I was recently chilling in a Starbucks drive thru (a girl needs her americano fix), when “Till I Die” started bumping through my car’s speakers… but I wasn’t streaming music from my phone via Bluetooth technology as usual. Shout out to Shade 45, Eminem’s SiriusXM radio station! You see, a trickledown effect from satellite radio to FM radio exists, hence my excitement.
If you hadn’t heard of Colson Baker before now, you probably hadn’t associated his name with artist Machine Gun Kelly, commonly referred to as MGK.
If you hadn’t heard of Machine Gun Kelly before January 2015, you probably at least now know he’s the tattoo-laden guy recently featured on MTV Jams. In its first week of circulation, MGK’s “Till I Die” music video surpassed 1,000,000 views. For a guy with the same management team since his couch-surfing days, that’s a huge milestone. That said, Machine Gun Kelly hasn’t catered to the mainstream. The mainstream is simply becoming more aware of him and his “Lace Up Movement”—to be elaborated upon later, but this doesn’t mean the status quo is happy about his exposure.
I posted a snippet of “Till I Die” to my Instagram account, because I was wearing an EST 19XX (MGK’s “family”) bandana when I heard the song playing on Shade 45 that day in the Starbucks drive thru. I was pumped, but my “followers”? Not so much. One comment simply stated, “Umm no.” Another person encouraged me to “grow up.” I was told to stop following “deadbeat rappers.” In my initially shocked/offended state, I removed the comments, but I didn’t remove the post.
“Question: What if tomorrow never comes & everything you said today couldn’t be undone?”
Machine Gun Kelly, All We Have
I’ll start with a pretty cliché quip, “Don’t hate what you don’t understand.” To the men, women, and children who consider themselves part of MGK’s “Lace Up Movement,” Machine Gun Kelly personifies much more than sex, drugs, and rock & roll. He’s a representation of self-acceptance, courage, and love. He is a beacon of hope. He helps people conquer addiction and suicidal thoughts. His music helps them cope with traumatic experiences, unfortunate circumstances, and difficult familial environments. It’s no coincidence EST is an abbreviation for “Everyone Stands Together.” A genuine diehard fellowship has formed around MGK; his fan base is the embodiment of the Lace Up Movement. Machine Gun Kelly encourages EST to strive for “something more,” to believe they can turn dreams into reality. Why shouldn’t people buy into it? Colson Baker defied all odds, didn’t he?
Born into a family that would later disintegrate, Colson Baker’s father left him in a neighbor’s basement when he moved to Kuwait for work. Years later after his father returned to the United States, he kicked Colson out of his house. The 18 year old then fathered a child of his own, a baby girl named Casie. MGK faced a major setback for an aspiring rapper shortly thereafter: he developed a polyp on his vocal chords, and he didn’t have insurance or the financial means to have it removed. He spent six months out of the studio doing vocal exercises to naturally remediate the situation. “Every night I’d wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning wanting to blow my brains out,” said MGK. “That was one of the most depressing periods of my life,” according to his biography on machinegunkelly.com.
So why’d I experience backlash to my Instagram video snippet featuring “Till I Die”? For starters, the first lines of the song are as follows, “One time for the city, my city… Bitch, I’m from The Land ‘til I die!” Oops… I’ll likely catch flack for not censoring that curse word. I live in the Bible belt. If a conservative person takes a look at Machine Gun Kelly’s Twitter feed or Instagram account, it won’t be long until he or she finds a reason to be offended (or even outraged by some standards). Weed, related paraphernalia, and “ass & titties” are relatively prominent features.
But let’s dig a little deeper into “Till I Die.” About a minute into the music video, viewers can spot a man cooking up some barbeque ribs outside of a food truck. A few seconds later, you see MGK raging in a sea of young kids. Then it hit me: Machine Gun Kelly tweeted about serving up free food to schoolchildren a couple months ago. Being the observant nerd I am, I did a little digging to identify the truck as Greg Beckham’s, the owner of Beckham’s B&M Bar-B-Que. There you have it: Colson Baker makes it a point to give back to the community that gave birth to his success, Cleveland. Though a self-proclaimed anarchist, he’s civic minded. The video also features the run-down house that Colson Baker and his friends—his family, rather—spent years inhabiting. MGK exemplifies Horatio Alger’s “rags to riches” concept, but he doesn’t tout his financial gain. Instead of jet setting and living lavishly, you can find Machine Gun Kelly employing his friends and inspiring them to work hard for success along with him.
Speaking of money, I once handed my debit card over to a young man I had only known for a matter of minutes at the Toronto stop on MGK’s 2014 “No Class Tour.” A nearby stranger exclaimed, “I can’t believe you just trusted him with your card! What are you thinking?” Well, I’ll tell you what I was thinking: “I know he’s ‘good people.’ I know the people of the Lace Up Movement.” The young man battled through a jam-packed venue for me and a couple other guys, who I met between artists’ sets. He did it for us twice so we could keep our elbowroom on a railing between the 19+ section and the general area. None of us knew the guy, but Everyone Stands Together…
At the same concert, I had another memorable experience thanks to the eclectic group of people Machine Gun Kelly brings together. While performing “Her Song,” MGK asked the crowd to show him their “beautiful faces.” Friends and boyfriends lifted females onto their shoulders to enjoy the song, to be effectively serenaded by MGK. A complete stranger asked me if I wanted to hop onto his shoulders for the song. I’m a relatively muscular (hence, heavy), 5’8” chick who was wearing a dress, so I thanked him but declined the offer. He ended up asking me again just to make sure! Call me self-conscious or crazy, but I think I could probably beat this guy in an arm wrestling competition. I was flattered. I felt “small,” since he had such confidence in his ability to hold me up for so long. I felt pretty. That’s what Machine Gun Kelly’s music does to people. If not invincible, they feel some sort of significance not felt on their own. They feel special.
Another special feature of Machine Gun Kelly’s “No Class Tour” was how he orchestrated surprises for EST couples. In both Ohio and Canada, I witnessed him bring a couple onto the stage mid-performance. After each girl unexpectedly got to meet MGK, each boyfriend knelt to one knee and proposed! I recognized one of the couples at an after party and congratulated them. The new fiancés gushed about how nice, unpretentious, and thoughtful the entire Machine Gun Kelly crew is. They were on Cloud 9. These couples will never forget their engagements thanks to Colson Baker and his crew.
Speaking of MGK’s crew, by chance I’ve interacted with some of the boys. In Kentucky I met an articulate young man employed by him while enjoying a beer after a show. He was clearly intelligent in addition to well spoken. After graduating from college and holding down a “big boy job” in Cleveland, he bet his talents on MGK. I didn’t have the pleasure of getting to know a “Joe Blow” who had no other career options. People believe strongly enough in the man known as Machine Gun Kelly to bet their livelihoods on him.
You meet, see, and become surrounded by a diverse group of individuals at Machine Gun Kelly’s functions. In Cincinnati, I noticed a woman who was at least in her 30s. In order to succinctly describe her outward appearance, I’ll say she looked like the epitome of a librarian in a movie. She sported a cardigan sweater, a tucked-in shirt, a short haircut, glasses, and “mom jeans.” I mistook her for a mother or older sibling accompanying someone else at the concert. I realized my misperception when three or four songs into MGK’s set, she dropped her seeming timidity as well as her inhibitions. She jammed along to every song, singing and rapping a notable amount of the lyrics. With a bright, contagious smile plastered on her face, she recorded several videos of the performance as if she wanted to bottle up the night and re-live it over and over again. She was a doll.
The Lace Up Movement doesn’t simply consist of a bunch of Caucasian anarchists. Machine Gun Kelly’s music speaks to every type of person under the sun—black, white, Asian, Latino, rich, poor, impaired, healthy, sick, et cetera. I know this to be true, because I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes on more than a couple of occasions. Before discounting Machine Gun Kelly as an inappropriate, counter-cultural influence, I challenge you to “lace up”! Challenge yourself to see MGK through the eyes of EST. I’ll leave you with a powerful moment from EST Fest 2014. Colson Baker partnered with the Make A Wish Foundation to make one cancer survivor’s dream come true:
Nothing But Love,