period, is cool.”
Words: Hayley Louisa Brown
Photography: Samuel John Butt
This is an excerpt from the December 2012 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.