Karriem Riggins: Hip-Hop’s Humble Genius

It’s been a minute since we’ve been blessed with the opportunity to speak with yet another exceptional, Detroit-bred producer. But Karriem Riggins isn’t just your everyday producer. Riggins’ father, a talented jazz musician in his own right, noticed and nurtured his son’s talent from a young age. And today, the drummer/producer/DJ is in high demand.

His discography from just the last two years includes work with Diana Krall, Elzhi, Esperanza Spalding, Kanye West and Kaytranada. Just yesterday, he took part in NPR’s Tiny Desk concert recorded at the White House with Common, Robert Glasper and Bilal, among others.

Even with everything he’s got going on right now, Riggins hinted at several other projects he’s got in the works due out before the end of the year when Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble found time to speak with him just last week.

What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?

My earliest memory of hip-hop is…I used to go to, you know, my dad’s a jazz musician, so I used to go to a lot of gigs with him when I was younger. And, his one particular club, they wouldn’t let me in, so I had to stay in the security booth, and that was the first time I heard UTFO “Roxanne, Roxanne.” That was my earliest memory.

Was it the drums that initially sparked your interest in pursuing music full time?

With my dad being a jazz musician, I was just exposed to everything through him. The rhythms, the chords, the syncopation in general influenced me. I wanted to do that.

I know you grew up in Detroit, and that was where you developed your initial sound. Who would you name as influences on your individual style or sound?

A guy named Marcus Belgrave is very key in my development. He’s a trumpet player. He gave me my first drum set. And just being able to hear Elvin Jones, Louis Hayes, a lot of great jazz drummers from Detroit, I got a chance to hear at an early age. So, that definitely influenced me.

And then I moved to New York, and that was like the next step, being able to hear Roy Haynes and Art Taylor, and a lot of great musicians in New York.

You’ve worked with some of the greats like The Roots, Erykah Badu and Madlib, but I know you were close with Dilla. Do you mind sharing what it was like working with him?

Oh, man. Just knowing him was very inspirational because he was a perfectionist. He was very organized and inspired me to be better as a person. He was a genius at what he did, and his ear was very trained. He wasn’t specific to any instrument particularly, but his ear was so advanced that he could manipulate anything to make a song. And that influenced me, just being around that.


You had a hand in new work from Kanye, Kaytranada, and Common this year. To what do you attribute your success?

Oh, yeah. It’s a blessing to be able to work with those people. You know, Kanye, I’m a big fan. Kaytranada, I got a chance to meet before he really took off. He’s a great dude, very talented. He’s growing, and I’m honored to be able to work with them.


This Common album is like my baby because I produced the whole record. Robert Glasper co-produced some of the songs. I’m just really excited. The single came out yesterday, “Black America” featuring Stevie Wonder, and I had Esperanza be part of it. And it’s great. I’m just looking forward to people hearing the full-length album and giving feedback. This is a Common classic though. I’m honored to be a part of it.

When’s the album due to drop?

It’s coming out in November. I think either the 4th or the 11th.

I finally got to see him live last year. It was pretty amazing.

Dope, dope. Here in New York?

Yeah. How did the residency with Nublu come about?

Oh, man. I’ve known Ilhan who’s he founder and the owner, I met him back in 1994 when I was living in New York, and we used to play on the pier. He plays tenor saxophone. So, we stayed in touch, and he’s been telling me about his Nublus that he has, and he also has a festival. He flew me over to Brazil, and I performed there. I just wanted to be a part of this new opening of this Nublu here in New York. I thought it was the perfect home for this residency that I’ve been thinking about for the longest.


It’s a monthly?

Yeah, it’s a monthly. We’re working out the date for the next one, but hopefully we can do it later in the week every month.

Your debut solo album “Alone Together” dropped on Stones Throw in 2012. I saw a photo on Instagram a couple weeks ago of a new album teaser. Can you share any details about that?

Most definitely. It’s done. It’s mastered and awaiting the release date. I’m thinking it’s coming out early November, as well, close to the Common release.

Will it be along the same lines as “Alone Together?”

Yes, definitely, but a little more heavy-hitting. This one’s like a really producer-driven for someone to rhyme to type of a beat album.

Nice. Do you have any other surprises in store for 2016?

Definitely. I’m going to do a full-length compilation album and working with some of my favorite emcees who I can’t really name yet. But one of my favorite rapper’s new album, I’m going to be a part of that remix album, and that will be really big for me to be part of that project. You’ll hear about that very soon.

I was going to ask when I could find out about that. I feel like he’ll be a fave of mine, too.

Hopefully within the next couple of months. I also worked on this new Norah Jones album, which is coming out in October. I’m looking forward to people getting to check that because she’s really super talented. Brian Blade is on there, as well as Chris Thomas, and a lot of other great musicians. So, I’m honored to be a part of that project.

Is there anything else you want to add or promote?

That’s pretty much it. My website is just karriemriggins.com, and all of the links to my social media are on there as well.


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