It can be weird thinking about the backing band members of world class solo musicians--they're usually too embedded into the background to garner any serious consideration from any but the most enthused researchers. Karriem Riggins has worked with industry giants Paul McCartney and Erykah Badu, and currently tours with the Diana Krall quartet. He's a ubiquitous and vital presence in pop music, yet few (including myself) have ever heard much about him. But the guy is, if nothing else, intensely prolific: producing, rapping with, and drumming for a series of artists that, when aligned end-to-end, could probably circumference a sizable asteroid. Anyway, Stones Throw released his debut solo record today, Alone Together, and it aptly pays tribute to influences and influenced, and generally makes for some really nice beat exploration.
The tributary sentiment is most obvious on the final track, "J Dilla the Greatest," a polyrhythmic celebration of one of the greatest and most dearly missed minds in all of hip hop. But while Riggins never loses sight of the shoulders he's standing on, he also never panders to them, and that's the real reason why this 34-track journey through groove is worth your time. It's hardly a difficult listen, without a single track clocking in at over three minutes. By the same token, though, it's also not a bunch of skeletal tracks that need continuous vocals or rapping to sound cool.
I think the most accurate summary of Alone Together is its title. Yeah, Riggins is drawing and building from the accomplishments of his predecessors--an act of togetherness. But more importantly he has created 34 distinct pieces of art that require no prerequisite knowledge of music or genre history--Karriem Riggins, skin toughened & mind sharpened by years of collaboration and behind-the-scenes shadow work, can most definitely go it alone.