Monday, August 5, 2013

Machine Gun Kelly Raises His Black Flag

Photo by Quentin Le'Son

Whether you know Machine Gun Kelly as the wild boy who brought a flash mob to SouthPark Mall in August of 2011 or an East Side up-and-coming artist who can spit rhymes with lightning-fast precision, one thing remains true: he has influenced thousands of people around the world. On Aug. 2, more than 3,000 people traveled from 42 states and two countries to attend the first annual E.S.T. Festival in Garrettsville, Ohio, which was hosted and headlined by the 23-year-old artist in an effort to support Cleveland Public Schools and other charities.

"This was a sacrifice on our end to create something much bigger than us and our pockets," he says. "This was all done off of emotion."

Last year, we chose Machine Gun Kelly as one of the 25 Reasons We Rock because of the movement he's creating amongst his fans. Since then, he released his debut album, Lace Up, with Bad Boy and Interscope Records, won the mtvU Woodie of the Year Award in March and recently released his sophomore album, Black Flag, for free June 26.

We traveled to the E.S.T. Fest to talk with Machine Gun Kelly about his reasons for giving away his music, his thoughts behind his movement and to see what's next for one of Cleveland's hottest rap stars.

Cleveland Magazine: As the next step in your career, what does this festival mean to you and how did it get started?

MGK: We had always had this vision, and really it kind of came to fruition by default of the fact that no festivals would book us this year. The one thing I always wanted to have was a legacy and be iconic, you know? As a fan, I can’t think of anything better than someone coming into my life and giving me a community to go to, giving me a family to be around when I feel alone. There’s a girl who paid $1,500 for a plane ticket to come here from Norway. She came here by herself. I met her last night. This is honestly giving people a place to belong for a weekend and free themselves.

CM: What was your creative process behind Black Flag, and how did it differ from Lace Up?

MGK: Lace Up, I was in a negative space. There were so many different MGKs that were present during that. It took a long time to write. Black Flag was one month. Cleveland, Ohio. In a basement. Done. I came home for the first time after touring for about a year and a half. I didn’t write for six months. So I soaked up all of those life experiences, and in one month I put it all into an album. I think it’s my best work today.

Photo by James Bigley II

CM: What's at stake for you with this new album?

MGK: Everything. I think this album will determine if Machine Gun Kelly is going to be the next superstar, like we all believed in, or if he’s just going to stay at this underground state that he’s in. Which is sweet, I’ll just continue running the underground. I’d rather run both worlds, but whatever it is, it’s in God’s hands now.

CM: Why did you make the album free to the public?

MGK: I needed a chance to say everything I wanted without any interference, without any guidance. However, on this next album, I’m going to take all the guidance I can get. My thing is, I gave you all Black Flag, now give me a chance to do something a little bit different on this next album and just rock with me.

CM: So what is "Machine Gun Kelly," and how would you define this movement? 

MGK: Look, when I die, Machine Gun Kelly is going to be alive and walking because Machine Gun Kelly is every one of those kids out there. What people don’t realize is that those kids are going to grow up and become something. And I’m going to be with them when they become that. They’re not going to forget this shit ever in their life. What if one of these kids becomes a judge? There could be a life-altering situation with me where it depends on one person and that one person is him, and he’s like, ‘You know what? This mother f---er changed my life so allow me to give him one more chance.’

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