I view drums (like everyone else) as an integral piece of music, especially in hip-hop. When reviewing a particular song, I can’t help but to start with a description of the break even if there’s a million other things going on. Maybe it’s lack of creative journalism but this formulaic method is how many producers make beats and I wouldn’t be surprised if Karriem Riggins does the same. He is, after all, a classically trained jazz drummer as well as rapper, DJ–and as he showcases with his debut Alone Together–an extremely skilled beatsmith.
Alone Together is actually a double LP release from Stones Throw. Each 17 track album contains relatively short beats, musical phrases, ideas and general dope shit a la Donuts as is the norm for many instrumental albums nowadays. Record reviews of this variety are rife with J Dilla comparisons but in Karriem’s case I feel it holds some weight. The Detroit drummer was a contemporary and frequent collaborator. In fact it was Riggins who produced S.L.U.M. Village’s hit “Tainted.” But that is neither here nor there. Alone Together may have the soulful touch of producers past but it’s got enough of Karriem’s signature groove.
Right out the gate “Round the Outside” hits us with a frantic, deep kick–and do I hear djembe’s? Coupled with the ultra low moogy synth this track has enough bass to have been recorded in the late 90’s. The triangles in the background give it just the proper amount of energetic chaos to be worthy of an intro track (though it’s technically the second.) It’s a solid minute and a half sampling of Karriem’s style. In stark contrast is the very next track “From Detroit/Belle Isle” which starts with a jazzy live set of him playing drums with Common who’s on some off-top semi-sarcastic filler props that Riggins eventually turns in to a simple yet effective choppy beat complete with open hats and a perfectly placed shaker. He appears to be equally at home behind a drum kit or an MPC (your boy can spit, too).
One of the most hyped tracks on the album is “Stadium Rock” which features a pretty savage electric guitar riff that transforms into reverbed/borderline creepy vocals. Read some other review for more on that…I’m more impressed with the last 30 seconds of so of the song. The “after beat” as I like to call it is probably the best combo of jazz and hip hop I’ve heard in a long time. The rhodes keys seem to spiral to the edge of being out of control and the lo-fi drums with seemingly random double-time snares are nearly impossible to follow yet it’s all clearly on time. I guess that’s what it sounds like to hear a real musician get live with it. After all these years of hearing programmed drums, this is a breath of fresh air, it’s a shame the track is so short. Aside from all the live instrumentation, Riggins is capable of single note MPC choppery “No Way” and Madlibesque (another contemporary) esoteria “Back in Brazil.”
After countless years of beat tapes promising to bring back that soulful sound of an era past, it’s only fitting that a talented musician who’s been in the mix that whole time would do it justice. While Alone Together may not break ground in defying genres it’s still an eclectic mix of soul and jazz, traditional hip hop and live instrumentation. What’s even more impressive is that at 34 tracks deep it doesn’t hit any doldrums. This is a very solid debut release and well worth the wait.