Cleveland MC MGK (aka Machine Gun Kelly) signed to Bad Boy/Interscope on the strength of several mixtapes showcasing his relentless style and some of the hungriest-sounding tracks in recent memory. Lace Up is the official debut, collecting touched-up versions of some of the strongest individual tracks from previous offerings as well as an album's worth of brand-new material. MGK's rapid-fire delivery is all frenzy, all starving, all bombast, and the beats are equally aggressive. Even the indie rock-based backing of "Stereo," featuring Fitts of the Kickdrums crooning on the chorus, is transformed into a high-power sex metaphor beneath MGK's storm of syllables. A barrage of guest stars shows up on Lace Up, including party-starters of several generations with Lil Jon on the title track and Waka Flocka Flame helping out on the Jackass-inspired dumbness of "Wild Boy." DMX, Young Jeezy, Tech N9ne, Twista, Ester Dean -- the list of cameos goes on and on. Despite the laundry list of guests, MGK stays in the dead-center spotlight with underdog rhymes, hard-time tales, and heaps of Cleveland love. "On My Way" is a collection of fond reminiscence of growing up broke and wild in Cleveland while "All We Have" is an against-all-odds look at lost friends and family members that somehow works in a "Go hard or go home" message. Production from J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Alex da Kid, and a track-by-track host of others keeps the album moving but always at a screaming pace. At times the beats are a little predictable, and the extreme flavor that runs through the album sometimes uses too many cornball metal guitars or crunchy synths to accentuate its rage. The hotheaded persona of the 22-year-old, tattoo-covered skinny white rapper from the rough streets of urban Ohio will no doubt remind some of Eminem's rise to fame more than ten years prior. The vibe on Lace Up isn't identical to the early era of Slim Shady, but there are more than a few parallels. MGK's fan base expanding exponentially overnight, his constant referencing of his rough back-story, and his flair for storytelling are all reminiscent of Eminem's frantic beginnings. He's less campy or sophomoric, but there's even the occasional interspersion of melancholy heartstring-pulling alternative hooks into his songs, as on the world-weary "Runnin'" or "See My Tears." However, his trigger-happy delivery probably owes more to the influence of Cleveland natives Bone Thugs-N-Harmony than it does Marshall Mathers' over-enunciated flow. These comparisons are more of an afterthought than anything. Lace Up is a beast of a debut, and some of the heaviest mainstream-friendly hip-hop happening in 2012, a picture of young energy at its zenith. The Sean "Diddy" Combs connection adds a little too much gloss to the grime, hanging Lace Up somewhere between the underground intensity that it seems born from and the commercial overexposure that MGK seems bound for.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas