General Admission

It’s hard not to root for Machine Gun Kelly. The former XXL Freshman, who at different points in his life has been homeless, a teenage father and a heroin addict, is clearly a talented musician that has often ended up performing a bit below his abilities. This was particularly true of his major label debut Lace Up, which found the Bad Boy signee trying to mesh his aggressive rap style with pop ballads, party anthems and an overload of features, to lukewarm results. It wasn’t a failure by any means, but it certainly felt like a bit of a letdown after the explosive promise of his early mixtapes.

Three years (and a couple mixtapes) later, we finally have MGK’s sophomore album, General Admission, again via Bad Boy/Interscope. While not without its issues, it’s clear from the outset that Kelly has found a stronger footing musically. One thing that longtime fans will immediately notice is the somewhat toned-down nature of the record. In the past, MGK has been known to throw everything at the wall, shooting out super-dense rhymes in quick succession. Certain tracks, like “Alpha Omega” and the oddball Kid Rock collaboration “Bad Motherfucker,” retain this rapid-fire feeling, but as a whole the album feels more calm and introspective than much of his past work. Although hearing this may cause some people a sense of unease, it actually works to his advantage. The corniness that some of his earlier music suffered from is gone here, replaced instead by a quiet confidence and emotional rawness that befits a more grown up rapper.

Some of the elements that dinged his debut make a return appearance, but they feel much different this time around. Lzzy Hale’s hook on poppy power ballad “Spotlight” is a great example: it might be a departure from the Cleveland rapper’s usual style, but it doesn’t feel shoehorned into the album in order to force a radio single. And rather than stuffing the project with features, he does all the rapping and most of the hooks himself, finding a more consistent voice in the process. General Admission has its low moments—the series of emotional, down-tempo songs is a bit repetitive by the end—but it feels much more cohesive than his last effort.

The album winds down with Kelly recounting the traumatic car accident he suffered on the way to meet label executives in New York, inspiring him to reject their meetings and return to Cleveland where he received a call from Puff Daddy offering him a deal with Bad Boy. Standing at the precipice of the next chapter in his career, it feels fitting. He may have matured, but Machine Gun Kelly is still Machine Gun Kelly, a fact that people will either love or hate. But the takeaway from General Admission is that Kelly has finally made an album that can be taken seriously. This isn’t a caricature of him; instead it’s an honest, unfiltered portrayal of a long-troubled man and his struggle to make something of himself. If that isn’t hip-hop music worth rooting, for then I don’t know what is. —Chris Mench