Having a famous, universally loved sibling probably isn’t easy. Ask guys like Charlie Murphey or Jermaine Jackson how flourishing their respective careers have been over the years. In Illa J’s case, he is the younger brother to J. Dilla, an artist who’s light was extinguished too soon, and is widely recognized as one of the greatest producers in hip-hop music ever known. With Dilla passed, Illa J looks to carry on his legacy, by unearthing some of those lost Jay Dee beats, and crafting an album where he takes center stage as emcee.
After the release of Dilla’s final few releases, like Donuts or The Shining, we saw a tremendous shift in sound and style from his early years as a Delicious Vinyl remixer and ghost-producer for A Tribe Called Quest. It’s safe to say that his early style paved the way for his later experimental progression, however it’s in his final works that we found his most brilliant compositions. That being said, those expecting to hear outtakes from Donuts to take form on Yancey Boys will be sorely disappointed, as this collection instead revitalizes some studio floor beats from his earliest era as a producer.
Not to say that this stuff doesn’t knock, however. The opening track, “Timeless”, finds Illa J reflecting on his brother’s death, realizing that it’s time for him to take up the mantle and carry on the Yancey family name. Here, snapping drums and mellow pianos provide a smooth backdrop, as Illa J breathes breezily over a track that lives up to it’s name, no matter how old. “We Here” also works pretty well, as Illa J spits a catchy hook involving rocking iced down medallions, yet over smoothed, vibed out production, in the usual contradictory Dilla style. Meanwhile, songs like “R U Listening” and “Swagger” sound as if they were pulled directly out of the late 90’s Ummah archives (and probably were), as Illa J trades his airy vocals for freestyle rhymes. But like his brother, rhyming is not his strong point.
But Illa J knows this, and at the end of the day, it’s more about the musical vibes that come through on Yancey Boys, and they come through strong. Dilla’s sound remains timeless, and while this LP will not reinvent how we look at either Yancey Boy, Illa J does a decent job of carrying on tradition. At this point, it’s not blasphemy by any means, however the danger of a project like this lies in if we end up seeing another ten Yancey Boys volumes over the next few years. The fate of the rest of Dilla’s unreleased productions should be released as star-studded J. Dilla albums – after all, how would you feel if Frank Stallone stepped in and decided to cast himself in three new Rocky movies? All of that being said, however you feel about having Illa J as your host in this latest journey on Dilla’s big booty express really doesn’t matter, because we all know we can count on Delicious Vinyl to release an instrumental version. – Pizzo
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