Karriem Riggins is a man of many talents, and he’s walking proof that you don’t have to be boxed into any one thing. Beyond his impressive catalog within the jazz community, hip-hop fans may recognize Riggins’ from his work with the late, great J Dilla.
In describing himself, he states, “I’m a music-lover, producer, drummer, DJ, and a father. From Detroit, Michigan. My passion for music, it runs deep. I’m a real true creative, and an advocate of just being creative.”
First coming up as a student under the jazz bassist Ray Brown, Riggins quickly found his footing in the music space, eventually joining Roy Hargrove’s band in 1995. That same year, he met Common, who had come out to one of their jazz showcases. A fan of Common’s already, the two ended up collaborating when Common was working on his album, One Day It’ll All Make Sense.
Talk about diving timing: at this time, Common wanted to start a live band. It was Riggins’ musical talents that would land him as Common’s bandleader, who later introduced him to J Dilla for the first time. From there, the rest is history.
Riggins recently released his mini-documentary called Behind The Sleeves, produced by Native Instruments. He also created a new instrument titled NI Play Series, aka Karriem Riggins Drums.
AllHipHop spoke with Karriem Riggins to discuss his roots in Detroit, biggest influences, his new documentary produced by Native Instruments, advice for producers, and more!
AllHipHop: Talk about being from Detroit, what does that mean to you?
Karriem Riggins: Detroit is classic. I got my roots there, I still have a lot of family. The music scene there taught me so much, just being around my mentor, Marcus Belgrave. So many incredible drummers and producers and rappers. There’s something in the water there that’s special. I feel blessed to be from there, and have drinken from the fountain.
AllHipHop: Now more than ever, I feel like there’s been a Detroit rap wave. It’s so dope!
Karriem Riggins: I do too. It has never been a dull moment with the scene. It’s just growing, and I like what the younger artists are bringing to the table right now. They’re very innovative in their sound.
AllHipHop: You got any favorites?
Karriem Riggins: Yeah, there’s this one cat. His name’s Ink, he’s extremely talented. I’m gonna be doing some work with him.
AllHipHop: Who were your biggest influences growing up?
Karriem Riggins: One of my favorite drummers, Elvin Jones, from Pontiac, Michigan–he played on some Coltrane records I grew up listening to. And Roy Haynes. Then for Hip-Hop, my brother J Dilla is a big inspiration. Common. Madlib, Pete Rock, those are my influences and inspiration.
AllHipHop: Definitely want to touch on your new Native Instruments documentary, Behind The Sleeves. What’re you most excited for?
Karriem Riggins: I’m really excited to have you know, producers and music creators to connect to this plug-in. It’s so special to have such an abundance of sound. The sound design is crazy. There’s a lot of producers, even me at times, I need more options sound-wise to expand my drums. Native Instrument is so innovative. Giving me the platform first of all, but also forward-thinking on how to implement that into an actual DAW (digital audio workstation)
Peace, I said -giving me the platform first of all, but they are also forward thinking in how they implemented that into an actual DAW (digital audio workstation)
AllHipHop: Do you have any advice for up and coming producers?
Karriem Riggins: My advice is to really— especially with this actual Play series, there’s so many opportunities in there to create these sounds to be different. You have one sound, but you have so many options to make it yours. My advice is to be original and to push the envelope, and set the bar higher.
AllHipHop: Talk about the KARRIEM RIGGINS DRUMS project. You said you worked two years on it?
Karriem Riggins: Yes, we worked so long on that. Worked hard. I mix all of those sounds myself, and created all of those patterns. There’s 16 different kits, and within each kit there’s 16 patterns. All of that is really handcrafted by me. I touch the pads, really figuring out different syncopation, rhythms to spark inspiration to whoever’s using it. It’s incredible, I use it daily.
AllHipHop: Any epic untold stories with J Dilla?
Karriem Riggins: Not that I can think of. Everything is in the book, really. Charnas wrote an incredible book, Dilla Time. Everybody should check that book out, because it really lets you into who Dilla was as a producer and as a person. I learned a lot about Detroit in the book, things that I didn’t know about the city. Everybody should check that out.
AllHipHop: Any goals for yourself at this point in your career?
Karriem Riggins: My goal is to continue to create and to spread love through the music. I want to keep pushing out the positive message in my music, to connect with people. Music is real therapy, it’s therapeutic to people. It’s healing, so much positivity in it. I want to continue to spread the love through the music.