Detroit-born session musician and producer Karriem Riggins has spent much of his life at the intersection between the two closely linked worlds of jazz and hip hop. Primarily a drummer, he’s worked with some of the biggest names in jazz since he was a teenager, including Betty Carter, Donald Byrd and Hank Jones, among many others. On the hip hop side of things, his production credits are just as impressive as the list of jazz musicians he’s worked with and includes names like Slum Village, Erykah Badu, Common, J Dilla, The Roots, Talib Kweli, Madlib and Kanye West.
His creative relationship with Common has lasted the longest. Beginning with ‘One Day It’ll All Make Sense’ (1997), Riggins‘ has been involved in most of Common‘s critically acclaimed albums in one way or another, including the Dilla-produced ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ (2000), the Soulquarian-produced ‘Electric Circus’ (2002) and the Kanye-produced ‘Be’ (2005). He really came into his own as a producer just last year, taking the reigns of Common‘s eleventh album and return to form, ‘Black America Again’.
2016 was a very busy year for Riggins, who also spent time working on music with Kanye, Kaytranada, Theo Croker and Esperanza Spalding. So it was a surprise to many when the 41-year-old recently announced the release of his second solo album. ‘Headnod Suite’ comes five years after his 2012 debut ‘Alone Together’ and offers another fascinating insight into Riggins as a hip hop producer. Following a similar template to that of his debut, ‘Headnod Suite’ is a sprawling, ‘Donuts’-esque collage, featuring a sample-heavy blend of beats and interludes.
Comprised of 29-tracks and with a run-time of nearly an hour, the majority clock in at around the two-minute mark. ‘Alone Together’ helped bring Riggins‘ talents as a producer to a wider audience, however, as fun as it was, it also suffered from being a bit cluttered and a perhaps too loose. That was part of its charm but equally it could make for a frustrating listen. ‘Headnod Suite’ on the other hand is a more focused collection and comes with a much clearer idea of what it wants to achieve: more beats that are MC-ready.
Of the more developed pieces, ‘Other Side of the Track’ makes excellent use of the guitar, an instrument Riggins doesn’t use very often. The range of instruments featured may not be as varied as they were on his debut, but that doesn’t prevent the sounds and styles on show from being diverse. And while not everything on ‘Headnod Suite’ is of the highest quality, large parts of it certainly are. ‘Crystal Stairs’ blends 80’s computer game synths with a complex bass line, while the two beats which make up ‘Cia’ find Riggins imitating the production style DOOM became famous for with his ‘Special Herbs’ series.
There’s also plenty to enjoy on some of the shorter cuts, with the likes of ‘Chop Chop’, ‘My Reflection’ and ‘Fluture’ being picks of the bunch. The diversity of beats are perhaps best highlighted during the more experimental ‘Cheap Suite’ section, featuring a variety of sounds and styles that includes muted-trap and wacky synth sounds. ‘Headnod Suite’ closes with ‘Suite Outro’ featuring a jam session outtake of Riggins drumming with a couple of longtime collaborators, keyboardist James Poyser of The Roots and Grammy Award winning bassist Derrick Hodge. Based on this evidence, 2017 is going to be an even busier year for Riggins than 2016 was.
‘Headnod Suite’ is available now via Stones Throw