Having parlayed the massive buzz around himself and his EST Movement into a spot on the Interscope/Bad Boy roster, Cleveland wunderkind MGK takes his burgeoning rap career to the next level with the release of his major-label debut. Coming on the heels of hit street album EST 4 Lyfe, Lace Up comprises 17 tracks worth of original material, including Booth-featured singles "Wild Boy," "Invincible" and "Hold On (Shut Up)." Kelly's collaborators on the project include Bun B, Cassie, DMX, Ester Dean, Planet VI, Tech N9ne, Twista and Young Jeezy, and such big names as Alex Da Kid, GB Hitz, J.R. Rotem, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Southside handle production duties.
Lace Up Album Review
That also means, though, that MGK and Lace Up face a double-challenge. Both punk rock and hip-hop have roots in making music for the disenfranchised and rebellious, and like hundreds before him in both genres, he shoulders the weight of translating that rebelliousness into the corporate confines of major label music. Maintaining the same “burn down the building” energy that your most loyal fans demand while not actually burning down the building is no easy task, but it’s a fine like that MGK mostly manages to walk with success on Lace Up.
Before I get accused of playing the “sell out” card of stirring up trouble, let me point out that Kelly himself is on record saying about lead single Invincible that, “I hated the song when I first did it because it was brought to me by corporate America.” He may have hated it, but he didn't hate it enough to not do the song, or do the Interscope-mandated Beats by Dre shout out, or keep it off his album. He did, however, succeed in making Invincible the exception, not the rule. The only other song on Lace Up truly in the same ballpark is the strings-laden Runnin, but MGK sounds much more passionate on Runnin, turning what could have been another hollow shot at radio play into an earnestly honest track. Long story short, the Bad Boy machine may have changed him, but not much.
Instead, Lace Up is filled with the kind of Wild Boy material made to ignite the bonfire that is his destructive live show. Title track Lace Up might just be the best use of some Lil Jon ad libs we’ve heard in years, and even more impressive is the rapid-fire Edge of Destruction, which finds MGK standing next to established vets Tech N9ne and Twista. You may not be especially impressed by MGK’s rap skills, nor are you obligated to, but one listen to Edge of Destruction should at least prove that the young kid can actually rap – this is no Kreayshawn situation. And even the old heads have to applaud Kelly for giving the comeback-focused DMX his biggest placement in years on the darkly twisted and rewind-worthy D3mons. That underdog, from the gutter to the sky sound fills much of Lace Up, most notably on the inspirational See My Tears, a track that seems destined to invoke emotion from his most hardcore fans. I don’t know how high MGK’s ceiling is, how big his movement can get, but if this is the ground floor, it’s a pretty solid start.
Full disclosure, on a completely personal level I can’t call myself a Machine Gun Kelly “fan”, nor do I think I’ll find myself listening to Lace Up more than a handful more times, at most. But one thing I’ve learned being this old is that my personal tastes don’t count for much. In fact, I’m married, I have a kid and I’m steadily employed; maybe the fact that I don’t connect strongly to this album is a sign of its success. If Machine Gun Kelly is indeed going to be one of the voices of the new generation, he’s going to need to point to old guys who “just don’t get it” as proof that he’s doing it right. I get it, I was once young too; hungry, with the future wide in front of me and just waiting for someone to tell me to Lace Up.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins