Machine Gun Kelly -- MGK for short -- is leading a quick tour of his recording studio, aka the Rage Cage, in the basement of a Mayfield Heights home. "I'm known for what they call 'raging,' which is basically nonstop energy," the up-and-coming local rapper says.

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A tiny vocal booth is lined with dozens of empty sangria bottles. They're there to conjure a vibe, not for any special acoustical properties, MGK says.
Standing 6-feet-3, he ducks his head as he enters the adjacent control room. His new album, "Lace Up," was recorded here in a three-month burst of creativity, starting in August. He'll celebrate the arrival of the self-released project with a concert Thursday night at the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights. MGK, whose real name is Colson Baker, was born in Houston and spent the first four years of his life in Egypt. "I spoke Arabic before I spoke English," he says. When he was growing up, his family moved often. He also lived in Chicago, Los Angeles and Denver before settling in Cleveland six years ago. MGK, 20, feels at home here. His civic pride comes across loud and clear (with expletives for emphasis) on "Cleveland," a highlight of the new album. "I waited a long time to feel like I was part of something," he says. "Cleveland is just like me -- an underdog. To be able to do something here and to be appreciated so much, it's nuts." At Shaker Heights High School, even teachers called him MGK. He earned the name Machine Gun Kelly because of his rapid-fire, rat-a-tat-tat delivery, inspired by another Cleveland act, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. "They were the reason I tried rapping fast," MGK says. "I didn't listen to hip-hop until I moved to Denver. In fourth grade, I moved to a predominantly black school. I got my whupped." In a scene straight out of Eminem's "8 Mile," MGK eventually found his niche rapping in hip-hop battles. "I realized I could get respect that way," he says. "I was a skinny boy. Whose was I gonna whup? But I found out that words are more powerful than anything, and I ran with that." He insists he isn't much of a hip-hop fan, though. Ask him to name his musical heroes and he'll rattle off the likes of the Temptations, blink-182 and Motley Crue's Tommy Lee. "I hate rap," MGK says. "Today's hip-hop culture is terrible. The music is terrible. The artists are terrible. We've lost the sense of why we do it. Rap is supposed to be the voice of underground rebellion, which is how it started out. Now it's just ignorant." Present company excluded, of course. The buzz about MGK has been building since February, when he released a gritty mix tape titled "100 Words and Running." Now he has nearly 6,000 Twitter followers, his videos are racking up thousands of YouTube views and he seemingly can't even go to a gas station without fans spotting him. He excitedly plays a few tracks from "Lace Up," jumping out of his chair and rapping along with the hard-hitting grooves. "Victory Music" is a ready-made anthem with a hook by singer Britni Elise, "End of the Road" switches things up with a piano-powered ballad, and "Stereo" is a clever hi-fi love song. "When LeBron James said, 'I'm outta here,' it was the best thing for me, because all of a sudden everyone focused on the next big thing from Cleveland," MGK says. Without missing a beat, he looks you straight in the eyes and adds: "Me." Via