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Drummer-producer Karriem Riggins is equally versed in jazz and hip-hop. But he feels most at home in the spaces where they collide. Pardon My French, Riggins’ latest project with multi-instrumentalist Madlib as Jahari Masamba Unit, is one of those spaces — somewhere between breakbeat and experimental jazz. The full-length debut is the first in a series of installments to be released. Riggins, who produced and plays drums on Common’s A Beautiful Revolution Pt.1, feels good about 2021. A solo album is on the horizon, as well as a new label. “I’m very optimistic about being on the other side of everything we’re going through,” he says from a hotel room in Atlanta, while on a senatorial campaign performance stop with Common. “Music is gonna bring us home.”— Lissette CorsaRhythmic elements seem to drive and anchor the different layers that Madlib brings to the new album. How would you describe the project?It’s hard to even put into words because we don’t necessarily talk about or define what we’re doing. It’s as simple as I pass Madlib a batch of drums, of ideas, and some melodies, and a week later we’ll have a batch of music. Then we just add on to it. On this project, we had an abundance of music and made something special. What inspired you to revive Jahari Masamba Unit now?A lot of this music we’ve had for a long time, trying to figure out the right time to put it out. I think people, as well as myself, need this. This is healing. It’s Zen. From the perspective of someone who creates hip-hop, a lot of people would expect us to just do boom-bap and hard beats and vibes like that, and this is just like throwing a curveball.
You’re known for straddling jazz and hip-hop. Do you feel that you have an advantage as a drummer when it comes to blurring those lines?No, I think the only advantage I have is being exposed to hip-hop and jazz from an early age and being around the elders, the creators of bebop. That’s something that I wish a lot of younger musicians and producers were able to see. That’s how we get to the future, by staying a student of the music.You met Madlib through J Dilla, producer for hip-hop bands such as The Pharcyde, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, all of whom experimented with jazz. Are there any artists, in that vein, that you draw inspiration from?There are so many, and we all love Dilla. I feel like we should continue to ring his name. A lot of people hear this music, but they don’t know the origin of where this style came from. I come from that school. You’ve collaborated with artists from Roy Hargrove to Kanye West. Do you see yourself as a vehicle for a future in music in which there are no labels?Yeah, that’s all I’m about. I hate being boxed into saying I do jazz or just hip-hop. I want to add a limitless, genre-less sound to the art form. When I open my computer, I’ll go from Chopin to [rapper] Peedi Crakk to Ray Brown Trio to Diana Krall. I want to create music just that way.