In the midst of last week’s infamous MTV VMA performance by America’s Sweetheart Miley Cyrus, the long-debated topic of white people’s place in hip-hop has again resurfaced in forums around the world (or, at least, the internet). While Miley’s enthusiasm for rap culture has lead her pale, privileged ass down a path of misappropriation, hip-hop as a genre has never been restricted to colour of skin, despite what some people might say. Hip-hop at its core is a platform for people to express their own struggles and celebrate overcoming adversity. Its lack of hard and fast rules allows many different musical styles to be incorporated into the mix, making it one of the most malleable musical genres ever.
Ohio’s Machine Gun Kelly is testament to this: his music incorporates elements of hardcore punk into his style, but his sound is, without question, hip-hop. His body of work echoes the disillusionment of countless people, and he shows them that surrendering is not an option with his new mixtape Black Flag.
“Many people think I named the mixtape Black Flag because of the iconic hardcore band of the same name,” MGK explains, “but it’s really more in terms that a black flag is the opposite of a white flag, meaning surrender. I wanted to send my fans a message that no matter how hard it gets, never surrender.”
Black Flag is MGK’s first release since he released his breakthrough debut album Lace Up on Puff Daddy’s iconic Bad Boy Records last year. In an industry that’s, worryingly, more comfortable with imitators and actors every passing day, Black Flag is refreshingly honest and genuine. Tracks like the standout D&G sees the rapper reflect on his rough road to success and gives the artist depth rarely seen from a Bad Boy Records affiliate in recent memory. Tracks like the French Montana (HAAAAN) assisted 50 remind us that MGK can pull out the dumbed-down bangers as effortlessly as the next man.
The most polarising track amongst the mostly 808-driven mixtape is his interpretation of melodic hardcore band Rise Against’s Swing Life Away. Another nod to his punk rock roots, MGK made sure that the band was aware of him before pursuing his own cover on one of their most popular songs.
“I’m a fan of all different music and I feel that people don’t think I’m forcing it when it comes to incorporating punk into my sound. Like the Rise Against cover, the band approved my track before the tape came out. I had written them a letter explaining how much of a fan I was, telling them how I had watched them in concert when I was in middle school, you know, and I think they could feel that I wouldn’t do anything to make them or their song look corny. So they trusted me.”
It’s hard to deny MGK’s roots in punk rock, his aesthetic is undoubtedly punk, everything from his Mohawk to his high energy shows full of stage diving and aggressive crowds. But during his formative years he managed to merge his love for hip-hop and punk music in a style that refuses to be pigeon-holed in one or the other.
“You know I was always a hardcore kid growing up. So you know I hope that I’m making a bridge somehow between hip-hop and punk in myself and I hope I’m on the forefront of the two eventually merging. I was in a punk band before I was ever a rapper when I was a kid, one of those little, shitty garage bands. I was really into that when I was younger so I think when I got older and like learned to accept myself I became comfortable in my own skin and began evolving outside of that sound.”
MGK shows no signs of slowing down, and if the first half of the year is anything to go by, the rest of 2013 will be full of touring and sold-out shows. This month MGK will be coming down to Australia for the first time to play four dates in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane presented by Niche. Head to the Niche Productions site to find the dates to purchase tickets.