The Baker’s Dozen series, launched in 2016 by iconic independent hip-hop record store and label Fat Beats, is a cut above your average beat tape series. On each installment, a notable producer from the hip-hop, ambient, or electronic scene is challenged to craft an instrumental album that showcases their personality as much as their music. Artists like Exile, Daedelus, and Marco Polo have already contributed to the franchise, establishing the Baker’s Dozen as a premier outlet for instrumental music.
“We felt in certain circles there was a stigma about beat tapes—or even the beat tape scene in general,” says Joe Dent, the general manager at Fat Beats Distribution. “A lot of producers create and release material at such a rapid pace it can be difficult for the entirety of their fan base to keep up—a lot of incredible music was being overlooked and underappreciated.”
Every album in the Baker’s Dozen series contains 12 tracks, with a bonus 13th song given away as a flexidisc to early vinyl adopters. Sacramento-based DIBIA$E kicked off the series back in March of 2016; that same year saw installments from Virginia’s Ohbliv, whose goal was to highlight the soulful essence of his beats, Wun Two from Germany, whose pastoral sample-based collages represent the bucolic village he grew up in, and Los Angeles beat scene staple Ras_G, who used the opportunity to work through a traumatic period in his life.
“At the time, my family was going through a lot, and our matriarch was about to leave the planet,” says Ras_G. “Everybody’s emotions were everywhere. So when I was approached about the project, I knew I wanted to challenge myself, as well as dedicate a record to my family.” Ras_G loaded up his iPhone’s iMPC app with samples, hopped on a bus, and zoned out while traveling around, creating beats. “It wasn’t complex, just humbling beats that reminded me of my family.”
Ras_G found catharsis through Baker’s Dozen, but other producers have used the opportunity to summarize their musical development. Ontario’s Elaquent claimed the ninth spot in the series after DIBIA$E encouraged him to approach Fat Beats and ask to be part of it. To his surprise, they said yes. “Fat Beats has been an important staple in hip-hop distribution for eons, so having my name attached to anything they did was a big deal for me,” he says. Elaquent ransacked a decades-deep personal beat vault and pulled a selection of tracks to chart his evolution: “My album jumps from hype uptempo jams to chilled-out vibey tracks, from lo-fi dirty vibes to structured layered grooves.”
As more producers have become involved with the Baker’s Dozen, a spirit of both camaraderie and competition has emerged. Elaquent was motivated to take part after seeing some of the early names involved in the series—but signing up came with a degree of pressure. “Every single artist in this line are very well-established, well-respected guys who I’ve looked up to for a minute, and there’s always a fear I’ll be the one guy who dragged the series down,” he says. But after the June 2018 release of Elaquent’s album, he received messages of encouragement from producers he’d never met before. “That meant a lot to me.”
With Berlin-based beatmaker Suff Daddy’s Baker’s Dozen becoming the 10th album in the series, here’s a primer on six of the standout releases to date.
Baker’s Dozen: Daedelus
There’s a strong boom-bap element running through the Baker’s Dozen—but it was always intended to spotlight a broad range of production styles. Enter Daedelus, the Los Angeles-based soundscape master. His addition to the series opens with the sweeping, psychedelic-influenced “Baker’s Theme,” before bouncing around to reference moody trip-hop (“Lazy Sunshine”), feisty U.K. garage drum patterns (“Green Frosting”), fractured bossa nova grooves (“Know What You’d Like?”), and dusky jazz workouts (“Blue Sprinkles”). Breakbeat scholars will also appreciate “Early Hours,” which is based around a creative cut-up of the classic “Funky Drummer” break.
Baker’s Dozen: Exile
Exile’s collaborations with the rapper Blu are revered by hip-hop heads—and the L.A.-based beatmaker has also amassed a production discography that includes collabos with Snoop, Big Sean, and Wiz Khalifa. But when you strip away the vocals, you discover just how melodic and nuanced Exile’s beats are. “Do You Know?” is a lesson in fusing lush strings with assertive kicks and snares; “I Say It’s True” brings dub and reggae influences to the fore; and “This Is Your Life” conveys bittersweet emotions without ever becoming maudlin. Capping the project is “Heavens Gates,” which previously took form as 50 Cent’s “Pearly Gates” and resonates in its raw state as a soulful hip-hop plea for redemption.
Baker’s Dozen: DIBIA$E
At the start of DIBIA$E’s career, he used an old Gemini sampler and a Sony Walkman to capture samples, loop them, and fuse the layers of sounds together until he’d crafted a beat. The idea of layering defines his Baker’s Dozen, which was the first release in the series. “They Act Brand New” builds up a foundation of funky, truncated bass stabs, chugging hi-hats, and crunching snares before introducing a carousel of synths. The melancholic “Late Stroll” skillfully juggles a couple of gentle acoustic guitar riffs with gristly snares and a perky vocal grab from the late Big L. Nodding to his old-school tech start in the game, DIBIA$E’s closing cut, “Play Time Is Over,” molds 8-bit chiptune melodies and percussive laser effects into a luminous groove.
Baker’s Dozen: Marco Polo
When MCs are looking for brawny-but-funky boom-bap beats, they call on Marco Polo. For his Baker’s Dozen, the Brooklyn-based producer wanted to recreate the raw, pre-mixed essence of previously released tracks and remixes he’d crafted for MCs including Large Professor (“Professor At Large”), Royce Da 5’9” (“Courtesy”), and Mick Jenkins (“Ps and Qs Remix”). The idea behind presenting less burnished versions of the songs was to drum up the feeling of “chasing the demo sound,” as Marco Polo puts it. Check “Straight Spittin 4.5,” which originally featured Rah Digga’s raps, to witness the amped-up power of these gritty beats.
Ras_G & The Afrikan Space Program
Baker’s Dozen: Ras_G
L.A. beat don Ras_G’s Baker’s Dozen manages to sound simultaneously lo-fi and futuristic. Conceived on the producer’s iPhone via an MPC app, grainy field recordings and snippets of dialogue are woven into a fabric of beats characterized by voluminous basslines, booming kick drums, and celestial keyboards. Songs are swaddled in ambient hiss and fuzz, giving the listening session an intimate feel: “Deuce!” sounds like you’ve stumbled into a secret late-night jazz club; “King Douglas” calls on snares from a classic hip-hop break to bring through a dusty crate-digging dimension; and “Mama Rite” employs soothing synths to conjure a reflective vibe.
Baker’s Dozen: Elaquent
A healthy J Dilla and Pete Rock influence runs through Elaquent’s edition of the Baker’s Dozen. The clipped snares and wavering synth tones of “TV Dinner” muster up respectful James Yancey vibes; the boom-bap rhythm and melodic xylophone of “Sunday” channel vintage ’90s Soul Brother Number One. Building on the rap referential theme, “Gotta Put Me On” and “That One Time” weave in bright vocal grabs from Q-Tip and Common, adding flair and a sense of hip-hop history to the listening session.