A riveting expression of gratitude for J Dilla, and for Detroit itself.
Marcus J. Moore 2012
When producer James "J Dilla" Yancey passed away in 2006, he left a great void in Detroit’s underground hip hop scene. Dilla was not only the city’s central rap figure, he also influenced a new generation of composers with his percussive blend of cosmic soul.
“I aspire to be as great as him,” Pharrell Williams once said. “He inspired me so much,” Kanye West has said of Dilla. Along the way, Dilla amassed a wealth of colleagues who not only emulated his legendary production style, but seemed fit to continue his legacy.
Jazz drummer Karriem Riggins harbours that Dilla aesthetic, as indicated by his debut album, Alone Together. For almost an hour, Riggins pays homage with a series of quick instrumentals that borrow extensively from the iconic creator’s productive technique.
Riggins is a formidable producer in his own right. When Dilla passed, his last album, The Shining, was incomplete. Dilla’s mother asked Riggins to complete the record. The Detroit native has also produced standout tracks for The Roots, Common, and Erykah Badu, among many others.
On Alone Together, Riggins vacillates between his jazz and hip hop roots, peppering this album with impressive vignettes worthy of the Motor City’s rich musical foundation. A song like Round the Outside flirts with early 80s electro-funk, while Double Trouble is a sophisticated mixture of escalating keys and rhythmic wind instruments.
Still, the Dilla comparisons can’t be ignored here: Harpsichord Session and Up are direct descendents, down to the offbeat drum programming and bouncy synthesisers. Clearly, Riggins borrows from that tried and true method, though his blend is somewhat jazzier than Dilla’s.
Elsewhere, Riggins weaves his own comprehensive flair into this set with rock (Stadium Rock) and African funk (Live at Bert’s).
Like Dilla’s Donuts project, Alone Together should be appreciated in its entirety. While there are standouts, the whole is greater than its parts. Overall, Riggins’ debut is a riveting expression of gratitude for his mentor and for Detroit itself. Dilla would approve.