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Amid controversy, rising rapper Machine Gun Kelly returns to St. Petersburg for Vans Warped Tour

Five notable dates in the year of Richard Baker, a.k.a. Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly, otherwise known as MGK:

Jan. 28, St. Petersburg

With little advance hype, MGK sells out the State Theatre in St. Pete — on the same day as Gasparilla, no less. The 705 fans who pack the joint are catching an artist on the come-up. The tattooed, rail-thin rapper, then 21, had just been signed to Bad Boy/Interscope by Jimmy Iovine and Sean "Diddy" Combs on the strength of his mixtapes and rabid online following, and he'd scored a niche nit with his autobiographical single Wild Boy.

It's what happens after the show, though, that lands MGK on TMZ. According to police, MGK and his crew are partying at the Bishop Tavern on Central Avenue when a brawl breaks out involving as many as 75 people. MGK allegedly hurls a champagne bottle, injuring his DJ. The artist is charged with disorderly conduct, simple battery and resisting arrest, and is released on $100 bond, but a few months later is sued by a bouncer at the bar for "exploit(ing) the incident for promotional and commercial gain, such that the incident went 'viral' on the Internet."

March 10, Clearwater

Just two weeks after XXL magazine puts him on the cover of their annual "Freshman Class" issue, MGK performs at Wild Splash 2012 amid a lineup of rappers more respected (DMX), acclaimed (Childish Gambino) and popular (Waka Flocka Flame). His set is a show-stopper: Not only does he venture into the crowd, but he climbs to the top of the scaffolding above the stage while rapping. For a while, it looks like he might jump, but instead, he climbs down — and is later invited back to perform alongside DMX and Waka.

June 27, Tampa

It's the final night of the Hawaiian Village, a concert venue in the courtyard of an old Days Inn behind the Stadium Green Iguana. The entire place will be razed following tonight's show by MGK and Kansas City rapper Tech N9ne. Realizing that the venue's days are numbered, MGK goes all-out for a crowd thinned, perhaps, by the aftereffects of Tropical Storm Debby. But even those who witnessed MGK's Wild Splash antics are not prepared for this set, in which he:

• strips to his underwear during a cover of Blink-182's What's My Age Again?;

• brings five women from the crowd to the stage, practically propositioning all of them at once;

• once again scales the 25-foot scaffolding framing the stage, dangling upside-down for his final song;

• and practically incites a riot by scrambling to the hotel's second-floor balcony, grabbing a metal panel and smashing it against a window (which thankfully remains intact.)

"Break everything you see, motherf---er!" he yells at the crowd. "Break it all! F--- this place!"

July 18, Burbank, Calif.

Jay Leno stands at the lip of the Tonight Show stage, having just interviewed Newt Gingrich and Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi. "My next guest is a talented rapper from Cleveland who's making his late-night TV debut," he says.

When the lights go up, MGK is standing in the center of the stage with singer Ester Dean and a full band, and together they perform Invincible, the uplifting lead single from his forthcoming major-label debut, Lace Up. A red plaid shirt covers his tattooed torso, but his energy is the same: He hops on speakers, thrashes and bangs his head, drops to his knees and flails around the stage like a hip-hop Iggy Pop. He raps about the drugs and deniers that nearly cost him everything:

I am from the city of people, came from the bottom,

Standing on top of what was supposed to be my coffin.

July 29, St. Petersburg

On Sunday, MGK will return to St. Petersburg, the city where his breakout year almost ended before it began. As a rapper, he's a rarity on the Vans Warped Tour, though his punk persona and incendiary live presence make him a favorite to be one of this year's breakthrough artists.

Will he climb the stage? Go surfing in the crowd? Draw extra police from around the city? All of the above?

At this point, it seems MGK can do pretty much anything he wants. He's certainly warned us he's coming.

Vans Warped Tour

Wait a second, why are we spotlighting a rapper for our Warped Tour preview? Isn't warped all about punk and metal? Indeed it is, and this year's tour, which hits St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park on Sunday, does not disappoint. Veteran favorites like New Found Glory, Taking Back Sunday, All Time Low, Lostprophets, Senses Fail, Yellowcard, Pierce the Veil and Bradenton's We The Kings are some of the biggest names. New acts to get excited about include pop duo Breathe Carolina, who scored a hit single in Blackout; female-fronted alt-rockers Dead Sara; and pop-punk group Falling In Reverse, who in January filmed the video for their song Raised By Wolves at the State Theatre. For something a little different, try reggae-rock group Ballyhoo! or video game-inspired power-popsters I Fight Dragons. General admission tickets are $33.43. Doors open at 11:30 a.m.; set times generally are not announced until the morning of the show. For info, see

Amid controversy, rising rapper Machine Gun Kelly returns to St. Petersburg for Vans Warped Tour 07/25/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 26, 2012 2:10am]
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