Machine Gun Kelly
There’s nothing like someone who’s lived your story and Ohio MC Machine Gun Kelly’s resilience has become a beacon of hope for thousands of kids across America. Penning rhymes about everything from addiction to family issues, Kelly has become a symbol of relentless perseverance for his fans and the MC is about to begin the next chapter of his already successful career.
Born Colson Baker in Houston, Texas, Machine Gun Kelly lived almost a dozen places, including Egypt, before moving to Denver, Colorado with his father after his mother began a new life with a new man.
“I don’t have a relationship with my mom, she left when I was nine years old,” says Machine Gun Kelly.
In Denver, the Bakers lived with Kelly’s aunt. Though the father and son had each other, they couldn’t lay claim to much else. As his dad fought depression and unemployment, the young MC split his time between wearing two school outfits and being bullied by the neighborhood kids.
“I used to stand out because I was tall and I couldn’t really fight back then,” says Kelly. “Then I got tired of getting beat up so I started fighting people with my words instead.”
In seventh grade, Kelly found solace in rhyming after watching DMX’s career grow.
“DMX is a huge influence on me because neither of us have a solid family structure, plus I was an only child so I latched onto his music because both of us had to fight a lot of dark shit by ourselves,” says Kelly.
And though he “wasn’t popular at all,” the lanky kid was good at battling his middle school challengers. Later, while attending Denver’s Thomas Jefferson High School, his father moved to Kuwait to work for the army and left Kelly behind to live in a neighbor’s basement. It was then the teen began experimenting with drugs and recorded his first demo tape.
“It was terrible, but I thought it was cool,” says Kelly, with a smile.
Without supervision, Kelly stopped attending school and like 50 Cent, the high school freshmen, made a name for himself by calling out elder classmates. In 2005, his father moved Kelly to Kuwait, where the teen got into even more trouble. Eventually, the pair were forced back stateside and settled in Cleveland, Ohio. While attending Shaker Heights High on the city’s east side, Kelly convinced a local t-shirt shop owner, who doubled as an MC manager, to take him under his wing.
“I got the name Machine Gun Kelly because of my rapid-fire delivery when I was 15 and started doing shows,” says Kelly.
Nicknamed MGK by his fans, the MC released his first mixtape Stamp of Approval in 2006. Building a local fan base, Kelly performed at Cleveland venues like Hi-Fi, Peabodies and anywhere else he could spit. But it was a trip to New York’s famed Apollo Theater in 2009 that really gave him his start.
“We drove straight from Ohio and stood in line for ten hours,” recalls Kelly. “I got boo’d as soon as I walked on the Apollo stage and then I won … twice.”
The energetic performer became the first rapper in history to win the Apollo’s Amateur Night competition. Kelly’s mixtape 100 Words And Running came shortly after and he created a high school promotional tour. The short run was such a success and he performed to such excited crowds that the school’s began to keep the police on call to turn Kelly and his fans away to maintain order. And as the MC’s catchphrase of “Lace up,” which began as a mixtape interlude, became a call to arms for fans, their leader was still flipping burritos at Chipotle to pay the rent.
After graduating high school, Kelly’s father kicked him out of their home and forced the young MC to fend for himself. Not long after, an 18 year-old MGK welcomed his own child, a daughter named Casie. The infant gave the rapper new incentive to work even harder and he soon earned a nod for Best Midwest Artist at the 2010 Underground Music Awards. Not long after Kelly’s “Alice in Wonderland” clip won Best Music Video at the 2010 Ohio Hip-Hop Awards and the MC also nabbed Best Live Performer two years in a row.
But just as his star began to rise, Kelly suffered a new setback. A polyp developed on his vocal chord and kept him offstage and out of the studio for six months. Without health insurance for surgery, Kelly worked off the polyp by himself with tireless vocals exercises.
“Every night I’d wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning wanting to blow my brains out,” says Kelly. “That was one of the most depressing periods of my life.”
But the sun shone again with the 2010 release of Kelly’s Lace Up mixtape. The project not only earned the local favorite more fans—who bare their own “Lace Up” tattoos—but a national audience. And now, following a trip to SXSW where he performed a bevy of shows for brands like VIBE, FADER, Nah Right and the Smoking section, MGK is ready to devour the next phase of his life. Lace up ...