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In his song "The Return," from the Lace Up mixtape, the torment he bears is nothing short of searing:
You saw your son as a dropout,
stuck around when I ran
Saw your son as a felon
now see your son as a man.
See your son be a father,
to a beautiful child
Or just see your son, Dad,
see me smile.
The song is Bridget VeVerka's favorite — and the one that first stirred her to tears.
As for Kelly's birth mother? That relationship may be beyond repair. He last saw her in 2009 when she showed up unannounced at one of his performances at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. After an uncomfortable exchange of pleasantries, they went their separate ways, a mother and son nothing more than strangers passing on the street.
Afterward, Kelly's friends began to remark on how much he resembled the lady who stopped by, and he too didn't miss the connection.
"It kind of hurt, because I'm sitting here [with] this person that looks like me ... you just want to be close to them," he says. "I want to be on the road and be able to call back home to somebody, but I can't. While on the road, good shit happens and everyone always calls their families, and I don't have anyone. It kind of sucks, man."
And so Kelly continues to grow up in his own, often unbounded way. A typical day can be like a scene out of Entourage: heading to lunch (his favorite haunts around town include Famous G's, Speedy's, Hannini's, and Sushi Rock), buying shot after shot at bar after bar (though his wealth has yet to match his fame), then heading back to the hotel to finish a bottle of Patron. He drinks before he goes onstage, then he drinks some more while he's on it. He might piss in the fountain in the hotel lobby, and he'll almost surely have sex with a fan — and to be clear, Kelly only fucks fans. Then he wakes up and does it all over again.
"I'm always concerned," says Ashleigh VeVerka, her tone slipping into manager mode, but with the endearing echo of her mother's words.
"Not only is he raging and partying and all of that, but that's after all of his work is done. I feel that I remind him, like, 'You're human, you really go twice as hard as everyone around you, and you do it twice as much.' But he goes hard, and he's not slowing down anytime soon."
"Most kids think you've got to leave here to be successful, and I always say, 'Well, look what MGK did,'" Cev says. "He has people coming here. You don't have to leave in order to be successful. You just have to be true to who you are."
These days, Cleveland's hip-hop scene is flourishing, boasting established artists like Kid Cudi and Chip Tha Ripper, while a handful of up and comers wait their turn. But none of them has had this much buzz so early. None of them had this much talent, or this much of a bond with fans.
Lying in the chair at Ohio City Tattoo, Machine Gun Kelly looks tired. His eyes are baggy and his face is worn after two straight days of drinking. He wants to rest, but he can't — the fans won't let him. Besides, he has a reputation to live up to.
"It's just about what you can tolerate and what you can fight off," he says wearily. "And what demons you don't want to haunt you."