In life, appearances can be deceiving.
To the world, Richard Colson Baker is Machine Gun Kelly; an aggressive, tattooed rapper with a swift flow and an undeniable swagger.
But in a quiet, carpeted media room, he’s a shy, introspective 22-year-old who appears steadfastly determined to achieve success on his own terms.
If the last 18 months are any indication, he’s certainly making all the right moves.
After considerable success as an independent artist (including several mix tapes and the designation of MTV News’ Hottest Breakthrough MC), MGK signed with Bad Boy Records in August 2011.
In March 2012, his Half Naked & Almost Famous EP peaked #46 on the Billboard charts, selling nearly 40,000 copies in the US. The album’s single “Wild Boy” would also break into the Billboard Hot 100, establishing new benchmarks for the up-and-coming rapper.
But that wasn’t all.
His single “Invincible” caught the attention of World Wrestling Entertainment, who used the track as the official theme song of WrestleMania XXVIII. The event, which featured an MGK performance, drew a live attendance of over 78,000 and became the highest grossing pay-per-view in professional wrestling history. The song would also become a staple of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football.
This past summer, he joined forces with the Vans Warped Tour for all 41 of the festival’s North America dates.
On October 9th, MGK will release his debut full-length, Lace Up, on Bad Boy Records. Featuring guest spots from DMX, Lil Jon and Tech N9ne, the album appears destined to launch the young rapper to the forefront of the MTV college demographic.
I sat down with MGK to discuss Lace Up, Wrestlemania, Bad Boy Records, and everything in between. Our discussion is presented below.
1. This summer, you went across the country with the Vans Warped Tour. Despite its longstanding connection with rap music (Eminem and Ice-T both come to mind), Warped is generally known as a punk rock tour. Why did it make sense for you?
I’m a punker at heart and my show reflects that. The Warped Tour has always been one of those places where you go and prove yourself. It’s a really humbling experience. You have to earn your stripes. You share one shower with 700 people. You wait for your meals every day. You wait for your time slot every day. You perform on a small stage where you only get 30 minutes. Nobody has an advantage, so you have to prove yourself. You need to show why your 30 minutes is better than the next person’s 30 minutes.
2. Your high-energy show commands a lot of attention. What other bands did you make a point of seeing on the Warped Tour?
I always liked watching Miss May I onstage. I loved watching the crowds for We The Kings, because they sang along with every single word. Those guys make fun, summer songs. I like Asking Alexandria a lot, too. I wish they were on Warped Tour this past summer.
3. I know your tours hit a lot of non-traditional markets. Is there a greater connection with fans in those cities?
I think the passion I have for music shows regardless of where I’m playing. When it’s an industry concert, it sucks every time. You lose connection at those shows. I try to get drunk and do what I can to blur out everybody’s face, so I can’t even see the crowd. Industry shows really suck.
4. You moved to Cleveland when you were 14. In everything I’ve read, it’s described as a very tough city. What do you take away from it?
It gave me my team. It gave me my sound. It gave me those life experiences I can talk about in my music. It’s a hard city.
5. I’m a huge pro-wrestling fan, and was thrilled when “Invincible” was picked up as the Wrestlemania theme song. How did you link up with the WWE in the first place?
I woke up and saw a tweet. My label didn’t even tell me. I saw that “Invincible” was the theme song for Wrestlemania, and I thought it was cool. But to be honest, we didn’t understand how big it was until we got to Miami. When we walked into the stadium, it was like “holy shit, this is massive”. The stadium was huge, the show was sold out, and we were performing. You could feel the ground shaking beneath your feet. I realized I had to go out there, but I didn’t want to. It was the scariest moment of my career.
6. Tell me about the whole experience leading up to Wrestlemania.
It was so cool. We were seeing all these non-traditional MGK fans become MGK fans. Plus, everyone was super friendly backstage. Everyone was rooting for us. But at Wrestlemania, that was the only time I’ve ever looked out onstage before going out and said to myself “I’m totally okay if I just quit right now, so I don’t have to go out there and do this”. Five seconds before we went out, our microphones weren’t working. But everything worked out great, and the speech was awesome at the end. I was stoked.
7. Off-camera, what kind of guy is John Cena?
Cena’s the man. Nothing was fake with him. He was very cool and very up front. He would say “hey, I’m really stoked and I really like you”. He was super appreciative throughout the whole process. We did that whole thing in Cleveland on Raw where he pulled me out of the crowd and into the ring. Right before he went out, he said “go in the crowd, I’m going to grab you”. That was a last minute thing. It wasn’t planned. He gave us some moonshine before we went out at Wrestlemania, too.
8. Was Cena drinking with you guys?
No, he gave us the moonshine and left.
9. What was the Rock like?
Unfortunately, he was the coolest guy. I wanted to hate him, but he was really cool. Plus, he was a fan of my music. Vince McMahon was really cool, too. He was really thankful. I was actually trying to thank him, because he propelled my career. I think the guys who picked “Invincible” are the ones I should be giving credit to. The corporate suits, for once, sided with MGK. They got it right.
10. Tell me about Bad Boy Records. What kind of interaction do you have with Diddy?
The interaction with me and Puff is very distant. It’s like a mentor relationship. I work with EST, who are my friends and family. I work with those guys in the basement of my house or on the road. Bad Boy gets what we give them, and then they push it.
11. Lace Up drops October 7th. I know DMX and Tech N9ne are featured on the album. Do you expect the songs to attract a whole new audience?
Other than “Invincible”, I don’t know if there’s a song that will bring in a bunch of new fans. But I like that. The long-time fans are going to appreciate it. They’re going to say “wow, this is exactly what I wanted from this album”. It’s the same shit we’ve been doing.
I think the intro. Nobody does intros any more. It’s sick. I think me twisting with Tech N9ne is huge for fans. He’s a legend. That song is three fast spitters going hard. I’m really curious to hear who people think has the best verse. None of us can decide. I’m curious to know if people think I got killed on my own song. I also think the joint with DMX is a really dark, scary song. It’s haunting.
13. Growing up, was there a particular song that made you want be a musician?
“Lose Yourself” and “8 Mile” by Eminem, definitely. I don’t know if a lot of people know “8 Mile”, but it’s track three on the 8 Mile soundtrack. I also loved “Pain” by Tupac. In terms of getting into music, it was “Roll Out” by Ludacris, and “We Right Here” by DMX.
14. 2012 was a huge year for MGK. The EP came out, you won a Breaking Woodie award, “Wild Boy” broke the Billboard Hot 100, you played Wrestlemania, and Lace Up drops October 7th. Where do you go from here?
Whether it was miscommunication, or feeling like amateurs playing at a big league level, we went through so much bullshit this year behind the scenes. We’re going to use this year as a training camp. We’ll reap the rewards next year. This year was more of a non-stop on the road, yelling on the phone kind of year. Next year will be happy. Plus, hopefully, we’ll have a chart topper. I’ve never been one to think “we need to hit number one”, but when you know that “Wild Boy” cracked the Hot 100 and is close to going gold, that gets me excited. I didn’t change throughout this whole process. That gives me confidence. I want to succeed and do it our way.
15. With Lace Up, what’s the logical goal? It may not be #1 on Billboard, but what’s a realistic outlook for this album?
I think a #1 album is realistic. I think this is the best album of the decade. I really do. I think it’s Grammy worthy. I want #1 on Billboard and I want to be on the main stage at Warped Tour next summer.
16. What was the first song you ever downloaded on Napster?
It was probably the Jerky Boys’ “You Kick My Dog” skit.