An affiliation with Diddy and a supremely idiotic beef with Kid Cudi over the word “rager” has been enough for some to write of Machine Gun Kelly. But no matter how skeptics feel, the young Cleveland emcee is firmly rooted among the influx of technically-proficient rhyming talent in Hip Hop today. With his rapid-fire delivery, multitude of flows, and a sense of humor, MGK is an emcee worth keeping an eye on. With EST 4 Life, his latest mixtape, Kelly does nothing to dissuade that notion.
Much of Hip Hop is predicated on suspension of disbelief. By now, anyone who could have possibly believed Rick Ross’ tall tales has heard the pretty strong evidence that Manuel Noriega does not, in fact, owe him a hundred favors. But fans enjoy quoting the rhymes because Rick Ross can pull that aesthetic off. It’s the same reason fans cringe when Drake talks bussin’ shots: you wouldn’t have Hugh Grant playing Don Corleone, would you? Machine Gun Kelly is no exception to this, which is why tracks like “Police” ring hollow. Aside from lazily flipping a KRS-One sample, listeners won’t be able to refrain from eye rolls at the image of Kells firing away at 5-0. Simply put, MGK is at his best when he’s an animated, 22-year-old screaming “fuck LeBron!” (as every Clevelander should) and talking about “kicking shit like Liu Kang.” “Get Laced” is such an example, with MGK cracking jokes, boasting about women, and recalling the broke days. DUB-O, presumably a member of Kelly’s EST crew, is adequate in relief duty on a handful of cuts. He’s no star, but he’s not a St. Lunatic, either.
Kelly surprises a bit with the second half of EST, which takes a thoughtful, reflective turn. Fans get an insight into some of MGK’s opinions on stardom: “Fuck what’s left for me / Because I don’t ever want to become a celebrity / I don’t ever want someone to feel less than me / So put your camera down and stand next to me.” MGK takes quick break from the introspection on “Highline Ballroom Soundcheck (Freestyle),” which is notable for what sounds like a thinly-veiled Eminem diss over The Notorious B.I.G. and Shady’s classic posthumous collaboration, “Dead Wrong.” The project closes on a heartfelt note, as “Letter to My Fans” has the Cleveland native at his most vulnerable.
EST 4 Life has its missteps, but succeeds in its capacity as a mixtape. It showcases MGK’s range and skills, and he grades out positively in both departments. If he can leave the Ghost and Rae raps to Ghost and Rae, fans should wait with baited breath for Machine Gun Kelly’s studio debut.
DX Consensus: “EP-worthy”