I’ll be honest, prior to Hotel Diablo, I was not a Machine Gun Kelly fan. His previous EP, BINGE, was a horrible amalgam of cringey lyrics, autotune and messy production. But as I sit in a vacation cottage with sporadic wifi cutting my Spotify stream in and out, I can’t help but think that maybe — just maybe — I underestimated him.
Hotel Diablo opens with “Sex Drive,” a futuristic-sounding instrumental intro track that sets up the album as a project light years ahead of MGK’s 2018 release. Kelly smoothly transitions into “el Diablo,” a previously released single that tipped me off to the rapper’s apparent rebound. The track has a trumpet loop reminiscent of stingers in old western films that signify an imminent duel. MGK has come out guns blazing, opening the track (and the lyrics on the album) with the bar “Tell all my competition that I love ’em/But I brought ’em back just to kill ’em again.”
Personally, I don’t think Kelly has a claim as “one of the greatest,” as he boldly states later in the song, but he shouldn’t be written off as an also-ran after his beef with Eminem last year. He tackles complicated topics such as death, depression and drug addiction in a more intricate and sophisticated manner than I had previously heard him write.
On “Candy,” Kelly spits “Helpin’ me to get through all the pain like that/Yeah, driving through the rain like that/Running from the fame like that/On the front page like that,” explaining how he abuses drugs to cope with the pressure fame places on him. Compared to “Pour it up, pour it up/Keep it coming, I need more of them/Pour it up, pour it up/Keep it coming ’til I’m throwing up” from a verse — not a hook — off BINGE, and it’s obvious Kelly took this project more seriously and it translated well into his music.
Besides the improvement in writing, the album is simply much more enjoyable to listen to. Gone are the odd hooks and off-beat rapping from last year’s project; they are replaced with intricate flows and a cohesive sound that spans across the entire production. The instrumentals are generally dark and slightly muffled, in line with the heavy material throughout the verses. “Roulette” in particular is a genuinely catchy track, deserving of a spot in my routine playlist. “el Diablo” and “Death in my Pocket” are other standouts, from a purely aesthetic perspective. The latter features haunting vocals from Naomi Wild and raw, well-written verses from Kelly describing his past struggles and grief over losing close family members.
I consigned Machine Gun Kelly to a bottom-dwelling wannabe rapper after my limited exposure to him, primarily from BINGE. Unfortunately, when faced with the opportunity to make a big name for himself after his publicized rap battle with Eminem, Kelly stumbled and released a project that turned me — and likely many others — off of his music. As he states in “I Think I’m OKAY,” the punk-rock album closer, “Watch me take a good thing and fuck it all up in one night,” he essentially did with BINGE. I’m happy that I gave MGK one more shot with Hotel Diablo, and I was not disappointed. I wanted to hate it, but I came out with the exact opposite reaction.
I strongly urge you to give the album a listen, even if — especially if — you aren’t an MGK fan. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Jeremy Markus is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He currently serves as an assistant arts and entertainment editor on The Sun’s editorial board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.