Monday, January 31, 2011

Rhymes: Machine Gun Kelly - "Lace Up" Album Review (extended version)

Originally Published Version Can Be Read Here

So this week I ran a little long on my album review and my editor had to trim it down some, but I thought it was funny and interesting to be read in its full form:

My first introduction to up-and-coming Cleveland rapper, Machine Gun Kelly happened two Saturdays ago when I had a conversation with a friend at a party:

“Hey are you going to see MGK?” he said.

“What?” I replied, confused.

“MGK – Machine Gun Kelly. He’s from Cleveland; he’s performing at the Cla-Zel tonight.”

“Nah,” I said trying my hardest not to say anything insulting about the rapper’s name, “never heard of him.”

“You should check him out,” he said knowingly of my interests in hip hop, “he’s pretty good.”

“Maybe I will,” I said insincerely and dismissively – if I’ve never seen his prohibition era gangster-pseudonym on any of the countless Twitter posts, message board discussions, or blogs that I spend much of my nerdy free time, then he’s probably not that good, I smugly suggest to myself.

As the next week passed, I kept hearing more of his name, and not from die-hard Clevelanders who think KiD CuDi is the next Rakim (who have also probably never heard of Rakim). He sold out the Cla-Zel, and apparently was really good, I heard from a couple of reliable sources. And he stayed the night at my neighbor’s house, and my roommates met him without making the connection that he was the guy performing at the Cla-Zel until I just asked them about it.

I also heard that he was coming back to Bowling Green, eight days after his Cla-Zel show, to open for Wiz Khalifa at Anderson Arena.

Not a big Wiz fan (he’s got a couple of cool songs, but could never get into any of his many mixtapes), so I didn’t want to call off work to catch the show.

On the night of the Wiz Khalifa show, while I was at work cleaning the bathrooms and classes at East Hall, the fire alarms rang and my co-workers and I were forced to leave the building.

After my boss told us that we weren’t allowed back in the building, he took us over the Anderson Arena to help clean up after the show.

Cleaning up after concertgoers for the last hour of my shit (from 1 a.m. until 2 a.m.) was definitely not my idea of a good time.

“It smells like cigarettes in here,” I said walking into the lobby.

“Try again,” my boss replied.

But before I walked onto the court I saw a stack of CDs, and me being the one to never turn down free music, I immediately pick it up.

On the walk home from work, I check out the CD closer to see what it was, and it turns out it was Machine Gun Kelly’s latest independent album, “Lace Up.”

Right off the bat you can tell he hails from Cleveland, and is heavily influenced by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. His voice sounds like Swizz Beatz’s (he’s much better than Swizzy’s attempts at rapping though), but he has a rapid-fire flow reminiscent of Layzie, Krayzie and the rest of the first and biggest major hip hop act to call Cleveland home.

The opening tracks, “Salute” and “Chip off the Block” are the only two tracks to heavily feature his effortless double-time flow, but he is a lot more interesting when he slows things down and speaks from his heart.

“End of the Road” is one of MGK’s best offerings on the record. The piano-driven beat is easily the best production on the disc, and the song boasts an excellent hook from Mat Musto, whose raspy vocals have a subtle reggae influence.

“End of the Road” is an inspirational track about overcoming struggles, which is a reoccurring motif on “Lace Up.” “Make It,” “All Alone,” “Victory Music” and “Been Through it All” also feature this theme.

“Been Through it All” being the most sincere and personal track on the album including a verse talking about his daughter: “at 19 with the world in my hands, I stepped up and handle that s*** like a man.”

“Lead You On” is the best example of MGK’s abilities as a songwriter. On the track he talks about an abusive relationship, but if you listen closer, you can hear that he is talking about drugs rather than a women. It’s a concept that has been done before (see: 50 Cent’s “A Baltimore Love Thing” and Jay-Z’s “I Know”), but it’s still a very effective song, and one of the highlights of the record.

One of the weaker tracks on the album is “All Alone,” which has heavy influence from Eminem’s 2010 hit, “Not Afraid.” The beat is made up of spaced-out synths and frantic drum programming (replace Boi-1da’s annoying tin-sounding snare with a weird 808-tom tom), much like the popular Eminem single. The track also features a chanting chorus, and cringe-worthy singing on the song’s bridge.

The production on “Lace Up” is probably the album’s low-point. Most of the beats are pretty generic and unoriginal, crafted from lazy synths and heavy 808 drums. But MGK is interesting enough, and good enough at crafting songs and good hooks to make the listener overlook the boring beats.

All-in-all MGK’s raps are pretty good – solid delivery and flow, good rhyme schemes, and can be pretty enlightening. He does however have an occasional failed punch line, but he’s definitely more hit than miss.

BRL Rating: 6.5 beets out of 10

Bonus Material:
here's the music video to his song "Cleveland."

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