Warped Tour 2012: Machine Gun Kelly on Frat Rap, "That Shit Is Wack as Fuck!"

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photo by Shareif Ziyadat
Machine Gun Kelly's slot on the Warped Tour may surprise some older fans of the multi-stage summer extravaganza. The 22-year-old specializes in an unapologetically brash, aggressive style of rap that makes no attempts to go pop or "cross over," unlike some of the other young, white rappers currently on the come-up.

You won't find any feel-good suburban tales on his handful of mixtapes and EPs so far. Instead MGK prefers wall-shaking, bass-heavy beats and a thick, almost barking delivery that's largely influenced, he said, by the Cleveland underground in which he spent his teen years.

For the Warped Tour, historically made up of punk and related acts in the past and more pop in recent years, it's an unexpected booking. But for one thing, the tour has almost always included the odd rapper, including, in 1999, the Midwestern white bad-boy rapper of that decade, Eminem.

At the same time, MGK himself also reflects a truly '90s-baby, multi-genre, multi-scene sensibility. Kelly's a proud former skate rat who also grew up on punk rock, and his live shows are infamous for out-crazying most guitar acts. So, in advance of his upcoming slot this Saturday, July 28 at the Warped Tour's stop at the Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, we gave him a call. Here's what he had to say about tours as bootcamp, the evils of frat rap, the XXL Freshman cover, the perils of social networking, and more.

County Grind: So you guys are coming to South Florida this weekend, and --

Machine Gun Kelly: Oh fuck yeah, that's my shit. We go ham every time we go there. We have a great fan base in Florida, an individual fan base that calls themselves the Sunshine Ragers.

Right, you've been here a couple times to perform in the last few months, the last time with Tech N9ne. So you're on the road a lot -- how has your experience been on the Warped Tour so far?

It's the gnarliest shit ever. It's so sick. It's so dirty, but it's still so sex, drugs, and rock and roll -- well, except for the sex, because all the girls are like 15. It's just really raw and uncut and cool. You've got to shit in a bag. It's awesome.

Is it even really that different from your other tours?

I guess not, since we don't get hotel rooms on this tour either and it's still pretty grimy. But the food is really good and the people and acts are so fun. Our fan base on this tour is so much bigger than on the Tech N9ne tour. It's just all positive, and I've also become a lot happier person. The Tech N9ne tour, I think, was straight-up bootcamp for me. Tech taught me a lot of shit, but I wasn't really finding my happiness. I found it on this tour and it was awesome.

Why do you think you have more of a fan base represented in the audiences at Warped Tour than on the previous, more hip-hop-oriented tours you've been on?

That's a great question. I don't know, I think my stage presence precedes me. The first day we performed, like half the bands on Warped came and watched our set because they had heard we have a crazy-ass set. Some people just aren't ready for it, where these kids are. They come knowing what the fuck is about to happen -- their bodies are going to be destroyed and they're potentially going to be taken to the hospital.

You keep saying "we." How many people are in your crew on Warped Tour?

Shit, how many people do we have with us. Eight? Eight. Machine Gun Kelly's not one person -- it's a fuckload of kids.

So, uh, you're not Machine Gun Kelly?

I mean, I am, but I'm just the face of it. Machine Gun Kelly is so much more. When you talk about Machine Gun Kelly, you talk about the fans, about Cleveland, the team -- it's not just the tall, white skinny kid with the mohawk and tattoos.

Did you always conceive of it that way?

Hell yeah. Well, originally, Machine Gun Kelly, you start out thinking it's just me. But then people start embracing so much more than just you. These kids come to meet other kids, it's not just about coming to see me in concert. We have a really close-knit fan base, with all these fan pages. People from Canada will come meet people from the U.S. It's a fun family.

Why do you think your fan base is so particularly close-knit?

They're fighting for the same goal, which is to see this kid that is just like them succeed. They got to watch every step of it. I've filmed everything I've ever did.

Your stage show is known for being really intense, like you said. Where did that come from? Did you grow up going to a lot of shows?

Hell yeah. I mean, I grew up going to Warped Tour and other shit, as a super-heavy punker and skating and doing all that troubled-youth, white-boy shit.

Knowing that, when you wanted to start making your own music, what drew you to rapping, then? Did you ever play in any bands while you were growing up?

Yeah, I played in a band called the Dumb Bunny Trio when I was a kid. I was the lead guitarist. It was super funny.

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2 comments
Wendy Shain
Wendy Shain

I don't think people get what MGK is about. He's more than a Wild Boy, he's a saviour of millions of kids who can relate to him and an amazing Dad to a precious little girl. Get to know him and you will fall in love!!

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