Delivering lyrics with the speed of a bullet train, Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly experienced a meteoric rise in late 2011 when he transitioned from grinding out self-released mixtapes to working with major labels.
From there, the rapper skyrocketed to superstar status, with each of his albums charting in the Top Ten. A beef with Eminem, a film career, and even some reality show appearances would follow as the high-powered lyrical rap style of albums like 2019's Hotel Diablo morphed into a driving emo-rock sound on collaborations with Travis Barker and on the Barker-produced 2020 album Tickets to My Downfall, which topped the Billboard 200.
Born Colson Baker in Texas but raised in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Machine Gun Kelly began making music in his teens and made news in 2009 when he became the first rapper to win amateur night at Harlem's Apollo Theater. A series of mixtapes, including 100 Words and Running, Lace Up, and Rage Pack, came next, and a 2011 performance at South by Southwest was followed immediately by a meeting with Sean Combs. Kelly signed with Comb's Bad Boy imprint that night and released the single "Wild Boy" on the label the same year. The track featured special guest Waka Flocka Flame, and Kelly's debut album, Lace Up, landed in 2012. During this time, he also signed a deal with Young & Restless to work on a clothing line. The Black Flag mixtape arrived in 2013, featuring appearances by French Montana, Pusha T, Meek Mill, Wiz Khalifa, and Sleeping with Sirens' Kellin Quinn.
In 2015, he released his sophomore effort, General Admission, a dark, autobiographical LP that peaked at number four on the Billboard 200 and topped the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Kelly released the "Bad Things" single in 2016; the duet with ex-Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello became the first Top Ten single for both artists. In 2017, Kelly issued his third full-length, Bloom. In addition to "Bad Things," the effort included collaborations with Hailee Steinfeld ("At My Best"), Quavo and Ty Dolla $ign ("Trap Paris"), James Arthur ("Go for Broke"), and DubXX ("Moonwalkers"). Bloom debuted in the Top Ten of the Billboard 200, peaking at number three on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
Following the success of the gold-certified third album Bloom, Kelly received an unexpected boost in 2018 from an unlikely source: major influence Eminem, who resurrected a 2012 beef stemming from offhand comments about the Detroit rapper's daughter. On Eminem's Kamikaze attack "Not Alike," he lobbed a direct shot at Kelly, who quickly responded with the biting diss track "Rap Devil." As tabloid headlines swirled, the latter song entered the U.S. R&B/Hip-Hop chart Top Ten, jumping to number 13 on the Hot 100. Capitalizing on the surprise boost in exposure, Kelly issued the EP Binge, a dark, trap-influenced set that marked a return to form with a focused flow and sly wordplay. Unencumbered by the star-studded distractions of the pop-friendly Bloom (rapper 24hrs is the only feature), Binge debuted at number 24 on the Billboard 200, also charting in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
2019 found Kelly portraying Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee in The Dirt, a stylized biopic on the rise and fall of the hair metal legends. In May of that year, he released the single "Hollywood Whore," the first offering from his fourth album, Hotel Diablo. Landing that July, the introspective set featured additional singles "El Diablo" and "I Think I'm Okay," as well as guests Lil Skies, Trippie Redd, Yungblud, and Travis Barker. After Hotel Diablo, things shifted for Machine Gun Kelly, as his focus became more split between music and acting. On the music side of things, the rock-leaning Travis Barker collaboration "I Think I'm Okay" led to the duo working on more songs together and ultimately to Barker acting as executive producer on fifth album Tickets to My Downfall. Singles that preceded the record were a sharp turn from Machine Gun Kelly's established rap sound. In April 2020, he released "Bloody Valentine," an upbeat and melodic emo pop song dotted with synth touches. Successive singles "Concert for Aliens" and "Misery Business" followed a similar stylistic change-up. Tickets to My Downfall was released in late September of 2020 and became Kelly's first number one album. ~ Fred Thomas & Neil Z. Yeung, Rovi