Familiarize yourself with Karriem Riggins. The producer hailing from Detroit, Michigan, had an early start in the game as an established drummer playing for notable jazz musicians such as Ray Brown Trio, Mulgrew Miller, and Diana Krall. Raised in a musical family (Riggins' father is jazz musician Emmanuel Riggins), Karriem discovered hip-hop as an adolescent, but remained his study of different genres. As a result, his discography is as diverse as his style. He's collaborated with jazz icons such as Donald Byrd, Hank Jones, Milt Jackson, Oscar Peterson, Roy Hargrove, and Bobby Hutcherson, as well as Soulquarian notables Erykah Badu, The Roots, Talib Kweli, Common, and J Dilla.

Riggins' first solo album, Alone Together was released in the summer of 2012. The instrumental piece captures the lonesome emotions of Riggins' creative process, as he worked on a bulk of the project on a tour bus across Europe. XXL got up with the multifaceted musician to break down his journey to date. —Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)

Getting Into Music:

"Just being around my dad at a young age, I starting playing drums when I was three. My dad is a jazz musician, he plays organ and piano, so being around him influenced me to pursue music. So in high school, always loving hip-hop, being around my peers who break dance and all that—that’s kind of how I put my foot in both lanes.

"DJ House Shoes, we went to high school together. A group called 31 Flavors out of Detroit. So, yeah—that was pretty much the crew."

Friendship with Common:

"I met Common in '95 in Chicago at the jazz showcase. He came to hear me play a little Roy Hargrove. So we exchanged numbers and stayed in touch, and I came out to Chicago and he picked me up and took me all around Chicago and played me some of his music and that’s pretty much how we connected.

"I’ve toured with Common over the last 12 years. I love rocking with him because that’s when you really turn on the groove. Learning how to play behind a rapper, you have to know when to play more and when to play less, because there’s so many rhythms and so much syncopation in what they’re doing and you can get in the way. It’s just about holding it down and hitting some of the accents, learn the rhyme. It’s just arrangement.

"In '96, One Day It’ll All Make Sense that was his first band. We had a lot of fun, man. Upright bass, he had a Fender Rhodes, and a DJ. We would just interpret all those songs from those albums with the instrumentation.

"There were some ups and downs, but I think for the most part it was just all love. The people that he always had surrounding him—the musicians and the band—were all family, so I remember all the good times.

"There were some hardcore fans, as far back as I can remember. His shows are always super packed. It was always the fans that knew all of his lyrics. I’m spoiled, being around people like him and the Roots—I’ve always been around people that are innovators that have big fans and a lot of love.

"Common is great in the studio. [He] pretty much writes outside of the studio. He writes in his car driving around, he doesn’t use a pen or a pad—he memorizes all of his rhymes. He’ll call you on the phone and just start spitting it immediately. He memorizes it, he knows exactly how he wants to deliver it and once he gets in the studio it’s like one or two takes and it’s done."

Meeting and Collaborating with J Dilla:

"I met Dilla in '96. I met him through Common, who came to Detroit to get beats from Dilla and asked me to come along to the basement.

"I had already heard his music because I picked up the cassette Fan-Tas-Tic (Vol. 1), so I knew his shit was crazy. So I called him, and around that time I had bought my drum machine from House Shoes. I brought my machine over to his crib and played him some of the stuff I was working on. He had love for the stuff that I was doing and he would get me records and I went to a couple of his sessions and that’s when we started collaborating on stuff.

"We first connected on Fantastic, Vol. 2. I played drums on “2 U 4 U” on there, and then we linked on Welcome 2 Detroit that was the first joint. I just hit him with a beat CD with some stuff that I was working on, and he picked the song we did called “The Clapper,” and he immediately wrote a verse to it and left it on my machine like, ‘Yo—this is the joint, I want to buy this.’ That was actually the first beat that I ever sold to Dilla. All the other stuff that I did with Common, the 'Pop’s Rap,' that was all live. I brought my machine and played that first beat CD for him, he bought that beat.

"It was an honor, man. He had me come into the studio and we mixed it together. He added a couple of things on there and I could see how he worked and how his mind worked. Just knowing when to add more and when to take away. Knowing when less is more. From being around him just having an ear to mix a record to sound warm and to bang.

"There’s a certain way that he sequenced on the machine. I learned different ways to get certain feels out of the machine, to basically convey an idea. Knowing what to do—time shifting and different things to do to make it funkier. Turning the time shifting off and playing the track live. I think his approach was different every time. Like any incredible musician, you don’t approach the music the same way, I think that was his direction and that’s what made him stand out. That’s what I got from him, just being original and being an innovator and listening for samples and loops and different drum sounds that nobody else would mess with."

Dilla on His Last Days:

"It was around the time he signed a deal with MCA, he moved and built a studio in Detroit. We linked a few times, but at that time I was touring a lot with Diana Krall and Ray Brown and a lot of different people, so I didn’t get to interact with him that much until he moved. I moved to L.A. in 2001, and he moved in like 2003 I think. That’s when we really started hooking up.

"Those days were rough, man. To see one of your brothers going through pain was one of the roughest moments for me in my life. To see somebody that I love and care about and respect battling a disease—that was pretty rough. But it was also inspirational to see how driven he was to create music, how much he loved the music. That inspired me to push and continue to learn more about music. He was ill, he was in the hospital making beats, he was really devoted. Off the Boss Drum Machine. So, yeah—it was an emotional experience working on The Shining, because he would sit down in the chair in the studio and he would just be parked their the whole session, and his ideas were incredible."

Working with Black Thought:

"That was beautiful. Actually, the song that I did for Phrenology, 'Quills,' that was initially for Black Thought. We were working on his Masterpiece Theater, which was supposed to come out on MCA. I did two songs for that album and he never put it out, so they used one of the songs that was from his solo album for Phrenology, so that was “Quills.” We did another one called, 'Mona Lisa.'

"Black is a beast, man. He’s just super ill. I did a couple of sessions with him, but moreso he would call me a couple months later and play me some of the stuff over my beats. He’s one of my favorite MCs.

"It was real chill in the studio. When I was in the studio with him, he would just listen for hours. Like, ‘Play that beat.' He fell asleep a few times. It was like, 'What is he doing? Is he cool?' And he would wake up like, ‘Yeah, yeah—'"

Jazz Drummer to Hip-Hop Producer:

"I always knew I wanted to have my hand in production and hip-hop, but I think that during that time I was just taking in all the information to try and be the best that I could be, just practicing and studying.

"Sometimes I think the simplicity in a lot of the hip-hop producers nowadays, people like Just Blaze, you can hear the simplicity in it, but you can also hear that he’s a drummer. Most of these guys can hear the rhythms—it’s all in your head, using your brain. Syncopation is deep, so listening to a lot of records can open your ear and make you a stronger musician."

Alone Together:

"I guess I wouldn’t even say 'took so long,' because I had my hand and my brain in so many other things. Just being a drummer and being a rapper and a DJ and doing all these different things, I’m just taking in all the information and I just felt like the time was right now.

"I’ve been piecing a lot of the beats together for some years, but the core of the album, a lot of the beats were done on tour in Eastern Europe.

"I was on tour with Diana Krall, playing drums and at night and before the shows I would just make beats on the tour bus. I turned the back lounge into a lab, so that was the studio.

"The theme is love. Alone Together just bringing everybody together. I’m alone, I’m making the music alone, but we’re all together when we’re listening. The songs are something from every genre, but it’s all under the umbrella of hip-hop. It’s a hip-hop oriented album, so people can spit to it. Or sing, or play a drum solo, trumpet solo—whatever.

"Because I do so much and listen to so much different music, this gives you music from my perspective. I listen to African music, Brazilian, classical, jazz—all these elements are in this project. And it’s basically from the perspective of sequencing on a machine. As a drummer, hearing my stuff as a drummer—like jazz albums—would be a whole different page. This is just another page in the book of what I want to present.

"It’s beautiful, man. I learn a lot. On stage every night, there’s always a new musical experience. Playing with a jazz singer, Diana Krall, there’s just a certain sensitivity you have to have as a drummer, and it’s a whole different approach to music coming from hip-hop."