Son of a jazz organist, virtuoso drummer Karriem Riggins broke with legendary vocalist Betty Carter's band at age 17. Now the 32-year-old, who has amassed some impressive hiphop production credits, including finishing up the posthumous J Dilla release, The Shining, has partnered with prolific producer Madlib for his rapping debut and a hiphop-informed jazz excursion. The Detroit native, one-time New Yorker, and current Los Angeleno who long volleyed between straight-ahead jazz and hiphop, manning the kits for everyone from Diana Krall to Kanye West and producing for Native Tongues spawn Slum Village and Common, now finds himself bridging the gap between genres and generations.
Blame it on his youth. When backing Betty Carter, Riggins learned to avoid clichés, a feat he's managing by knowing both musical landscapes and ledges. Mining those two wells, he's created what he believes to be a "colorful" sound.
"I think of it as: There are so many different rhythms that have not been played and haven't been presented," he explains via phone from Los Angeles. "We need to strive to search and find those new styles 'cause music evolves. I just want to keep the new fresh sound."
That vitality served Riggins well during post-production of the 2006 thriller Smokin' Aces. Called to the studio by friend and film co-star Common, Riggins, beat machine in tow, he sat down and crafted a few prospective tracks for the theme whilst the original producer drove home to retrieve his forgotten files. Riggins' last impromptu creation, a grandiose old-world number later titled "Play Your Cards Right," won him the job, and he still chuckles in cheerful amazement at the fortuitousness of it.
The 2K Sports Bounce Tour that brings Riggins and the Stone Throw crew to Portland marks Riggins' first time rapping live (excepting some freestyles kicked at various Madlib DJ sets), and he is eager to perform their new material. As the Supreme Team, Riggins and Madlib take "the core rugged hiphop inspiration" and couch it with their varied influences, and as the Jahari Masamba Unit, the two producers exercise their jazz chops. What they will be up to this Saturday at Berbati's, Riggins can't call. "Anything is liable to happen. We like to do whatever we feel."