Until recently, Machine Gun Kelly was semifamous for dating model Amber Rose in 2015. But earlier this year, the rapper – who earned his stage name on the Cleveland hip-hop scene for his rapid-fire delivery – scored a pop smash with “Bad Things,” an Eminem-style duet with former Fifth Harmony singer Camila Cabello. In February, the song hit Number Four on the Hot 100. “It’s crazy,” says Kelly, 26. “It’s the first love song I ever wrote.” The song will likely appear on his third album, Bloom, out this summer. But music is just one of Kelly’s hustles: He had a major part on Showtime’s Roadies and has walked runways for John Varvatos. At the moment, Kelly is in Mexico, but he won’t say why. “Put me on the cover and I’ll tell you what’s going on down here,” he says.
You’re one of the few rappers who play guitar onstage.
That’s why I first picked up the guitar. It seemed like that was missing from this generation. Is there someone who can play guitar better than me technically? One hundred percent. But does anyone look better playing a guitar in my generation? Absolutely not.
You’ve talked a lot about Nirvana and Radiohead. Why do you think the Nineties produced so many great bands?
I have Nineties music oozing out of my pores. What made rock & roll back then is that it was uncensored. It was raw and dark. Think of “Something in the Way,” by Nirvana – he was telling everyone how he felt. Now we’re in the age of politically correct. I hope to shave that down and bring purity back into things.
You’ve said your next album is inspired by Radiohead.
I was listening to a lot of Kid A when I made it. They use unconventional sounds to fill up the production. I have the same goal: to push people’s minds.
Your real name is Colson Baker. How is Colson different than Machine Gun?
Colson was a fucking loser, man. He didn’t inspire me. He accepted judgment rather than lashing out against it. It took me maturing and being a father myself to accept “You were beautiful the whole time.” Colson lacked confidence, and Machine Gun Kelly is the cockiest motherfucker on the planet.
In your Colson days, you worked at a Chipotle in Cleveland. What was the best part?
The free meal they gave me every day. Or the fact that I killed the guac. Everybody was always like, “Damn, the guac is banging today!” I’d be like, “Oh, yeah. I made that shit!”
What were you like behind the counter?
When people said, “Yo, let me get a little more chicken,” and the person next to me didn’t want to give it to them, I’d tap them on the shoulder and say, “Bro, this is not our chicken. None of our family owns Chipotle. Give everyone as much chicken as they fucking want!” If you ever came through my line, you would have a bowl full of chicken. Also, they never let me roll the burritos because I always fucked the burritos up. They’d burst every time.
“They never let me roll the burritos because I always fucked the burritos up. They’d burst every time.”
You have an eight-year-old daughter. How has being a dad changed you?
It didn’t change me until she learned to Google. I don’t care what anyone else thinks, but I do care what she sees. So I cleaned up my act a little bit. And I’m speaking to a broader audience now. Not everyone grew up stoked on watching Mötley Crüe doing lines off the bar.
Two years ago you said you take mushrooms a few times a week. Are you cutting down on drugs these days?
What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen?
I’ll tell you a recent one that blew my mind. I saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and their new guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer. Who the fuck is that guy? I think he’s an alien. I also saw Good Charlotte – seeing how much kids still connect to that shit shows you that the right song never really dies.
Why do you have a tattoo of the old man from The Giving Tree under your right armpit?
That’s what my idea of life is like. It’s like taking pieces off my own physical being. We essentially toured every shitty dive bar in the entire U.S. and Canada, every theater, every college arena, and weren’t seeing any returns. Emotionally, I was investing my trust in people and getting completely betrayed. You get fucked over and you realize, “Damn, I gave all my branches away.”
Are you getting any blowback from the underground scene for being on the pop charts?
I’ve given so much to the underground. For the underground to come up and say my music has changed? It’s like, “You fucking idiot, my formula has never changed.” How can the community that was hugely responsible for sparking a fire under me turn their backs on me? Fame is the weirdest thing ever.
At the same time, you seem to enjoy it.
One hundred thousand percent. Being a rock star rocks.