The brash, 22-year-old Cleveland-area rapper, with his tatted-up body and mohawked blonde hair, just hit No. 4 on the Billboard charts for his debut album “Lace Up.” It was a moment with a long and tumultuous buildup. After growing up the son of two missionaries, dropping out of high school, and coming close to eviction, MGK won back-to-back rap victories at the Apollo in 2009, becoming the first ever white rapper to win at the theater. He released a series of four mixtapes which found growing popularity, and he culled a fanatical fanbase in his hometown and throughout the country. Slowly, he gained notice for a rapid-fire delivery, surprisingly insightful lyrics, and intense songs that bring to mind that other white rapper who came around at a similarly young age. It's all culminated in “Lace Up,” one of the best rap albums of the year.
When I called MGK on Monday, I expected an interview in which he'd say whatever he wanted (this Oct. 12 Vice Magazine interview kind of brought me to that conclusion). I wasn't wrong. He started by rapping a play off my name, then it got crazier from there. The interview is lightly edited.
So I was at the listening party in New York a couple of weeks ago.
Oh you came? Badass.
Yeah, it seemed like a pretty amazing night for you.
That was an awesome night for me. I just hated the fucking cameras, dude. I hate cameras, dude.
There were a lot of cameras there. You were getting flashed while the album was playing.
Yeah, I wanted to kick 'em in the face. I just wanted everyone to appreciate the music.
I think a lot of the people there definitely did.
Oh no, 100%. The cameraman people would even stop taking pictures when I wanted them to listen to the music.
Yeah. One thing I wanted to ask you—I just relistened to the album, and there's these songs like “All We Have,” about growing up with your friends in Cleveland. Was it weird to see these guys you grew up with at your listening party in New York? Was that a surreal experience for you?
Yeah, dude. I don't know, the whole thing is just surreal. What's weird is that it's like I've been dreaming for so long and I haven't woke up yet. It hasn't hit me. It's all so much like a dream. and I haven't slept at all since i got back from Europe so dude, I'm going off eight months of no sleep. So when I finally get a 24-hour period to sleep and wake up, I'll probably digest it then. Then I'll be like, “Goddamn, we did it.”
How long has it felt like a dream? Since the Bad Boy signing or before then?
Yeah, man. The Bad Boy thing really. I mean, we had a shitload of fucking hard times after we signed to Bad Boy, but that was going to come, period.
One second. Hold up a second.
[MGK picks out a shirt to wear. Voices in the background.]
Yeah, yeah, go ahead. Sorry.
No prob, you back?
Yeah, yeah, sorry. Dude, I'm high as shit. All over.
[laughs] Okay. So the album went No. 4, right? What's the first thing you did when you found out it went No. 4?
[long pause] Ate a blueberry muffin, I think? I borrowed a friend's car, because I don't own a car, and went to Dunkin' Donuts and got a blueberry muffin and it was the best-tasting blueberry muffin ever.
What did Diddy say to you?
He just said “Congrats.” He's not trying to pump my head up or anything like that. We try to keep our distance and keep a good relationship and try not to pump each other's heads up or anything. We want to be No. 1, man, so fuck No. 4.
Looking back on the album, what was your favorite memory of working on it?
Shit. Probably the release date, because, you know, I think everyone who works on an album nowadays, people don't expect the album to actually come out. But the second people start getting emails after they preordered the album, the second they came and said “Your download is ready, would you like to download the album?”… The second they came and I started seeing Tweets about it, I said, “Thank God, this is it.” We popped some champagne and it was a beautiful moment, man.
And I got to go home and perform all those joints off the album at a free concert the day it came out. That was the coolest moment, getting to see fans and getting to spend the album release date in my home city.
You know, I really liked the song “Demons” with DMX. I think we're the same age and I grew up listening to “Flesh of My Flesh” and “And Then There Was X…”
Yeah. What was it like working with a guy who you also grew up listening to?
It was so easy! We're the exact same people… He and I just have great chemistry, we'll continue to work with each other and perform with each other and shit, we just kind of let our demons out on that song. It's going to be cool when the documentary comes out [below]—you're going to be shocked when you see all the things that went into the making of this album… like damn near fucking OD'ing, like fucking girls, insane tour life, depression, being a father, losing friends. That was all going on during the making of this album.
That's a lot of stuff. The actual making of this album—how long was it?
Probably two years.
I assume you did, but did you write out all the lyrics on it? There's so many lyrics.
Yeah. I wrote most of the lyrics on paper except for a couple. We actually put all the lyrics inside the actual album, which I think was cool.
That is cool. That doesn't happen much anymore.
Yeah, I had to bring that one back.
You're obviously known for a very rapid-fire delivery. Do you ever worry that some people are maybe missing the lyrics by how fast you're rapping?
Dude, yes I'm a fucking lyricist. This one bitch-ass fucking interviewer said, “What makes you think you can call yourself lyrical?” Well, man, what makes you think you can call your penis a penis?
… My lyrics are fucking bananas on that album. But it's all good—all the greats were misunderstood at first.
So looking ahead to the tour, how many cities are you doing?
We're just doing 20 this time. For a motherfucker like me, that's not really shit, which is a good thing because I can have a lot of fun on this tour. In previous tours, there were, like, no showers for three or four days in a row—we did 90 cities in 99 days before the Warped Tour—so this tour should be fun.
What's the weirdest thing to ever happen while you're touring?
So much shit, man. Shitting in bags is fucking hilarious. The opportunities with that are endless.
Weirdest tour story… I'm pretty baked right now [laughs]. Can't focus on one…. There are so many of the tour days that I'm fucked up, so it's going to be hard to remember what happened, which sucks, man.
In a few months, are you looking at doing a mixtape next? Or a new album?
Nah, I'm going to work on another album. I'm in deep shit. I want to fuck everybody up. The first album was just my warm-up.
Any featured artists you want to work with?
Anthony Kiedis from the Chili Peppers and Eminem.
Eminem? I'm sure in the beginning there were those invevitable comparisons with him…
That's awesome. He's a legend. Keep it coming, man.
And scene. Get the album here. As MGK told me at the end of the interview, “Lace Up or Suck a Dick!”