Soren Baker is on the Mount Rushmore of hip-hop journalists. I remember the excitement reading his articles in The Source Magazine when I was a kid or even in my hometown newspaper the Chicago Tribune. Soren Baker documents the history of gangster rap in his new book; and I spoke to him over Zoom earlier this year about the importance of the art form in 2020.
Ryan Glover: How are you doing today?
Soren Baker: I’m doing great Ryan.
Ryan Glover: One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is the inclusivity of it. I think that it appeals to a large demographic of readers from beginning rap fans to people who are huge rap fans or consumers of the music. Was that something you were conscious of when you were writing the book?
Soren Baker: Well since the title was the ‘History of Gangsta Rap’ I wanted to have it from the beginning , the origins of it up until to what was going on at the time of the book coming out. When you’re dealing with books there is a lag time of when you got to turn it in and when it comes out, it’s not like an internet article where you just press publish and you could have written it three minutes ago. I tried to keep it as current as possible by including people like G Perico, Vince Staples, and at the time Nipsey Hussle. So I wanted to show that the genre was created in the mid 80s, yet here we are in  and the genre is still being created, practiced, and evolving by a lot of great artists today.
Ryan Glover: I saw online you grew up in Maryland. Being somebody from the East Coast how did you develop an affinity for West Coast hip-hop?
Soren Baker: I grew up loving all types of rap and I still do. So, I just liked everything man. I liked all styles. Of course, there were certain songs and artists I didn’t really like. But I just loved all rap and I always have. So when my friends were buying stuff that I knew I could copy off them cause this is the cassette era, vinyl era, and early CD era then I would buy something else. So while they were buying mainly East Coast type of stuff I would buy Above the Law or I would buy stuff that I didn’t think they would buy, I could try to get everything that was coming out, as opposed to a half or a third of what was coming out. If everybody was buying, just using Public Enemy as an example. I knew if I bought Above the Law then I could have two albums instead of one.
Ryan Glover: I was watching your interview with Big Boy and you talked about how you were writing articles for Everybody’s News in Cincinnati which eventually led to you becoming the editor of The Source Magazine. What was journalism like pre-internet era?
Soren Baker: Well before the internet I think it was a lot different in the sense that theoretically, or you would imagine that the standards were a little tighter having editors or people fact checking to some degree. Your work had to be based in some sort of knowledge or understanding of things. I think that once you get to the internet it evolved into a lot of hyperbole. Like when you just look at people just say “I’m dead” well their clearly not dead but they write that all the time or they say “this gives me life”, well no it doesn’t. So the hyperbole that people use to write about just anything and then when you apply that to rap, when you say that somebody is one of the G.O.A.T.S, well no theirs only one G.O.A.T because its Greatest of All Time.
But people when they write don’t worry about grammar, they don’t worry about being accurate, they just do a lot of things beyond opinion, it doesn’t make any sense, a lot of what’s written. So, you could disagree with someone’s opinion, you could say this is weird or not like the way things are written, that’s fine. But I think the standards have become increasingly lower which is fine, that’s just what it is, that’s the evolution. But I also think it’s not good in the sense for people like myself that like to get information, it’s harder to get information from a “quote unquote” news source because the news source isn’t fact checking to see if the original [information] is accurate or not. I think that has to do with a lot of factors, it’s not necessarily distinctive to rap coverage, I think it’s across the board. That’s unfortunate, just look at the President when he says “fakes news” and its proven three seconds later that what he’s saying is inaccurate. So it’s across the board, it’s not just covering rap, it’s just how news coverage has evolved, unfortunately.
Ryan Glover: That couldn’t be more accurate. I see a lot of articles online that are clearly someone’s opinion and being presented as fact and then when you research it further. I love how you are able to create engagement and bring questions. One of the questions you posed recently is Me Against the World or All Eyez On Me a better album? Which do you think?
Soren Baker: Well, I’d really like people to go too my Youtube channel Unique Access Entertainment, go to Youtube and you can watch the whole video, but to me I prefer Me Against the World because I thought one, All Eyez On Me had several songs I didn’t think we’re very good so I thought it was kind of bloated, which makes sense because it was a double album. I thought that Tupac’s story writing, the stories he told and the emotion he got into was a lot more in-depth and a lot more personal. Where I think All Eyez On Me is obviously a great album, but I also think it’s in [many] ways more surface level where as Me Against The World and even Makaveli it’s a lot more personal and lot more detail into why he feels what he feels. I thought All Eyez On Me was a lot more rage and anger and let me get this out. Which is great obviously in a lot of ways, it has a lot of great songs and he has a lot of great collaborations. The music by in large is very energetic and high energy but I also thought lyrically, the album that preceded Me Against The World and the album that came after it Makaveli, lyrically were better story wise and conceptually.
Ryan Glover: I thought Me Against The World was so introspective. With you being so accomplished and having interviewed so many artists. Is it a constant to challenge yourself, how do you do that nowadays?
Soren Baker: Nah, I been thinking about this stuff since I was ten years old. When I started listening to rap I just had the idea like what would I say if I got to meet these guys. Just long before I started writing and realizing journalism was something I could do. I just wanted to talk to them. And by talking to them I knew I’d have to ask them some questions. I’d be some ten-year old kid looking at them like in awe, but then I knew I would have a lot of things I wanted to ask them like why they made this song? I was thinking about that at ten and it was more from a fan perspective. So that mentality has been in me essentially my whole life. So it’s easy for me to interview artists today, because for me it’s always been about the music.
If they talk about their personal relationships in their music or other stuff than I include that but I’m not necessarily worried about who they are messing with or any of that other stuff unless they put it in their music, than I talk to them about it. I’ve found that’s enabled me to have a good connection with a lot of artists, and a lot of artists seem to really enjoy speaking with me because it is about the art, it’s about the music, it’s about what they talk about, why they talk about it, how they talk about it. And to me that’s far more interesting than some of the things that are tangentially related to their personal lives or other stuff. Cause a lot of the guys their personal lives are crazy and that funnels into their work, and it works out.
Ryan Glover: That’s something that I have had discussions with my friends about. A lot of times hip-hop is so based on authenticity and sometimes the salacious details feed into that and kind of take away from the music. One example I can think of someone like Ja-Rule when the beef with 50 Cent was going on a lot of people we’re saying he wasn’t an authentic artist but I still felt he made good music in my opinion. Do you feel that the salacious details can take away from the authenticity and effect the music sometimes?
Soren Baker: I think we have multiple problems. First of all and I talk about this in my book “The History of Gangsta Rap”. Rap is “faction”, so its fact and fiction blended together. Anyone that can listen to rap can take a step back, looking at Ja-Rule or looking at 50 Cent since you bought those two guys up. If you listen to their music and take it as 100% accurate they would have killed a thousand people and sold 4 million kilos of cocaine. It’s not possible. Their gang would have done A, B, and C. What they talk about in their raps is clearly not true. What I find is that the standards that artists are held to are very arbitrary depending on if they are popular or not or whether people think they want to believe in them. The problem is when artists come out and say “everything I rap about is real” and then you find out that it’s not, I think that’s where you start having problems but theirs 99.9% of rappers that exaggerate or use hyperbole when they rap. It’s entertainment, this is not a documentary and it’s not real. I try not to hold that against artist’s because no one is 100% accurate of what they say or 100% truthful, because that’s just not how people are.
And then you add into the fact that your dealing with songs, and you’re dealing [with] entertainment, and you’re dealing with videos. Their real in the fact they exist but they aren’t documented in reality. So I think it’s unfortunate that people look at that because if you just look, speaking of Gangsta Rap, because some of the guys they rap about stuff, they rap about things in essence as if they are part of the Italian Crime family, last time I checked their black, and last time I checked no Italian Crime family is going to let black people in the Italian Crime family, it doesn’t work. That’s not how real crime organizations operate, but we give those guys a pass because their revered as lyricists, or people like them, or the media likes them, or whatever. But no one is like, this makes no factual sense, which it doesn’t. Most black people don’t have Italian last names.
Ryan Glover: (laughs) I liked that movie with Master P Da Last Don. Thank you Soren for the time, you bought up some really important points and your book is hugely important. I appreciate you for taking the time.