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If jazz and hip-hop passionately and cleverly intertwined with one another, the hybrid result would be a musically gifted lovechild. Born August 25, 1975 in Detroit, MI, Karriem Riggins’ parents realized their son was gifted when he began digging through their records. He joined his father Emmanuel (who used to perform with jazz guitarist Grant Green) in the studio to play with instruments in the likeness of a musical great. Riggins continued his ongoing affair with music in his education and made hip-hop music in his spare time.
Riggins turned his love into a profession, moving to New York City in 1994 at the age of 19. He played drums in Betty Carter’s band “Jazz Ahead.” While Riggins strengthened and developed his forte, the jazz world became enraptured with such an exceptional performer. Riggins went on to perform and record with various jazz greats such as Hank Jones, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Donald Byrd, Cedar Walton, Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Burrell, Benny Green, Mulgrew Miller, Ron Carter, Gary Bartz and Diana Krall.
Not one to abide musical boundaries, Karriem has made major accomplishments within the hip-hop world as a musician and producer. He has produced album tracks for Common, Slum Village, The Roots, and Erykah Badu. He’s toured with Common three times, and produced his “Play Your Cards Right” for Paramount Picture’s feature film “Smoking Aces.” He helped Kanye West demo some theme songs for “Mission Impossible III” featuring Twista and Keyshia Cole. One of Karriem’s most personal and esteemed projects was finishing and producing J Dilla’s last project, “The Shining.” Karriem released his first self-titled album, “Music Kaleidoscope,” showcasing his unique range as a hip hop producer and established jazz musician. More recently, Karriem has played drums and collaborated with Mad-Lib for his “High Jazz” album. Karriem Riggins continues to embark on a musical voyage, developing and creating music that will captivate audiences and entice the musical senses.
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Even though Karriem Riggins is best known as a jazz drummer and hip-hop producer for artists like Common, Slum Village, Talib Kweli and The Roots, he doesn t categorize himself as anything but an artist. He advises younger musicians to do the same.
You don t have to put yourself in a box...there s so many different ways to go, Riggins says. A student of late jazz bassist Ray Brown, he tours with another Brown protégé, Grammy Award winner Diana Krall. In 2011, he collaborated with former Beatle Paul McCartney in concert and on Kisses on the Bottom, McCartney s first studio release in five years. Names of some of the jazz artists he s backed reads like the genre s hall of fame - Hank Jones, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Donald Byrd and Ron Carter.
But on his solo debut Alone Together, release on Stones Throw Records, Riggins plants himself firmly as a hip-hop producer with a 34-track instrumental odyssey through nearly every influence on his career thus far. The project was inspired by much of the music he was creating while living in Los Angeles, and also by the love of his son and family.Now residing in his native Detroit, Riggins is back where it all began. I feel like I can really breath and stay inspired here, and I have room to set up my lab and be creative, he says. This is the rationale behind the title Alone Together, taken from a jazz standard written by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz that begin with the words, Alone together, above the crowd.
Coming back to the machines, I feel like I can really express myself, Riggins says. This is the way that I express my rhythms.
Machines, however, are just one way he expresses his rhythms. Midway through the album, the track Water is interrupted by a vocal snippet where the speaker places Riggins right at the intersection of hip-hop and jazz. Alone Together is that intersection; it s the jazz music he s played professionally since the age of 19, and it s crafting beats like Africa on an MPC5000 while touring throughout Eastern Europe and Russia.
I need the balance, Riggins says, of working with the likes of Krall and McCartney, and also being able to go back to the studio and create hip-hop. Without that, I couldn t be who I am.
Songs on Alone Together range from 14 seconds to a little over three minutes, and are the essence of man vs. machine. When Riggins channels Elvin Jones on the album s climax and tribute to his longtime friend, J Dilla the Greatest, his tools are a Gretsch drum kit, the Fender Rhodes and an MPC3000. As versed as he is in jazz and pop, the machines will always be at the root until the next thing.
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