On Machine Gun Kelly’s latest set of new music, Black Flag, the Cleveland emcee continuously harps on the elements of voice distortions, call-and-response hooks, trap music-centered production, bleak themes of poverty, struggle, being an outsider/misfit, standing on the verge of Rap stardom, self reflection, repping Cleveland, and Midwestern, Bone Thugs/Crucial Conflict-influenced, quick-tongued rhyme delivery. Kelly knows good and damn well that leaning on these strengths is exactly where his bread is buttered. The trouble lies in the fact that he keeps serving listeners the same meal, and it’s growing a little bland.
Keenly attuned to the fact that Hip Hop in the second decade of the 2000s is more single-driven than ever, MGK knows how to deliver a simplistic yet danceable, head-nodding single, as evidence by “Wild Boy” from 2011. The trend continues with the Pusha T and Meek Mill-assisted “Peso.” It offers unaffected piano keys, a sped-up Aloe Blacc Soul sample and an Ace Hood-inspired hook. Meanwhile MGK ponders whether fans will think of him when he’s no longer relevant on “Miss Me,” swoons over aspirations of the pimp life on “50” and seeks to follow in the infamous Cannabis-fueled footsteps of other famous weed heads with Wiz Khalifa on “Mind Of A Stoner.”
The production throughout Black Flag is forcefully dreary and haunting, favoring MGK’s raspy, grating delivery to a T. Like many rappers in the new millennium, Kelly relies more on his outlandish personality and curious charisma than he does lyrical content. At times it serves him well, like on the autobiographical opener “Raise the Flag,” and the piano-lush “D&G” where he angrily spews, “Where I’m from we don’t see designer / Where I’m from we just see dishonor / Where I’m from I don’t see my mama / That bitch left me like Halley’s Comet…”
At other times, it’s a drawback, like on the TrapMoneyBenny-produced “Black Tuxedo,” which comes across with the drudgery and disappointment of lazy, album filler music. And besides “Dark Side of the Moon,” the only place where MGK really seems to challenges his listener by ending on a truly piercing and depressing note with the stories of two young children caught in the crosshairs of burdensome, below-the-poverty-line life, Black Flag pretty much stays in the same proverbially indifferent lane.
You have to give Machine Gun Kelly credit for making the whole of Black Flag heartfelt and sincere, but it trudges along and grows repetitive and tiresome by the time the rap rock mish mash of “Swing Life Away” arrives. There are only so many times you can feel sympathy for MGK’s troubled childhood, bounce along to repeated, repetitious “turned up” refrains and be impressed by recurrent came-from-nothing, rags-to-riches braggadocio. Maybe we shouldn’t expect Machine Gun Kelly to delve too far outside of his comfort zone, but it would be nice for him to take a leap of faith beyond what we’re already painfully well aware of in his music.
DX Consensus: “Just A Mixtape”