wax Poetics

Karriem Riggins

The Detroit drummer/producer lets his beats do the talking.

published online
Originally published in Issue 53
By Marisa Aveling

Photo by Gerard Victor.
Photo by Gerard Victor.

Jazz drummer and hip-hop producer Karriem Riggins recently moved from L.A. back to his hometown Detroit, the city where his heart beats. Despite its appearance being more necropolis than metropolis these days, the spirit of Motown still lingers, and the D continues to churn out exceptional artists. If you think everything is still colored by a ruthless Berry Gordy streak though, well, according to Riggins, you’d be wrong.

“Oh—it’s all love. No competition. Not on my end,” he laughs.

The sentiment largely marks the essence of the softly spoken thirty-seven-year-old. For years, Riggins has humbly worked on making other artists sound better; be it through percussion and arrangements for jazz artists like Ray Brown and Diana Krall (with whom he currently tours), or hip-hop production for Common, Erykah, and the Roots. Most famously, Riggins was entrusted the heartbreaking and daunting task of completing his friend Dilla’s The Shining by the lady that knew him best—Ma Dukes. 

This year, Riggins is due to get his own with the release of his debut solo album. Stones Throw gave the producer almost free rein to collate beats and assemble Alone Together, an instrumental hip-hop album also released as two vinyl halves, Alone and Together.

The majority of the album’s thirty-four tracks were literally made on the run during a tour around Eastern Europe two years ago. Riggins recorded miscellaneous bits and pieces from sound checks and created beats on planes, buses, and in hotel rooms. The final track list also pulls together material from different periods throughout Riggins’s career, in order to tell the story of the musical path he’s traced over the years.

“I just wanted people to know there’s no boundary to what I listen to, or what I create,” Riggins says.

With an expert ear, the producer unpacks elements ranging from African and Brazilian sounds to undercuts of electro and soul, and pours them all into Alone Together. He deconstructs samples and constructs tracks armed with a superior understanding of rhythm and timing that comes from being a lifelong student of jazz. 

As Riggins uses his jazz chops to inform the hip-hop material that appears on the album, his place in both camps acts as two sides of the same story. What ties them together inside his music is the feeling, or as Riggins says, “the things that you can feel in your heart.”

this is part of "Women in Music: Artists & Writers" Story

Featuring selected articles that display women’s important and versatile contributions to music, from the artists to the writers.




Feature

The Ladies of Chic

Chic created sophisticated dance music draped in mystery and anchored in the unison singing of a rotating cast of female vocalists.


Written by A. D. Amorosi

The Ladies of Chic






Feature

Coco Maria

Coco Maria took a roundabout route from child musician in Mexico to Worldwide FM DJ based in Amsterdam.


Written by Bret Sjerven

Coco Maria


Feature

Nina Simone

Nina Simone had no filter. She spoke with candor about civil rights when many in her position didn’t dare. She sang about uncomfortable subjects.... 


Written by Michael A. Gonzales

Nina Simone







Feature

Earth, Wind & Fire

Willed into being by one man, Earth, Wind & Fire became one of the biggest acts of the 1970s. 


Written by Ericka Blount Danois

Earth, Wind & Fire



Feature

Aaliyah

On the heels of her best-selling debut, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, fifteen-year-old Aaliyah was rocked by a sex scandal that would have crushed a lesser talent. 


Written by Michael A. Gonzales

Aaliyah

Feature

Bobby Caldwell

Blue-eyed-soul brother Bobby Caldwell took over the pop and R&B airways with his massive hit “What You Won’t Do for Love” in the late ’70s. With a smooth, soulful...


Written by Marisa Aveling

Bobby Caldwell





Feature

The Internet

Syd tha Kyd and Matt Martians have emerged from production, engineering, and DJing roles within the Odd Future crew to claim their own stake in the movement of Black musical expression. 


Written by Andre Torres

The Internet



Feature

Daymé Arocena

Daymé Arocena is a burst of light energy—an interstellar body in the constellation of Afro-Cuban world music.


Written by Tamara P. Carter

Daymé Arocena











Having a Party
Re:discovery
Pointer Sisters %Having a Party%
Pointer Sisters Having a Party

United States,


Oo-La-La
Re:discovery
<i>Oo-La-La</i>
Sarah Dash Oo-La-La

USA,



Light of the World
Re:discovery
Light of the World <i>Light of the World</i>
Light of the World Light of the World

United Kingdom,


Sweet and Nice
Re:discovery
Marcia Griffiths - Sweet and Nice
Marcia Griffiths Sweet and Nice

Jamaica,



Kimiko
Re:discovery
Kimiko Kasai <i>Kimiko</i>
Kimiko Kasai Kimiko

Japan,






Feature

The Roots

The Roots first hit the national spotlight as a live hip-hop act with their 1993 indie debut, Organix...


Written by Ericka Blount Danois

The Roots






Feature

Little Dragon

Little Dragon’s brand of electronic future funk and fractured pop-soul was delivered the old-fashioned way, through nonstop touring.


Written by Allen Thayer

Little Dragon




Drag left & right to navigate channels
  • Documenting the music trailblazers, cultures and stories that shape the sounds of yesterday, today, and beyond.

    DiscoverDiscover
  • Joining the dots.
    Groups of articles that bring stories to life.

    DiscoverDiscover
  • Explore classic, rare, or forgotten records.
    Digging on your desktop.

    DiscoverDiscover
  • All of our mixes, playlists, and podcasts in one place.

    DiscoverDiscover
  • Documenting the music trailblazers, cultures and stories that shape the sounds of yesterday, today, and beyond.

    DiscoverDiscover