Studio Session: Karriem Riggins Captures Common’s Positive Energy for ‘Black America Again’ Album
You might not know who Karriem Riggins is, but Kanye West does. While crafting The Life of Pablo, Yeezy reached out to the producer extraordinaire for beats, and ended up picking one that would become "30 Hours," a song he lead the album rollout with.
Karriem's musical history goes deep. His father, Emmanuel Riggins, played organ and piano, luring his son to music at an early age. Hailing from Detroit, Karriem went to high school with DJ House Shoes, and together they were part of a crew called 31 Flavors. He'd go on to meet Common and Dilla, working on albums like One Day It'll All Make Sense, Welcome to Detroit and Fantastic, Vol. 2, before moving to Los Angeles in 2001. There, the producer got together with Stones Throw and started working with another mad scientist, Madlib. They released a couple songs together as The Supreme Team before Karriem released his sprawling, neck-snapping debut album, Alone Together, in 2012.
Now he's the main producer on Common's uplifting new album, Black America Again, due out Nov. 4. The album, which Karriem says has a good amount of boom bap, is heavily positive, despite being inspired in part by the numerous police killings of unarmed Black civilians that have plagued the country.
Karriem Riggins speaks with XXL about how he came to produce "30 Hours" for Kanye, what the process of making Com's new LP was like and the status of his new solo album, Head Nod Suite.
XXL: Your father was a jazz musician. How were you drawn to the drums?
Karriem Riggins: Just being around my dad, as early as I can remember. Two years old, being around Grant Green, who my dad played with for years. Just being around rehearsals, I always gravitated toward the drummer and always wanted to play.
You have a somewhat unconventional way of playing percussion. How do you approach playing the drums?
It’s an ongoing development. Every day it’s something new, a work in progress. But I’ve learned to play from the jazz forte. It’s very intricate, using a lot of dynamics, sometimes it’s very busy. But then hip-hop and groove-oriented stuff is simple, so I also have to learn how to play simple and keep it super funky. So depending on what I’m doing, I have to know which way to go. I just try to be versatile, play in the context of any occasion.
Do you use a drum machine?
I do, for pretty much everything I do. I made a lot of the beats and sometimes I play to them, but sometimes there are things you cannot recreate with live instruments. Sometimes it’s all sequencing and chops. Some of those breaks, the records, there’s no way to recreate that, so sometimes I stick to the raw and just use the records [I sample.]
What are some of the early rap records you remember hearing to influence you to get into rap?
Fat Boys' “Stick Em.” UTFO, “Roxanne, Roxanne.” All those records from the ‘80s, I was hearing all of those growing up, so that’s when I knew I wanted to be a part of hip-hop culture. Grandmaster Flash, all of that stuff.
What are some of your favorite jazz albums of all time?
I could name so many that inspired my life. Of course John Coltrane, A Love Supreme. Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. Those two records were in heavy rotation in my dad’s collection. That’s when I was introduced to Elvin Jones, his solo records from the ‘70s, he has one called On the Mountain, one called Merry-Go-Round. Roy Haynes. I like drummer-produced albums as well. I like the drummer’s perspective. I got into a lot of Tony Williams records. Chick Korea.
How did you come to produce “30 Hours” for Kanye West?
A few years ago, Che Pope reached out to me and said they had heard my Alone Together album from Stones Throw. Kanye and Che were listening to it and he told me the specific songs they really liked and he said, “’Ye is looking for some music. Can you send a batch of beats?” And I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ I sent him like 13, 14 beats and that was one of them and he hit me back like, “Kanye loves this one. Can you send the stems?” So I sent it and he sat on it for a minute, and then finally he got inspired, I think around the time he was doing “No More Parties in L.A.” he was writing a lot of rhymes, I hear, and that was around the time he created “30 Hours.” I sent him those beats around the time he was making Yeezus, I want to say.
What were Kanye’s favorite songs off Alone Together?
Now you’re deeply involved in Common’s new album, Black America Again.
Yeah, I met Common in Chicago in 1995. I was in Chicago playing at the jazz suitcase, I was a part of Roy Hargrove’s quintet at the time and Common was a fan of Roy Hargrove so he came to hear us. Then we exchanged numbers and that’s how we initially connected.
No I.D. produced Common’s last album, but you’re producing most of this new one. What made you guys get together for Black America Again?
Originally, it was supposed to be just an EP. We had done a few songs but the energy was crazy, the way he was writing was crazy. It just started to really come together so we kept doing song after song and it turned into a full-length.
When did you guys start working on the album?
I made all the beats on tour in February, so January, February. It only took us about three months to do the record. As soon as I sent the beat, if he loved it, the verses were done. We were just grabbing choruses, fine-tuning who we wanted on each chorus.
How involved is Robert Glasper on the album?
He’s very involved. I produced the whole album and Robert produced a song called “Pyramids” and “Black America” with me, but he played on everything. His energy is dope. I’m a huge fan of his music and he’s on one. I love that dude.
Me and Robert had talked about doing stuff for a long time, but Common deserves the props for bringing us together to create. A lot of the time when I produce, everything is done, so a lot of the things he was brought in for, he added his touch and it put the music to another level.
Have you talked with No I.D. about the album?
Of course. I’m a huge fan of his work and I admire him so much. We’re planning on doing something together as well, a project we’re gonna work on, just No I.D. and myself. He’s very supportive.
Is there a theme to Black America Again?
It’s very positive. He goes on his MC rants too; he can get super raw on those type of joints. We have the ones where he’s speaking out, being a voice for the people, and we’ve got love too. It’s the classic Common we’ve all been waiting for. Not that he hasn’t been doing it, but this is another one in the history books for him.
What’s up with your next solo album?
It’s totally finished. We were trying to time it to come out around the same time as Common’s album, but because this record kept getting pushed back we had to sit on it for a second. So I’m hoping it’ll come out by early fall. It’s called the Head Nod Suite. I don’t want to compare it to Alone Together, but it’s definitely beat-driven, a little more heavy. More like stuff MCs will want to rap to.
We ever gonna get that Supreme Team album with Madlib?
[Laughs] When I talk to Madlib, we always joke around but are kinda serious, like, "Let’s do it." I want to do an EP. I may do an EP before the end of the year and it will be over some Madlib beats. I can just rap to his beats so easily. So I’m gonna try to work on that.
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