He's rap's punk-rock gutter-rat outcast and rebellious survivor. Machine Gun Kelly lives on the edge of so many boundaries he's begun to embody a strange universality. It's part of his live-instrumentation hip-hop eclecticism, in step with the shuffle tastes of the iPod generation. MGK arrived early, the kid off by his lonesome, headphones soundtracking a different personal reality than his broken home offered.
"It truly was such an escape when I would put on the headphones to my Walkman," Kelly reflects. "There was this song on DMX's first album called 'I Can Feel It' where he had this Phil Collins sample, and DMX's voice described my anger; his subject content described my loneliness."
The punk rock stridency of Anti Flag and the irreverence of NOFX and Blink-182 formed other pillars in MGK's musical education, speaking to him as "this young rebel, not just talking about going along but speaking out."
He released his first mixtape, Stamp of Approval, as a teen in 2006, and a few years later won consecutive victories at the Apollo Theater – the only Caucasian rapper to ever do so. By 2011 he'd signed with Bad Boy and in 2012 he released his hot-blooded, genre-hopping debut LP, Lace Up. Kelly's molten core energizes his music much like Eminem in 8 Mile, because he also cut his teeth in the battle scene.
"Battle-rapping gave me what's missing in a lot of current hip-hop music now, an aggressive and dominant presence," he says. "When you're battling and it's to gain respect or lose respect, everything that goes into a rap matters and you want that top spot; there is this hunger that comes out of it. Ever since that has kind of faded away in the scene, it seems like things have softened up."
You'll get nothing of the sort from MGK, who not only advocates community like a punk rocker with his E.S.T. motto (Everyone Stands Together), but also brings the intensity of a hardcore show to the stage.
"I have my shirt off in the backseat of this car smoking and I'm sitting here looking at my scarred body. Have scars everywhere," he says, suggesting all those years as a loner and the new kid in town have powered his performances.
"When you're caged up for so long and you're silent for so long, when you finally have a chance to say something and it's bottled up, you fucking scream it," he explains. "So when I got on stage and I finally had my chance to say what I wanted to say for so many years I fucking exploded, and that is to this day what I'm most well-known for, probably the most high-energy live performance in the game."
MGK is hyped for everyone to hear his much-delayed second album, General Admission, which even now lacks a firm release date beyond "September 2015." Frustration over the delays last month prompted MGK to put out Fuck It, a mixtape of songs he said could've made the album but fit together better there. It's highlighted by opener "Almost," a jazzy, strangely ambivalent meditation on how far he's come – so close to falling short now when he's "almost" famous.
Dating hip-hop artist Amber Rose has increased MGK's profile, and made him even more hesitant about fame and the attendant expectations.
"I fucking hate the spotlight. I just want to be heard, I don't want to be seen," he explains with characteristic candor. "But if I wasn't known, then there wouldn't be 10,000 people in the audience screaming, chanting your name over and over. And when you come on, their faces light up like an atomic bomb of people just erupting. It's like that high is worth whatever lows come with it."