Five years since his debut record Alone Together, veteran jazz drummer/hip hop producer, Karriem Riggins, is back with a bolder, more defined collection of instrumental hip-hop.Throughout his two-decade-career, Riggins has collaborated with countless names, such as Paul McCartney, Kanye West, The Roots and, most recently, Common; this latest venture helping produce his highly acclaimed 2016 album Black America Again.
His sophomore release, The Headnod Suite (released via Stones Throw Records), features a multitude of instrumentals, beats and samples which are masterfully crafted together to create an illusory, ethereal experience. Although it is only his second full-length release, it is quite evident that Riggins is a veteran producer. On The Headnod Suite, Riggins leads you down the rabbit hole though a multi-layered soundscape which can take a sharp turn at any moment with its changing tempos and instrumentation.
‘Other Side of the Track’, for example, contains several samples and instruments looped seamlessly around each other in a bewildering pattern, creating a chaotic yet calming rhythm. Elsewhere, the song ‘Yes Yes Ya’ll’ features some nice heavy synth and electronic drums, before suddenly transforming into a jazz track with its warm piano, guitar and vocals for the final act.
The stand out track for this record for me is track 6 ‘Crystal Stairs’. Its high pitched, electronic organ sound synthesise the feeling of being lost in the flying level of a 90’s Nintendo videogame. It’s notably dreamlike until Riggins softly wakes us up by moving the track forward with a slow, soulful female vocalist singing peacefully to us. ‘Suite Poetry’ is just angelic, with American poet Jessica Care Moore reciting a poem over the top; “Show them your colours…your fearlessness, your headnod,” she says, referencing Riggins’ first record. It’s hard to discern a message (if there is one), of a record which is mostly instrumental, but I feel like this is what ‘Suite Poetry’ is here for, Jessica Care Moore’s beautiful words are calming and evoke the same relaxed, warm feeling as Riggins’ music does.
Projects in this vein, including Alone Together, as well as those by Riggins’s influences and contemporaries such as J Dilla and Madlib, risk being unmemorable as they are a mass of sounds which could be negatively described as merely ‘background music’. This certainly doesn’t apply to this new project from Riggins – it’s smooth, focused and consistent. Riggins no longer needs to be described in relation to J Dilla anymore, this record proving he has stepped out of the shadows and displaying a genius of the genre in his own right.