Machine Gun Kelly and Tech N9ne talk touring, lyricism, industry beefs and musical influences
Machine Gun Kelly is hurting. In Tucson for the night, MGK is only a third of the way through his stint as an opener in Tech N9ne’s Hostile Takeover tour. The rapid-fire 22-year-old rapper is feeling the effects of playing in a different city almost every day.
Tour life isn’t always as glamorous as it’s made out to be. The buses and VIP treatment sure beat a cross-country tour in a van, but when you’re in the midst of hip-hop’s longest tour ever, with 90 stops in 99 days, life on the road takes on a whole new kind of toll.
“My body is flushed, dude,” MGK said. “Every day we’ve had off, we haven’t had off. I’m in another region right now.”
Cleveland’s freshest and finest face is lounging in the back of his tour bus, a box of Oreos beside him and a microphone in front. He looks as drained as he says he is. Yet MGK is slated to grace the stage in a few hours to open for his physical antithesis and touring partner Tech N9ne.
Tech is the seminal Kansas City rapper who ushered in both horrorcore and “chopper” style while ascending to the rank of No. 1 selling independent artist in the world. Posted up in his bus, Tech reclines on a leather couch, radiating energy and optimism.
“Even when your body’s aching, and the music comes on, you just go with it,” Tech said. “It guides me, it moves me.”
Making moves and motivation
It’s not the motivation one would expect behind the eccentric MC’s work. Over the course of 21 years, Tech’s taken part in a number of groups, been signed and subsequently cut ties with the music industry and founded a massive record label. Despite the immense independent empire that is Strange Music, the 40-year-old rapper is as humble as ever.
“Look at this bus, man. It looks like a house in here. I have enough money to pay for this three times over? I’m just this regular guy inside the body of this dude that’s fucking crazy. I’m going wherever Tech N9ne takes me.”
As one of the forerunners of the breakneck “chopper” style of rap, Tech’s well aware of what it took to get him where he is today. Tech N9ne’s fan base may be one of the most rabid in rap today, a result of his openhearted approach to music. He and MGK appreciate their fan bases, which understand their songs that resonate with a disparate nature that undermines the typical party anthem.“These people know me and they’ve never met me. They’ve lived with my music, they know my kids, that my mom is sick, that the IRS has been fucking with me. They meet me and cry because they know my pain. It’s a beautiful thing, opening up to my fans.”
MGK, though half as old as Tech, can be just as raw. On his 2010 track “A Million and One Answers,” he answers the questions of his biggest critic: himself. Rapping in a one-man call-and-answer style, he addresses his accomplishments, hardships and ability. It’s the polar opposite to the nation-sweeping party anthem that is “Wild Boy,” and though he just signed to his first major label, MGK has proven that he’s an articulate and versatile writer.
“Even on ‘Wild Boy,’ I told a whole story there. I was lyrical about that shit. It was like this is how you do it, this is who I am,” MGK said. “‘Million and One Answers’ though, that’s my shit. You need to start there.”
It took a short three months for MGK to pen the majority of his upcoming major debut album Lace Up prior to being signed to Diddy’s Bad Boy Records. He’s already collecting and crafting material for the follow-up, which should prove to be a world away from its predecessor. Songwriting never operates in a linear fashion, and the pre-emptive MGK is more than familiar with frustrating writing patterns.
“Every time bad shit happens to me, I write my best,” MGK said. “I had writer’s block for four or five months, and as soon as bad shit on tour started happening to me, like having to take a shit outside in Texas or showering after 30 people, I just got inspired.”
However grimy tour life may be, MGK’s atypical approach and punk influence is evident in almost everything he puts out. There’s an uneasy undercurrent to his lyricism and flow that’s anti-authoritarian and aggressive. His tattooed appearance and dirty blond mohawk embody the punk stereotype and belie his vicious rap sensibility.
“(Punk) played a role in my stance and where I stand with my label and media, but my aggression comes from the streets. I come from a rough city. I have friends who aren’t ‘yes men.’ Punk influences me on how to stand up for what I believe in the mainstream. It’s why I can fit in on a tour like this.”
But Tech seems to be his own influence. Despite creating tight bonds with some of the industry’s biggest players, cultivating Strange Music Inc., and bringing on a diverse and radical roster, Tech brings it back to his own dichotomous nature when it comes to inspiration.
“I happen to be the No. 1 indie artist because I can do what I want, and what I do is really good because I’m a student of hip hop,” Tech said. “Tech N9ne is only what I would expect my favorite MC to sound like. He can have hella different pitches, he can go fast, he can go slow, he can go hella ghetto. He’s a clusterfuck of MCs in one.”
Tech is arguably one of the most versatile members of the rap genre, and it’s allowed him to work with a bevy of MCs through the years. And the best is yet to come.
Tech lays down a few bars of his Mr. Smith collaboration with Busta Rhymes, and after rapping for two decades, the pitch alteration and articulation that set him apart from the rest are stronger than ever. His feet lift off the ground as he raps, his body seemingly possessed by the same music that paid for his buses, brought him fame and allowed him to bring guys like MGK and Krizz on tour.
Tech is an affable figure, so it’s easy to see why he’s made close ties with guys like Lil Wayne and openly commented on rap beefs such as Common going at Drake and B.o.B. versus Odd Future, all while making it clear it would be an unwise move to step to him.
MGK hasn’t been as lucky. After buying rights for a sample from The Naked and Famous’ “Young Blood” for his track “Half Naked and Almost Famous,” the New Zealand synth-pop group openly tore him apart on Twitter, claiming that he used the sample without permission.
After MGK stated that he had the rights and documentation of his purchase of the sample, the band pulled its public and social media statements, realizing the error of its ways.
For MGK, the battle isn’t over.
“It’s not that I stole their song, I just used the hook they sung and I rapped,” MGK said. “They made me out to be a bad guy when they’re making money off me for the same time, so they’re a victim of their own cynicism. Fuck them. Fuck The Naked and Famous. If I see them, I’ll beat them up.”
Looking into the crystal ball
MGK knows the industry well, having cut his teeth prior to being handpicked by Diddy to join Bad Boy. In contrast to MGK’s major label commitment, Tech is content with his success as an independent artist. Regardless of who they’re signed to, both artists know where they come from and what mindset they need to maintain. MGK’s taking advantage of his current opportunities and anticipating the fall release of Lace Up.
“Lace Up’s going to have such a big impact that it’s all everyone will be talking about for the next year,” MGK said. “It’s going to be one of the biggest albums of the decade. It’ll take us to the Grammys. Mark my words.”
Both rappers have the perfect outlook for their current position in rap. Tech, having become the alternative icon that he is, isn’t stopping or taking a thing for granted.
“I still can’t believe it, man. I’m 40 years old and I don’t think I’ll ever get sidetracked,” Tech said. “I’m trying to stay rooted in the young.”