By Samuel Orazem EBS Contributor
Mentioning the name Machine Gun Kelly, often abbreviated as MGK, in a conversation about rap always feels a bit taboo. He clearly possesses the vocal chops necessary to make a decent career for himself, but he’s never appeared to be particularly interested in carving out his own niche in the genre. Instead, MGK has spent the last decade in one-sided “beefs” with Eminem, doing things to keep himself in the tabloids and haphazardly crafting narratives of his own victimization.
The self-image MGK wants to craft always seems to come before the actual music, and his discography is, more or less, a catalog of every rap trend that hit the mainstream in the 2010’s. However, the bleached blonde, graphic T-shirt wearing boy from Cleveland realized something on his 2019 album titled “Binge.” The final track, “I Think I’m OKAY,” was a 2000’s pop-punk banger written with blink-182’s drummer, Travis Barker. It was far and away the most popular track of the album. It was also the only one where he actually sounded like he was having fun.
MGK brought Travis Barker back to write “Tickets To My Downfall” with him and, for the first time, I can say I genuinely like one of his albums. It is overflowing with energy, nostalgia and, most important of all, an artist who sounds comfortable with his product.
Barker’s fingerprints are all over “Tickets To My Downfall.” His lightning quick and robotically precise drumming drives tracks like “kiss kiss” and “forget me too” to heights blink-182 has failed to reach on its most recent projects. Barker and MGK find a way to stir-up the rebellious, youthful energy that made artists like blink-182 and Avril Lavigne superstars in the early 2000’s without ever crossing into the realm of being overly nostalgic.
Yet, MGK does not entirely abandon the genre that kickstarted his career. “all I know” and “my ex’s best friend” feature rappers Trippie Redd and blackbear, respectively, and expertly blends the two, seemingly contradictory genres of rap and pop-punk. While MGK clearly never felt like the rap scene was where he truly fit in, these tracks show that he still has an artistic interest in the evolution of the former.
The only major detractor from “Tickets To My Downfall” is that, after getting over the initial intrigue of an MGK pop-punk album, the 22 song, 53-minute runtime of the deluxe edition feels bloated. While the energetic nature of the genre ensures that the album never feels like its dragging on, a full listen will definitely leave you feeling out of breath and ready to give your ears a rest.
The most interesting part of “Tickets To My Downfall” is that anyone familiar with MGK’s previous work will probably find its content eerily familiar. The radical shift in genre was not accompanied by a change in the content of the lyrics. Instead, he just bellows all of his old material over frisky drumming and heavily distorted power chords. The angsty stories he wants to tell fit better in a pop-punk setting, though, and it seems like abandoning rap has led to him finally finding his own identity and place in the broader music scene.