In 1985 Soren Baker was just another white kid growing up in Baltimore, rocking out to Poison, Motley Crue and his dad’s Beatles albums. Then a friend gave him a cassette tape that turned his world upside down. It featured some of the earliest stars of rap—names like LL Cool J, UTFO, Kurtis Blow and Whodini.
“I was just blown away,” he says. “I really liked the percussion. I liked scratching. I just fell in love with it. The energy, the sounds, it was so distinctive and different. That tape changed my life. From that day on, rap was my favorite thing in the world.”
The more Baker heard, the more he wanted to hear. Rap was less than a decade old, so there wasn’t a lot to catch up on. “I bought everything I could,” he says. “Anytime I cut somebody’s grass, I either bought blank cassettes to copy my friends’ albums, or I bought albums.”
He was strategic about it, too, buying the albums his friends wouldn’t to ensure maximum diversity. By the time he came to Xavier in 1993, he had more than 700 rap albums, so the communications major decided to put his knowledge of the genre to good use, writing music reviews for The Newswire. He earned $5 for his first story.
Baker became the paper’s diversions editor and discovered that as a reviewer, he could get free music by asking record labels to include him on their distribution lists. With his writing skills growing as fast as his record collection, Baker started freelancing stories for the Cincinnati Post, Baltimore Sun, the New York Times, the Washington Post and Rolling Stone.
In 2003, he landed in Los Angeles with an editorial job at The Source, one of hip-hop’s magazines of record. In his career—so far—Baker has written more than 2,000 stories, produced a VH1 TV show on Eminem and sold producers’ leftover beats (unused rhythms)—one of which is featured in Mariah Carey’s song “One and Only.”
Nowadays Baker is still in LA, working on a self-published book series called I’m The White Guy, which documents his life in hip-hop. The latest installment: his interviews with rap icon Jay-Z.