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In an interview with Apple Music about his 2019 album, Hotel Diablo, Machine Gun Kelly described the night he hit bottom. He was in the kitchen, his daughter asleep in the next room. “I just had no serotonin in my body left to give me any type of motivation or happiness,” he said. “I realize that I wanted all this”—his circumstance, his art, his life—“to go away.” He didn’t die that night. But he did write a song about trying to (“Glass House”). It’s not an easy listen—at one point, he passes out with blood dripping on the floor. But the same extremes that can make Kelly’s music unsettling have also made him a beacon for his fans, the kind of artist who shines light in the darkest corners of his mind. Born Richard Colson Baker in 1990, to missionary parents in Houston, Kelly was raised primarily in Cleveland, a city whose atmosphere of crime and post-industrial decay formed a backdrop for his tracks. Drugs, childhood trauma, self-negation: Kelly’s music never offers an easy way out. But as bleak as it can be, there’s a sense of catharsis to it, too, bridging the grit of hip-hop with the melodic quality of pop-punk and nu-metal—the spoonful of sugar that makes Kelly’s bitter pill go down. Is it rap? Is it rock? Nirvana, LINKIN PARK, or Eminem? To Kelly’s generation—including peers like Trippie Redd and the late Juice WRLD—the distinction is antiquated. They’re here for the feeling. Or at least the promise of letting the feeling out.

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