I’ve picked up the phone and called many strangers before in my life. Indulged in conversations with people I never actually met. Conversed with them for ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes at a time. Agreed these kind of conversations tend to revolve around some sort of awkwardly expensive bill or the fact that I specifically ordered pitta not wrap with my half chicken but my point is, phone calls with strangers should never be underestimated, or so I found out on January 13th.
It’s a Friday, just gone noon and I’m in my agency’s empty studio watching the screen of my iPhone, waiting for it to give me something, anything other than a blank screen or the odd Instagram notification. And there it is, five minutes later, a phone call, yes from yet another stranger.
“Hey Fenn, MGK is on the line now”
“Ok thanks and how much time do I have?”
It’s tough to say when the conversation really begins. Almost imminently. As a textbook journalist I have to tick the boxes, briefly entertaining the usual pleasantries of a phone call with a stranger, the initial “hi” and “how are you”, but as a maverick, there is little room for smalltalk. At the end of the day this stranger is Machine Gun Kelly. A creative, a self made legend and of course a fellow maverick. Phone calls with strangers should never be underestimated.
There is the black and white version of Machine Gun Kelly’s story, he was born in 1990, by the age of six knew the ‘regular life’ wasn’t for him, by the age of 18 he became the first rapper to win amateur night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, by the age of 20 he’d signed his first record deal, by the age of 22 he dropped his debut album Lace Up and two years later in 2015 his second studio album, General Admission, debuted number one on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. But of course this is Machine Gun Kelly we’re talking about, the kid from the Midwest whose mission to exceed expectations was never an option. That former period of his life was somewhat elementary. “I feel like the journey kicked off for me in 2016. I’m on my third album right now, a month or two away from releasing it and I feel like it’s the beginning of my career again for some reason” his voice finished with a raspy layer, “It feels like Machine Gun Kelly finally makes sense to some people” he ends.
Admittedly, MGK wasn’t always the popular kid, he’ll tell you that himself, but despite his early lack of popularity and his self diagnosed title of being a “LOOOSER” (Kelly gave clear instructions to “write that in all caps”), no amount of looser-ness was ever going to convince him that his future as a superstar was anything other than certain. “100 thousand fucking percent I knew I was going to make it. Anyone will tell you that. Any teacher I’ve ever had, any hater, any friend, any class mate will tell you that in my head I was the biggest fucking superstar waiting to break. If you’re not confident in yourself, I’m not fucking confident in you.” he states pragmatically. “When I was eleven years old I was god damn sure that the regular life was not for me, my head was in the clouds, I wasn’t coming down”. I smile, this rapper’s unapologetic confidence could easily be mistaken for cockiness, but I promise you it’s not. Yes on the surface he’s a little (ok, very) sure of himself but really, Kelly speaks on behalf of anyone who is meant to ‘make it’ in life. Take his words as template, place them on your own goals and I’ll see you on the other side of regular life.
But it’s not just loaded ballads and loaded advice that this kid has come to circulate on global scale within a mere 26 years. Of course, his great efficacy in spreading such ‘real’ messages is in part thanks to that unapologetic confidence. He’ll address the “sh*t” that no one wants to address and he’ll have an opinion about it. Sometimes that way of being leaves a foul taste in people’s mouths, other times not. But you see, it all comes down to the fact that there’s also a huge quality to Kelly’s persona that lends itself wholeheartedly to caring. Kelly is the first person to admit that he’s “done with being lonely”, the first person to tell me not to worry about the time limit of our interview because he was “totally stoked by the research I’d done, it’s fucking awesome to be interviewed by a mind that goes beyond that of the average thinker” (cheers Kelly!) and the first person to tweet his “awesome” five hour encounter with a stranger on plane… “sat next to a dude on the plane, got wasted with this muthafucka, and belligerently yelled movie quotes for 5 hours and it was awesome”. He laughed, amused by my recite of the five week old tweet, complete with my slightly northern take on the words my mum would tell me to never repeat again. Ever. But my point is, lodged in Kelly’s nature is the longing to linger onto the fundamentals, the friendships, the good times, the memories, “that’s why I had to tweet that, because I was so stoked. I still text with that guy to this day – isn’t that fucking crazy? I was supposed to go to his house the other day and watch that Ronder Rowdy UFC fight but then I had to catch a flight here”.
At 26 Kelly isn’t your average millennial. He has an end goal to earn enough money to escape to some foreign country “maybe India, I’d play music on the street and just be a nobody, fame is just weird man, people don’t look at me normally no more”. He seems to have a mission to make the most of any situation. Maybe this trait came from the period in life that taught him to finally embrace his “LOOOSER” reputation, or maybe it’s partly down to the fact that he grew up in Cleveland. The Midwest isn’t the kind of place that’s thriving with kids that conquer the entertainment world by any means. Kelly is cashing in on those grim life encounters like an insurance company. As he puts it, “Everything we’re doing as celebrities means nothing if we don’t use our popularity and our influence to make changes that actually mean something” his intonation drops as he ends his comment with genuine intent, “I view it as my responsibility to come out and try and make people think a little bit differently.”
We’re at minute 25 (yeah that ten minute curfew was quickly forgotten about) and I’m completely sold by MGK’s refreshingly real nature. There’s little you can justifiably fault him on. He’ll give you his opinion straight out and you might not like it, but at the end of the day his response would go something a little like “I want people to see me as a thinker” and what do you respond to that? He’ll chase fame for the former half of his life and spend the latter half despising it, or at least parts of it, but again, at the end of the day don’t we all do that? We want something so badly that when we get it we realise it’s not so sugar coated. He’ll be the first to tell you about his appreciation for creative minds and when he’s done with telling you about his plans to “score [his] own movie”, his love for 90’s music, Liam Fucking Gallagher and 70s fashion, he’ll leave you on a cliffhanger… “we just booked the studio – I can’t even say who it is. It’s one of ya’ll, a group of ya’ll artists”.
Indeed, phone calls with strangers should never be underestimated. Maybe I didn’t come away with the lowdown on Kelly’s latest collab, but what I did come away with was somewhat more valuable than momentary information. The lesson to take his words as template, place them on your own goals and I’ll see you on the other side of regular life. That and an invite to his film premiere. Colson Baker, thank you so much for your time.