Sparklers and rebels framed a long black table at a dimly lit private dinner at TAO Asian Bistro in Hollywood one late night this past April. Infamous bad boys Pete Davidson, Tommy Lee, and Marilyn Manson were just a few of the misfits on the guest list, there to celebrate the 29th birthday of rapper Machine Gun Kelly. In an epic birthday video posted to his Instagram account, Kelly could be seen clad in a leather jacket, white skinny jeans, and a Rolex watch worth more than most Americans' annual salary. He raised his glass, stood on a chair, and said to the guests, “I don’t want to remember anything from tonight!”
Scenes like this seem to be a regular occurrence for the Cleveland musician. Born Colson Baker, Machine Gun Kelly, a.k.a. MGK, rose to fame after the release of his 2012 single “Wild Boy” featuring Waka Flocka Flame. The song was an anthem for the badly behaved, and served as an introduction to Kelly's badass personal branding. Despite being most often labeled a rapper, Kelly's made a living off of his rock star lifestyle. When it comes to his musical accolades, putting him solely in the box of hip-hop is a gross underestimation of his talent.
Hotel Diablo, Machine Gun Kelly’s fourth studio album, is set to be released on July 5, as revealed by the artist via tattoo. A mashup of alternative rock and rap, the album is a slight departure from his roots in hip-hop. Announced by MGK himself on Instagram, this new project is about showing his fans that, even though he’s still the skinny kid with the tattoos and the bleached hair, artistically, he’s very different. He’s still mad as hell, but with this album he’s embracing the angst and expressing it on his terms, telling fans that Hotel Diablo will be “just as honest” as his second project, the highly regarded General Admission.
Based on the tracks that already have been teased, it seems he’s staying true to his word. The single "Hollywood Whore" is a percussion-driven rock song that lashes out at a friend that toyed with his emotions and his career. “El Diablo” is a thinly veiled callback to his well-publicized 2018 beef with Detroit emcee Eminem. The lyrics, coupled with the hip-hop inspired trap beat, are a cocky challenge to his peers, reminding other rappers why he has a seat at the table and daring them to take his spot.
Today, Kelly's persona is even bigger than it was when he took off in 2011. Admittedly, he's had a few blows to his career. He was booked as the opener for the North American leg of Linkin Park’s One More Light tour, but never saw the stage; lead singer Chester Bennington died before the tour began. His contract with Bad Boy Records ended just as suddenly as it began. He scrapped an entire album last December. Despite these circumstances, he’s bounced back and proved his resilience again and again. Instead of shying away from the pain that he’s encountered, he’s learned to embrace his circumstances and reinterpret them through his music.
As MGK embarks on the Hotel Diablo tour, fans can expect the same high energy shows they’re used to, but with a refreshing level of unpredictability. He’s promised new music between now and the album’s official release. So far, he’s kept his promise, but no two releases have been the same. "El Diablo" leaked quietly online, reminiscent of his mixtape days. "Hollywood Whore" was more polished, with a full music video to accompany it. He rewarded concert-goers at the Bunbury Music Festival with a sneak preview of the latest release, "I Think I'm OKAY," featuring Travis Barker and YUNGBLUD, a full two weeks before the track appeared online last week.
Based on what's been heard of it so far, Hotel Diablo looks to be the culmination of Machine Gun Kelly’s haphazard journey to fame. The singles are dark, angry, and filled with a satisfying sense of vengeance. MGK is airing his grievances, and this time, he’s not holding back.
Machine Gun Kelly. With TM88. 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, at The Van Buren, 401 West Van Buren Street; 480-659-1641; thevanburenphx.com. Tickets are $30 to $35 via TicketWeb.