Karriem Riggins is best known as a jazz drummer and hip-hop producer for artists like Common, Slum Village, Talib Kweli and The Roots, but he doesn't categorize himself as anything but an artist. He advises younger musicians to do the same.
"You don't have to put yourself in a box...there's so many different ways to go," Riggins says. A student of late jazz bassist Ray Brown, he tours with another Brown protégé, Grammy Award winner Diana Krall. In 2011, he collaborated with former Beatle Paul McCartney in concert and on Kisses on the Bottom, McCartney's first studio release in five years. Names of some of the jazz artists he's backed reads like the genre's hall of fame - Hank Jones, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Donald Byrd and Ron Carter.
But on his solo debut Alone Together, set for an October 23 release on Stones Throw Records (Vinyl and digital will be released in two-parts over summer and fall 2012), Riggins plants himself firmly as a hip-hop producer with a 34-track instrumental odyssey through nearly every influence on his career thus far. The project was inspired by much of the music he was creating while living in Los Angeles, and also by the love of his son and family.
Now residing in his native Detroit, Riggins is back where it all began. "I feel like I can really breath and stay inspired here, and I have room to set up my lab and be creative," he says. This is the rationale behind the title Alone Together, taken from a jazz standard written by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz that begin with the words, "Alone together, above the crowd."
"Coming back to the machines, I feel like I can really express myself," Riggins says. "This is the way that I express my rhythms."
Machines, however, are just one way he expresses his rhythms. Midway through the album, the track "Water" is interrupted by a vocal snippet where the speaker places Riggins "right at the intersection of hip-hop and jazz." Alone Together is that intersection; it's the jazz music he's played professionally since the age of 19, and it's crafting beats like "Africa" on an MPC5000 while touring throughout Eastern Europe and Russia.
"I need the balance," Riggins says, of working with the likes of Krall and McCartney, and also being able to go back to the studio and create hip-hop. "Without that, I couldn't be who I am."
Songs on Alone Together range from 14 seconds to a little over three minutes, and are the essence of man vs. machine. When Riggins channels Elvin Jones on the album's climax and tribute to his longtime friend, "J Dilla the Greatest," his tools are a Gretsch drum kit, the Fender Rhodes and an MPC3000. As versed as he is in jazz and pop, the machines will always be at the root – until the next thing.
"There's always something new to figure out," he says. "That's the blessing in it."
In listing the greatest albums in hip-hop history, one title never seems to stray from the upper echelons, no matter how many years pass: Boogie Down Productions' undisputed classic from 1986, Criminal Minded. Released amidst a battle between BDP and MC Shan that would redefine the New York rap landscape as it was then known, the album, which features the songs "South Bronx," "Criminal Minded" and "The Bridge is Over," captures the excitement, urgency and raw power that embodies hip-hop culture as we know it, with KRS-One's aggressive yet intelligent lyricism backed by Scott La Rock's hard-hitting, stripped-down beats. A true classic, Criminal Minded has been recognized by Vibe Magazine, The Source and Rolling Stone as one of the most important albums of all time.Traffic Entertainment Group and B-Boy Records are proud to present Criminal Minded, presented for the first time ever in a double-LP pressing with a new digital transfer from the original analog master tapes.The album is packaged in a gatefold "paste-on style" jacket, featuring extensive liner notes from journalist Brian Coleman and KRS-One, full color printed dust sleeves with vintage B-Boy Records graffiti artwork, full-color 24" x 36" poster and the bonus track "P is Free (Original 12" Version)."
In the wake of the release of A Tribe Called Quest's first album, 1990's stellar People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, critics who had previously ignored hip-hop sat up and took notice of Q-Tip's sophisticated and unorthodox productions, and Phife Dog's party rocking but winningly self-deprecating rhymes. But the critics often overlooked Tribe's far-reaching roots in the hip-hop underground and their larger place in the history of black music in general. The Low End Theory was in many ways a conscious attempt to redress these critical oversights; it also happens to be one of the finest hip-hop albums ever recorded. From the sinuous Art Blakey samples and myth-making rhymes of "Excursions" to the joyous free for all of the epic posse cut "Scenario", The Low End Theory is a stone masterpiece that establishes Tribe's place in hip-hop's history. They draw on everything from the crowd-hyping improvisations of their early park jams, to the complex sciences of Golden Age rhyming styles. Simply put, The Low End Theory is essential for anyone seeking to understand hip-hop.
...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin is the eleventh studio album by American hip hop band The Roots. According to Black Thought, the album is conceptual like the previous one, but unlike Undun, ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin will feature several characters in his story, not just one. The Roots' lead rapper described the forthcoming album as a satirical look at violence in hip hop and American society overall.
Arguably Jay-Z's finest piece of recorded work, 2001's The Blueprint is officially where the Brooklyn-born rapper became the heavyweight champ of the hip hop game. Produced primarily by Kanye West and Just Blaze and featuring only one guest appearance by Eminem, The Blueprint became Jay-Z's fourth consecutive #1 album on the Billboard 200 charts. From radio anthems "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and "Girls, Girls, Girls" to introspective cuts "Never Change" and "Song Cry" to diss tracks like "Takeover," the beats are consistently as extravagant as the rhymes are rich. Ten years after its original release, The Blueprint has only grown in acclaim, rightfully taking its place as a hip hop classic and one of the genre's greatest album's of all-time.