The Despised Rapper Who Became a Massive Pop Punk Icon

Reddit / Machine Gun Kelly Rock am Ring: Sven Mandel / CC-BY-SA-4.0, Copyright 2023 Sven Mandel, all rights reserved.,, Wikimedia Commons
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For many artists, venturing into a different music genre can be a risky move. Numerous talents have taken such leaps, and despite their immense passion, their skills might not always align with the demands of the new style.

However, there’s another side to this narrative. Some artists initially struggle within a particular genre, only to redefine themselves in another and achieve remarkable success. They may toil for years without gaining significant attention, but upon embracing a new direction, they can suddenly emerge as a global sensation.

Such luck came to Colson Baker, who began his rap career in 2006 under the name of Machine Gun Kelly. A few years into his career, Baker was signed to Diddy’s Bad Boy Records, where he released his debut LP Lace Up. The album received mostly positive reviews and it appeared that Baker’s career as a rapper would only skyrocket from there.

Problems began to rise for Kelly during his time as a rapper. His three follow-up records were successful, but never brought him to the rap superstardom his peers like Mac Miller were entering. To make matters worse, he was spectacularly humiliated in a beef with the legendary Eminem, as the two fired diss tracks at each other. As a rapper, it was going to be hard to come back from “Killshot,” which at time of writing, is up to 462 million views on YouTube.

One positive during all this time was Kelly’s decision to ingratiate himself in the world of rock, even just slightly. He appeared at Warped Tour 2012 to approval from the scene, and made appearances on rock songs including Sleeping With Sirens’ “Alone.” So for some, it seemed like a matter of time before he would fully commit to rock music.

In 2020 he did just that and released the album Tickets to My Downfall, which ended up being a massive hit for Baker. Not only did the record receive an abundance of positive praise from audiences and critics alike, but it also won accolades like “Top Rock Album” at the Billboard Music Awards. Many credit this pivot to helping pop-punk reach a new critical mass on TikTok with Gen-Z.

The success of Tickets to My Downfall was unlike anything Baker had experienced during his rap career; with that in mind, he set out to make another pop-punk album. Two years later, Machine Gun Kelly released Mainstream Sellout, which went on to move 93,000 units in a week. At the 65th Grammy Awards, Mainstream Sellout was nominated for “Best Rock Album,” but ultimately lost to Ozzy Osbourne‘s Patient Number 9.

Following that album’s release, Baker set out for his “Mainstream Sellout Tour,” taking off around the world with such artists as Willow, Avril Lavigne, Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, and more.

After trying to make it as a rapper for 14 years, it must’ve been nothing short of surreal for Baker to experience such immense fame and recognition after jumping over to pop-punk. Baker’s career goes to show the great possibilities that may come for musicians who decide to experiment and expand upon their artistry.

If you have been a longtime fan of Machine Gun Kelly, what do you think of his decision to shift from rap to pop-punk?