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Don’t Call Him Machine Gun Kelly

  • July 03, 2020

Mr. Baker, the child of missionaries, had an itinerant boyhood: Texas, Kenya, Egypt. After his mother left the family, he and his father settled first in Denver and then in Cleveland.

At 11 — scrawny, bullied — Mr. Baker discovered rap and he worked at his beats and bars throughout his teen. “I was just always roaming, the hallways, rapping for everybody,” he said. He would tell his friends that he would one day appear on the biggest stages, that other people would sing his lyrics.

“They were like, ‘Dude, shut up. We’re in math class. In Cleveland,” he said.

Working at an airbrush T-shirt shop at the mall, he emceed for anyone who would listen and released a series of brash, breathless mix tapes that drew a local following. At 19, he fathered his daughter, Casie, with his then-girlfriend Emma Cannon.

In 2011, after a performance at the SXSW festival, Sean Combs approached him and signed him to the Bad Boy Records imprint. The next year, he released his major-label debut album, “Lace Up,” with its cocksure single, “Wild Boy.”.

“He can make that real hard-core dirty trap or an emo rap song that will make you cry,” Mr. Combs said. “He’s somebody that could possibly have EGOT by his name one day. That’s how versatile he really is.”

Before Mr. Baker released his second album, “General Admission,” in 2015, he made his acting debut in “Beyond the Lights,” playing a rapper named Kid Culprit who humiliates his pop star girlfriend. “I was always the one who had a camera wherever I went,” he said. “So I guess I always wanted something to do with film.”

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