Following in the large footsteps of a talented Hip-Hop sibling can be a daunting task for any upcoming artist. Just ask Warren G, Lil’ Daddy Shane and Jungle. So with that in mind, all eyes are on 21-year-old Detroit native Illa J, whose late, great older brother J Dilla is cemented in the consciousness of the global Hip-Hop community as one of the best producers of all-time. Having stamped his trademark sound on releases from the likes of The Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest, Common and Busta Rhymes, Dilla’s next-level studio techniques influenced a long line of impersonators and his passing in 2006 left a gaping hole in the music world, along with the sense that a true creative visionary had been lost. So, no pressure on the young Illa J then as he releases his debut album “Yancey Boys”, a project that finds the Motor City MC / producer rhyming over beats provided posthumously by Dilla himself.
The story behind the recording of “Yancey Boys” could easily sound like a clever marketing ploy to ease Illa J into the headphones of hypercritical Dilla fans were it not so filled with pure coincidence. Released on Delicious Vinyl, the label for which Jay Dee produced cuts on Pharcyde’s 1995 album “Labcabincalifornia”, the project came to life following Illa’s relocation to Los Angeles and a chance meeting with DV’s head-honcho Michael Ross, who courteously offered Yancey Jr access to the many unused beats Dilla had recorded for the label during the mid-to-late 90s. Upon immersing himself in his brother’s unheard material, Illa J knew exactly what he needed to do, and got to work on what would become “Yancey Boys”. But whilst the tale behind the tape (or in this case, the CD) is the stuff that Hip-Hop folklore is made of, the burning question is, has Illa J done justice to his older brother’s music and, ultimately, his legacy?
The first thing that strikes you about the album’s opening tandem of “Timeless” and “We Here” is the sense of energy and celebration, a feeling that comes not just from Dilla’s mastery behind the boards, but also from the way in which Illa J has approached the music, singing and rhyming his way through lyrics laced with positive vibes and genuine optimism. As Illa croons, “I spent so much time just thinking about nothing, Now it’s time to turn that nothing into something”, it’s clear that “Yancey Boys” is musical therapy for the upcoming talent, an opportunity to work through the emotional baggage of his brother’s untimely death and turn tragedy into personal triumph.
The instant neck-snapper “R U Listenin’?” features a typically swaggering verse from fellow Detroit resident Guilty Simpson, whilst the carefree b-boy breeze of “Showtime” blends airy jazz pianos with Illa’s likeably cocky rhymes and playful boasts.
The fact that the majority of beats contained on “Yancey Boys” still sound fresh and organic regardless of being approximately a decade old is a testament to just how ahead of his time Dilla was as a producer. Whilst the chime-laden groove of the girl-chasing “DFTF” sounds like the best cut A Tribe Called Quest never recorded for their 1998 swan-song “The Love Movement”, it still knocks hard in 2008. Similarly, the space-dust soul of “Sounds Like Love” finds Dilla combining Hip-Hop’s raw, basement ethics with subtle, spine-tingling melodies, resulting in a sound that is simultaneously retro and futuristic.
If “Yancey Boys” represents Illa J being publicly passed the musical torch from his elder brother, it’ll be interesting to see in which direction the youngster runs with it on his next proper solo outing.
Illa J ft. Debi Nova – “Sounds Like Love” ( Delicious Vinyl / 2008 )
All of you producer types out there might want to check out the recently released “King Of The Beats 2” DVD. Directed by UK-based Hip-Hop junkie Pritt Kalsi, the film features a variety of beat-heads taking up the KOTB challenge, which involves each producer being given a limited budget to go digging for records, which they then have to take back to their respective labs to sample, chop and mutate into a finished Hip-Hop track. All of which seems straightforward, until you realize that the entire process has to be completed within a 24-hour period. Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, pressure makes diamonds, and here you can witness crate-diggers such as DJ Pogo (UK), P Body (Australia) and DJ Priority (USA) each displaying how they approach the craft of producing.
“King Of The Beats 2” Trailer
“Changes Of Atmosphere” from Dela is an album that truly spans Planet Rock, with the project from the French producer featuring an impressive line-up of Stateside artists yet seeing a release on Japan’s Drink Water label. Obviously inspired by such studio greats as Pete Rock, Dilla and Large Professor, Dela’s sound revolves around a strong foundation of crisp drums, jazzy, soulful samples and intoxicating instrumentation.
Dela puts a haunting horn sample to good use on the Talib Kweli-assisted “Long Life”, and North Carolina’s Supastition recounts the constant struggle faced by underground artists on the ethereal title cut.
With further appearances from respected lyricists such as J-Live, Surreal, Blu and Dynas, “Changes Of Atmosphere” is a thoroughly satisfying listening experience that contains substance in both its beats and rhymes.
Dela ft. Naledge of Kidz In The Hall – “It Is What It Is” ( Drink Water / 2008 )
Once considered the backbone of Hip-Hop, it’s no secret that in recent years the DJ has had to fight to remain relevant in an industry increasingly dominated by ego-crazy rappers and producers. Eager to do his part to support the turntablist movement is UK scratch assassin K-Delight, an individual whose many years behind the decks ensure his latest album “Audio Revolution” is a superbly crafted slice of sonic mayhem.
Aiming to encompass all four of the key elements of Hip-Hop culture, this long-player has something for true-school representatives everywhere. Graffiti heads are covered on the educational “Shake, Rattle N Throw”, which features LA-based female MC Shin-B offering a brief history of the artform’s origins, whilst b-boys are given some up rock theme music in the form of the old-school flavored “Wildstyle Dream”.
Elsewhere, the self-explanatory “Forever Hip-Hop” finds Stateside lyricists Skitz The Gemini and Shinobi Stalin paying homage to arguably the most influential cultural movement the modern world has ever seen, whilst “Scratch Club” is a posse cut with a twist, as the likes of NYC’s DJ JS-1, the UK’s DJ Woody and Scotland’s Krash Slaughta team-up with K Delight in a formidable display of deck-wrecking skills.
“Audio Revolution” Live Album Sampler
Chicago-based crew The Primeridian makes a welcome return to the underground rap scene with their sophomore album “Da Mornin’ Afta”, featuring the former duo of Simeon and Tree now being joined by talented wordsmith Race.
Coming out of the All Natural camp, the trio has a strong line in head-nodding, thought-provoking Hip-Hop, and “Da Mornin’ Afta” finds Primeridian matching their lyrical substance with beats provided solely by producers from Europe and the UK (including Netherlands maestro Nicolay of Foreign Exchange fame).
The opening “Change The Meridian (Hard Rock)” announces the group’s comeback in no uncertain terms, offering three-minutes of raw, breakbeat-driven braggadocio, whilst the blaxploitation boogie of “Bucktown (City Of Wind)” features Naledge of Kidz In The Hall addressing Chi-town’s social underbelly.
The pulsating bass and swirling synths heard on “Takuthere” (produced by France’s DJ Steady) provide a soothing musical backdrop for the social commentary of featured artists Iomos Marad and The Pharcyde’s Uncle Imani. My personal favorite here though has to be the beautifully understated “Melodic Healing”, a lush mix of live bluesy guitar, spine-tingling flutes and life-affirming lyricism. Music for the soul, indeed.