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Ashleigh was drawn to his energy and his passion, but mostly to his insanity. He was looking for management, and she was looking for something other than the usual too-cool-for-school rapper. An accounting major in college at the time, she decided that day to take a chance on managing Kelly instead. They were a perfect fit.
"His passion for his art and the way that he believes in himself really works," she says. "It is like none other, and that was the first time I got to see that this kid is crazy — but crazy in a good way."
"I saw a white lady with blond hair and said, 'You must be someone important!'" Kelly says with a laugh. "She ended up having faith."
As Kelly revealed to Ashleigh his state of disarray, she took the story home to her mother. Heartbroken and moved, Bridget VeVerka moved out of the Mayfield Heights apartment she shared with her three children and bought a house in town that would shelter them and her daughter's new friends.
Kelly, Allen, and Allen's brother all were welcomed into the fold by VeVerka, a white suburban mom caring for the unlikeliest assortment of boarders their Mayfield neighborhood had ever seen.
Bridget, 51, had experienced hardships of her own, raising three children mostly by herself. Bringing in three more seemed to rejuvenate her spirit.
"I don't know ... being a mom, it broke my heart," says Bridget, who endearingly refers to Kelly as Colson or simply K. "I wanted him to feel family and just the whole unconditional love and support that every kid should have, so I was able to provide for him."
"She's my mom, man," Kelly says of Bridget VeVerka. "She deserves it all. She 100 percent saved my life."
Kelly's new mom quickly grew to marvel at his work ethic. The VeVerkas' basement became a studio — the place where he would cut his formative first mixtape, 2010's 100 Words and Running. It was an introduction for most to Kelly's exhaustingly fast style of rapping, and it boasted a hit single — "What It Seems" — that was produced by Allen. After years of frequenting Cleveland studios that they couldn't afford, recording songs with the sound quality of an 8-track, Kelly and Allen now had their sanctuary. They also had a new name for themselves: the EST (short for "Established") crew, which includes among its ranks Ashleigh and Allen's brother.
After the release of 100 Words and Running, Kelly came down with a serious throat problem — so severe that a doctor at one point asked him to choose between rapping and keeping his voice. He came to Bridget, terrified of what the future would hold if he couldn't rap again. All she could do was laugh.
"I knew it was going to happen — I've always known," she says, sloughing off the notion that Kelly's career would be sidetracked. "He literally would buy studio time before he would buy himself something to eat. It was just a matter of time."
Sure enough, rap won out, Kelly's throat trouble eventually subsided, and the Lace Up mixtape — released later in 2010 — set Machine Gun Kelly's star ablaze. His work caught the eye of Diddy, who invited the EST crew to Vegas to celebrate the new year. In March of this year, Diddy took in one of Kelly's shows at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas. One month later, Kelly sold out the House of Blues in Cleveland, the crowd pushing to get closer to the stage, shrieking back every filthy lyric of his songs.
Finally, on August 3, Kelly and his crew were flown to New York to sign a two-album contract with Bad Boy/Interscope, as Diddy and label chairman Jimmy Iovine looked on.
Kelly likes to say that he tailored his record deal around his fans, and that he signed with Diddy because of the freedom he was given to make a project that felt right to him. His debut album, cut mostly in the basement at VeVerka's house, is finished and set for release in early 2012. It too will be called Lace Up.
In his music, Kelly constantly refers to himself as a "rager" — it even wormed its way into the title of his latest mixtape, Rage Pack, which dropped just last week. But the term has earned him controversy from another rapper who got his start in Cleveland. Kid Cudi took a veiled shot at Kelly on Tumblr for his usage of "rager" — a word Cudi believes he coined. Kelly responded by calling out Cudi for bailing on C-Town.
"I blew up in the city. He blew up in Brooklyn. That's what makes me upset," Kelly says. "My other thing is like, you are older than me, you are more successful than me. You are supposed to be looking at me and big-upping me. I've been a rager since I came out of my mother's vagina."
It was one August afternoon in Cev's tattoo parlor that Kelly brewed his most volatile move yet. Fresh from inking his label deal and briefly off the touring circuit, he found himself bored and craving face time with his fans. So he tweeted to his 98,000 followers that he wanted to host a flash mob — the newest of dirty words among Northeast Ohio law enforcement over the summer of 2011.
On the afternoon of August 20, thousands of fans swarmed to SouthPark mall in Strongsville. Dressed all in black, their faces covered with phony mustaches and beards, the EST crew sneaked in through JCPenney — the only entrance not already blocked by police, who had gotten wind of Kelly's plans.
With megaphone in hand, the rapper mounted a table near the food court as fans began to shriek with delight. But as quickly as he stepped up, he was yanked down by police. The roar of the crowd gave way to chants of "M-G-K!" Kelly was held down by police, then led, handcuffed and shirtless, out of the mall as a wave of fans ran after him.
Machine Gun Kelly had left the building. But more assuredly, he had arrived.
Kelly had just finished up a 2009 show in Cleveland when he rushed to the hospital just in time. His then-girlfriend gave birth to a girl that they named Casie. Overwhelmed with emotion, Kelly broke down and cried.
Two years later, he is no longer as close with the mother as he once was, but Kelly recently purchased a home for her and Casie. "I got them a crib before I got myself a crib," he says. "That's something I'm really proud of."
It was a token of manhood from a man who had no playbook to learn from, a proud father with no real father of his own.
"I think about that shit all the time," Kelly says in a sober voice, when asked about reconnecting with his dad, who has since jumped town again — this time to Africa. "But he is so hard to talk to."
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