Machine Gun Kelly feels like an underdog. It doesn’t matter that he’s signed to Bad Boy/Interscope, has had a Gold single, sells out shows, or sees money from each of these accomplishments. He’s continued to channel the mindset he had as an unknown teenager handing out CDs on the street up to this point, and that doesn’t waver on his debut, Lace Up.

Kells’ rock aesthetic has been ushered to the forefront of late, and the album’s first section creates such a musical mood. The opener, “Save Me,” featuring M. Shadows and Synyster Gates of the metal band Avenged Sevenfold, embodies teenage angst, with a screeching chorus that pleads, “Can’t you save me?!” The Cleveland native’s one extended verse on the track is indicative of his take on the album on the whole: there’s a heavy focus placed on his come up, his past and continued grind, and his retention of the claims of that underdog status.

The production is often fittingly dark, bouncing off of MGK’s solemn tales well. The second half of the album, with cuts like “All We Have,” “See My Tears,” and “On My Way,” further attempts to sew this image of struggle listener’s mind. The sentiment relayed on “Runnin’,” with bars like, “I’m still runnin’, runnin’, and I don’t know where/All I got to my name is one pair/Of laced up Chucks, five bucks/And a chip on my shoulder that’s so big that I cannot bear,” becomes the norm.

Even with the success of “Wild Boy,” similar aggressive content, like with Lil Jon on “Lace Up,” doesn’t come together quite as well. Other joints with veteran features include the haunting “D3mons” with DMX and “Edge of Destruction,” where fellow Midwesterners Tech N9ne and Twista dazzle.

Longtime MGK fans may be disappointed that five of the 13 cuts were previously released, including “End of the Road” and “Stereo,” from the Lace Up mixtape nearly two years ago. Alternatively, those that know the tattooed rapper primarily from his “Wild Boy” single and image will feel that he and the pavement to pavilion-stage rise he pushes come off a bit cliché. But it’s with precisely that approach and his emotional verbal rounds that he's been able to build the foundation of his older fanbase, and though he may no longer be quite the underdog he once was, rapping like it—at least for now—still works. —Adam Fleischer (@AdamXXL)