At its finest moments, MGK’s sophomore studio album General Admissionis an unflinchingly honest portrayal of a life lived successfully walking the tightrope between success, failure, life and death. At its not-so-finest moments, the album may bear the unique distinction of being 2015’s best zombie rap anthem unearthed from the year 2002. Sustainable major label rapper Kelly is certainly a star on the rise. However, in defining himself through well-worn tropes of rap yesteryear that include cadences, lyrical styles and subject matter, MGK’s General Admission is a mixed-bag of an album that aims high and falls short, but an amazing story is told along the way.
Stunningly enough, on a rap album released in 2015, there’s a song that features a guest appearance from Kid Rock and Juvenile’s “Back Dat Ass Up” flow on the same track. That ignominious honor belongs to “Bad Motherfucker,” which in having both of these facets as assets of its unique appeal gives you a sense of where MGK’s best market is found. This is not a Billboard Rap Chart, urban radio dominant and club-ready album. MGK’s 2015 tour dates included stops on Vans’ Warped Tour, which more so than anything may show rap’s appeal to demographics outside of the near half-century old genre’s traditional expectations.
Other moments meant for a group of fanatics perhaps more comfortable with rap’s storied history than rap’s present inspirations include recently released album single “World Series,” which is an amazing bit of haunting drill rap production, but when MGK apes UGK when saying that he wants a girl to “Work sumthin, twerk sumthin,” unlike Drake’s use of the phrase on 2010’s “Miss Me,” MGK’s take just sounds cloying and falls a little short. As well, there’s “Oz,” which samples Chicago one-hit wonders Crucial Conflict’s 1994 smash “Hay” and MGK also heavily borrows his flow from Three Six Mafia classic “Still Fly.” While a familiar earworm or two is always appreciated, when the concept feels overused as a ham-handed and lowest common denominator aimed crutch, it becomes somewhat tiresome.
The album’s best moments are neatly contained within the triple play of “Gone,” “Story of the Stairs” and “Merry Go Round.” Interestingly enough, these three songs deal specifically with MGK’s issues with relating to his family and a story that’s inspired by his well-reported history as a former heroin addict. “Gone” is a swirling and snapping banger that bears a beautiful hook and honest lyricism about the perils of travel while dealing with innumerable issues with being a good father. “Story of the Stairs” does feature a Notorious B.I.G. borrow when MGK raps “birthdays was the worst days,” but in the track’s angst having tinges of Yelawolf and Eminem, yet uniquely delivered, it works. Close that out with “heroin rock/rap” anthem “Merry Go Round”’s story about a man’s pregnant girlfriend dying of an overdose and then the man committing suicide, this represents the album’s most poignant material.
As an artist releasing on mainstream powerhouse Interscope Records, MGK’s release bears two top-40 radio winners, these being J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League-produced trap heater “Til I Die” and the magnificent “A Little More.” Victoria Monet’s vocal tone on the latter cuts through Tommy Brown’s shuffling drum and piano-led production and provides a color in tone that makes it a pop-aimed populist success.
MGK’s album closes with “All Night Long,” a track that samples Warren Zevon’s “Play It All Night Long,” and is seven minutes long because it involves MGK discussing his rise as an artist and eventual signing to Bad Boy. Warren Zevon’s 1980 is a tale of hard drinking just to get by, as “grandma’s dying of cancer now and the cattle all have brucellosis.” The easiest way to get by in this situation? Turning up the speakers on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and playing it “all night long.” While few points on MGK’s General Admission have the ameliorative effects of either Zevon or Skynyrd, when you realize that MGK’s a survivor and still improving as an artist, it softens the egregious moments on the album and makes you wanting to hear what’s to come after this album.