Despite Eminem and his fanbase believing that he'd dealt MGK's career a fatal blow, all signs point to the Cleveland MC capitalizing off his new-found notoriety.
"You don't want a beef with Eminem," The Game said succinctly when discussing his past feud with G-Unit labelmate-turned-nemesis, 50 Cent. "He shreds. He shreds MC’s for real. I ain’t his best friend or nothing, I’m just saying that I understand he can’t be seen. Jay know, everybody knows, you don’t mess with the white boy.”
Aside from being a global superstar with endless plaques on his walls, Slim Shady’s trophy case also contains the scalps of artists that never fully recuperated from lyrical exchanges with Detroit’s finest, including Ja Rule, Benzino and Everlast. Known for eviscerating MC’s and even celebrity bystanders with quick-witted and spiteful bars, MGK’s decision to rise to Eminem’s bait from Kamikaze’s ”Not Alike” was met with skepticism from both hip-hop fans and Shady diehards. Aiming for the jugular like few others dared to, MGK showed no remorse for his comments about Em’s daughter Hailie and went further than anyone would’ve expected. Sparked by a 2012 tweet that labelled Shady’s first born “hot as f**k”, this remark was neither forgiven or forgotten six years later, as Em dedicated a whole verse to tearing down MGK, a “non-threatening blond fairy cornball.” A few days later, MGK clapped back on the Ronny J-helmed response “Rap Devil” and decried Eminem for his perceived petulance over trying to “blackball” him, stating that “the big bad bully of the rap game can’t take a f****n’ joke.” An audacious, take-no-prisoners retort that painted Shady as an embittered man clinging on to past glories, it wasn’t long before the elder statesman felt implored to get back in the booth and construct his “Killshot.” With its intentions worn directly on its sleeve, Em’s assault hinged on the notion that he “had to give you a career to destroy it” and presented his rebuttal as the indisputable death knell for the Cleveland MC’s relevance.
MGK "RAP DEVIL" - Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images
A million memes later, the consensus among Em fans may have been that his victory was a foregone conclusion and another misguided adversary had been slain but, in reality, it seems as though Machine Gun Kelly may have lived to tell the tale. In the months that have passed since the biggest blows were exchanged, it’s safe to say that MGK has been revelling in a renewed spotlight. For starters, the streaming service arrival of “Rap Devil” alongside a brazen live performance of the song in Em’s native Michigan netted him his first ever iTunes Chart No 1 in the US and Canada. Likely fuelled by well-informed opportunism, MGK capitalized on his prevalence in the headlines and internet chatter by dropping a new EP Binge in September. Pulling in 21,000 in first week sales and peaking at a modest #15, his detractors could have chalked this performance up to a loss, in comparison to the record-shattering capabilities of “Killshot,” but it has to be contextualised in the sense that he; nor any other MC bar Kendrick, Drake or Jay, is ever expected to do Em’s numbers.
In the wake of the feud , MGK has funnelled his post-Eminem notoriety into a variety of artistic avenues, even veering outside of hip-hop. As pointed out to The Breakfast Club, in response to Em’s apparent fixation with his “man bun” in both “Not Alike” and “Killshot,” music is not the sole medium that the man born Richard Colson Baker has made waves in over the past few years:
“You want to talk about a hairstyle I wore in a blockbuster movie? And a 10-episode Showtime series called Roadies? I’m an actor, homie. How disconnected are you?”
In the wake of his war with Shady and one particularly fortuitous role, this is a side of MGK’s portfolio that the general public is aware of now more than ever. Viewed by a historic 45 million Netflix accounts over 7 days, the Sandra Bullock-starring Bird Box transcended the ranks of the average film release and became a cultural event that even spawned a life-endangering social media trend. Coupled with all the theorizing about its ending and any deeper symbolism the movie harboured, one of its biggest talking points became MGK’s role as drug addict, Felix. The basis for news articles about the screen time, alongside bewildered tweets from viewers with no prior knowledge of his acting career, the misinformed remarks that “Eminem destroyed his rap career and now he’s tryna become an actor” did little to hamper the fact that his name is now more embedded into the zeitgeist than ever. In a tweet after its release, MGK shed light on the meaning he’d derived from the film and, in the wake of all impassioned cries that his career had been extinguished, his interpretation is extremely fitting: “when I read the script I remember thinking ‘Birdbox’ was a metaphor for what’s goin on in the real world. And it really is. Don’t take off ur “blindfold” and become like all the ugliness around us. it’ll kill u. stay focused on your own shit.”
Far from deterred by the hate that’s been levelled against him, MGK clearly has no plans of slowing down, with an eclectic mix of films on the release slate for 2019. Ranging from pivotal roles in Rupert Wyatt’s sci-fi thriller Captive State and comedyBig Time Adolescence with Pete Davidson, to what looks to be a transformative performance as Tommy Lee in Motley Crue biopic The Dirt, all signs point to his career being not only unblemished by the Eminem fracas, but rather updated with a fresh coat of intrigue. Intent on keeping anything but a low profile, post-“Killshot” MGK graced the cover of Galore Magazine, played arenas on Fallout Boy’s “Mania Tour” alongside a sold-out annual “XXmas” headline show at Cleveland’s Wolstein Center that had loyal fans camping out the night before and, most importantly, declared that his fourth full-length project is on the way.
MGK and Pete Davidson - Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images
Announced via Instagram with a candid studio shot, Kelly outlined his ethos that is fuelling the creative process: “time to get it all out of my mind. new album. all truths. F**k everything else. sorry for the wait.” Boasting a total of 488 million streams in one calendar year, it’s safe to say that not only his day ones and die-hards but hip-hop at large will be waiting to see what surfaces on the album. Even after all the dust settled on this announcement and his homecoming show, MGK couldn’t resist lobbing one last provocation in the direction of his former idol on Instagram with the caption: “just to piss y’all off one more time before the years over. 🖕🏽😂 y’all still BIG mad 😤🤷🏼♂️ fuck rap god im the rap devil 😈 goodbye 2018”
In the case of MGK in 2018, the old adage of “any publicity is good publicity” rings truer than most. Every time that a commentator or ardent Eminem fan declared his career to be on its deathbed, the Cleveland rapper bit down on the mouthpiece and steered into it. Now with his stature in culture at an all-time high, it feels as though his diss track with Eminem was not born of emotion but of shrewd tactics and business acumen. Whether that’s the product of Em no longer ruling rap with that same intractable iron first that could lay waste to a livelihood, or a by-product of MGK’s durability is up for debate, but what can’t be refuted is that he has placed himself on the news agenda for 2019 in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without so brazenly punching above his weight.