How Machine Gun Kelly Got His Name

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

For those not familiar with Colson Baker, the name Machine Gun Kelly would probably evoke images of a ’20s outlaw, wrapped in pinstripes and toting a Tommy. For those that are familiar with the rapper-turned-punk star, the name has a single denotation.

Kelly has been in the game for over a decade but skyrocketed to new heights with Tickets To My Downfall in 2020. The equally lauded follow-up to the record, mainstream sellout, fully solidified Kelly’s unique blend of hip-hop and punk.

His name has become a fixture in pop culture, but how did MGK adopt the famed outlaw’s name? Find out below.

Behind The Name

The name stems from some of MGK’s earliest performances. “I got the name Machine Gun Kelly because of my rapid-fire delivery when I was 15 and started doing shows,” he once said.

MGK shared his first mixtape, Stamp of Approval, in 2006. From there, he built a local fan base in Cleveland where his eventual stage name started to take shape.

He credits a show at New York’s Apollo Theatre in 2009 for officially giving him his start. “We drove straight from Ohio and stood in line for ten hours,” MGK once recalled. “I got boo’d as soon as I walked on the Apollo stage and then I won … twice.”

He went on to become the first rapper in history to win Apollo’s talent show. His follow-up mixtape, 100 Words and Running, came shortly after, while he was still working at Chipotle to pay his rent.

Mainstream Sellout

Though his earliest offerings were straight hip-hop, he started to make a shift to pop punk in 2019 with his album Hotel Diablo. With the release of Tickets to my Downfall, MGK ostensibly abandoned rap in favor of his new Travis Barker-assisted sound.

Last year he commented on his sonic shift, saying he “earned” his success in the pop-punk space, regardless of the naysayers’ criticism.

“I know it kills certain bands in that community that I got the success that I got,” he said. “But I earned that shit.”

He continued, “Dude, I was fucking loading up the van with our drums and amps in 2010, driving to Indiana and Chicago, playing Warped Tour. I can tell you the fucking Wi-Fi codes to venues in Blackfoot, Idaho. Can you say that shit as a band?”

He earned a Grammy nod for his 2022 release Mainstream Sellout in the category of “Best Rock Album.” The LP fully cemented MGK’s standing in the punk community though he has revealed he plans to return to rap for his next effort.

“I’m going to make a rap album for myself. For no other reason, no point to prove, no chip on my shoulder,” MGK said in an interview with Audacy in 2022. “If I keep doing things to prove things to people, I’m going to, one, drive myself crazy and, two, not make a good product.”

Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Interscope Records

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