Tag Archives: illa j

New Joint – Finale / Illa J

finale cover

Finale ft. Illa J – “F.A.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.” (FinaleDet313.BandCamp.Com / 2019)

The Detroit emcee delivers sincere, heartfelt rhymes over Apollo Brown’s melodic soundscape off the forthcoming album “62”.

New Joint – Frank Nitt / Illa J

Frank Nitt ft. Illa J – “No Fame” (@FrankNitt / 2017)

Taken from the Detroit artist’s Dolemite-inspired project “The Streaker”.

New Joint – Frank Nitt / Illa J

Frank Nitt ft. Illa J – “Slippin” (@FrankNitt / 2015)

Produced by J.Rocc.

New Joint – J Rawls / Illa J

J Rawls ft. Illa J – “The Rest Of My Life” (@J_Rawls / 2014)

The Ohio producer-on-the-mic delves into his musical history on this soulful track from the recent album “The Legacy”.

New Joint – Yancey Boys / Common / Dezi Paige

Yancey Boys ft. Common & Dezi Paige – “Quicksand” (Delicious Vinyl / 2013)

Soulful Dilla-produced vibes taken from the Illa J / Frank Nitt album “Sunset Blvd”.

New Joint – Yancey Boys / Frank Nitt

Yancey Boys ft. Frank Nitt – “The Throwaway” (Delicious Vinyl / 2012)

Jay Dee’s younger brother Illa J continues to keep the family’s musical flag flying on this Dilla-produced track from the forthcoming “Lost Scrolls” project.

Shining Star – J. Dilla / Ma Dukes / Q-Tip / Illa J / T-3

TheHipHopChronicle.Com interview with Dilla’s mother Maureen Yancey (a.k.a. Ma Dukes) during her recent visit to the UK with some great insight into the influential producer’s early years.

Q-Tip, Illa J and Slum Village’s T-3 pay tribute to Dilla’s creative genius at the recent NYC benefit show “One Won’t Do Part 2”.

New Joint – Illa J

Illa J – “We Here” / “R U Listenin’?” ( Delicious Vinyl / 2008 )

Double video package taken from the “Yancey Boys” album.

Universal Magnetic Column (Originally Posted On StreetCred.Com Nov 7th 2008)




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.

J. Sands of Lone Catalysts fame offers poignant words of wisdom on the hypnotic “Live The Life”, whilst current subterranean favorite Termanology kicks some street knowledge over the soothing mid-90s style beats of “Stress”.

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.

Primeridian Freestyle

Ryan Proctor

My Brother’s Keeper – Illa J

Dilla’s younger brother Illa J talks to HipHopOfficial about his musical family background and his new album “Yancey Boys”.

Part One

Part Two

Brother, Brother – Illa J

Dilla’s younger brother Illa J talks about his upcoming album “Yancey Boys”.

Illa J ft. Debi Nova – “Sounds Like Love” ( Delicious Vinyl / 2008 )

Pass The Torch – Illa J

Dilla’s younger brother Illa J drops a quick sixteen with some help from Aaron LaCrate.

Hip-Hop Kemp 2008 (Part 2) – EMC / Akrobatik / Mr. Lif / The Roots / Illa J

Live footage from this year’s Hip-Hop Kemp event.


Akrobatik & Mr. Lif

The Roots

Illa J

New Joint – The Yancey Boys

The Yancey Boys – “We Here” ( Delicious Vinyl / 2008 )

First single from the post-humous collaborative project from Illa J and his older brother J Dilla.

Peep the interview I did with Illa J last year here.

Hip-Hop Kemp 2008 (Part 1) – Mr. Lif / Illa J / Zion I / Kano

Various interviews from this year’s Hip-Hop Kemp event.

Mr. Lif

Illa J

Zion I


Illa J Interview (Originally Posted On UKHH.Com Oct 9th 2007)

The loss of a loved one can impact those left behind in many different ways. In the case of 20-year-old John ‘Illa J’ Yancey, the tragic death last year of his older brother, producer J Dilla, motivated the aspiring beat master to start chasing his dreams.

Born into a musical Detroit family, the youngest of the Yancey clan watched as his big bro climbed the hip-hop career ladder one dope track at a time, ascending from underground Motor City talent to being considered one of the greatest producers of all-time by the global rap audience. When Dilla lost his lengthy battle with the lupus disease last February, Illa J decided to turn personal tragedy into triumph, making moves towards his own music career while honouring his talented sibling every step of the way. In April 2006 Illa was asked by live band Guerrilla Funk Mob to perform Dilla’s rhymes at a Detroit tribute show, a concept which was taken on the road soon after for a European tour. The young Yancey was also seen appearing as his brother’s likeness in the video to ‘Won’t Do’, a track lifted from Dilla’s posthumously released BBE album ‘The Shining’.

Having dropped out of university and relocated to Los Angeles in order to further his plans, it’s clear that Illa J is serious about leaving his mark on the hip-hop landscape. Currently putting the finishing touches to a debut album that will see Illa both producing and rhyming, he’s also working on projects with former Dilla-associates such as Guilty Simpson and Phat Kat, as well as filling the void left by his brother in the Cake Boys collective, which also counts Frank-N-Dank as members.

In London for a few days recently, UKHH met up with a humble but determined Illa J at his Camden hotel to talk about Dilla’s legacy, musical influences, and the need to be original.

Turn it up!

Considering you were substantially younger than Dilla, at what point did you actually realise that your brother was a producer?

There wasn’t really a particular point when I realised that my brother was a producer because music was something he’d always been doing while I was growing up. I’d go to bed at night and he’d be working on something and then I’d wake up in the morning to go to school and his music would still be playing (laughs). My parents were musicians as well so music was just something I was used to being around and it was a natural thing to me.

Was there a moment though when you realised that the music your brother had been working on in your family home was actually having an impact across the world?

The first time I saw the video to The Pharcyde’s ‘Drop’ on TV I was like, ‘Oh damn! My brother did that.’ Then the ‘Runnin’ song blew-up for them as well. But at that point I was still so used to Dilla being involved in music that it really didn’t register with me how many people were actually out there hearing what he was doing. It was until after Dilla passed and I did a tour in Europe that I really saw the impact of what he did. It was just amazing to me that I was all the way out in another country and yet my brother had touched so many people in these different places with his music. That’s when I really felt the impact of what he’d achieved. It was crazy to see that but it also gave me a sense of closure and comfort knowing that so many other people had love for my brother and that his memory will always stay alive because of that.

When did you decide to get involved in making music yourself?

I always wanted to do music from when I was younger, but at that point in my life I was worrying too much about what other people would think. Beings as my brother was so exceptional at what he did, I didn’t want to get into it because of all the pressure that would come from being Dilla’s brother. But after he passed I realised that life is short and that I should just do what I love to do, which is make music. Plus, I felt it was my responsibility to help keep my brother’s legacy alive and try to take it to the next level where it deserves to be.

How would you describe the Detroit sound?

All of the music comes from the surroundings. If you’ve ever been to Detroit it’s like there’s a feeling there that influences all of the music that comes out of the city. It’s a hard thing to try and explain, but there’s a soulful sound in Detroit that comes from back in the Motown days, but then there’s also a hardness to what we do which comes from the environment people are living in today.

Do you have a particular approach to making beats?

For me, it just comes naturally. At the end of the day, I don’t like to force anything. If I have an idea I’ll work on it, but if I don’t have an idea on a particular day I won’t sit down and try to push something out. It just so happens that ideas do come to me a whole lot (laughs). I mean, I write songs all the time. I was at the Prince concert here in London last night and I wrote a song while I was sitting waiting for him to come onstage. Whenever an idea comes to me I’ll try and put it down right then because I like to let the creativity flow and let it be natural. I’m on the edge of so many different musical genres with what I do but it still has that hip-hop feel to it. The one thing that all great recording artists have in common is that whenever they put out a new album, you don’t know exactly what to expect, but you know it’s going to be something fresh and exciting. A true artist isn’t afraid to try new things. I mean, if you look at what my brother did, he reinvented his sound a number of times. The early music he made as Jay-Dee sounds different to what he did as Dilla, which sounds different to the Dill Withers stuff that came out on ‘Donuts’. That’s what music is about to me, just letting your creativity flow in whatever direction it wants to go in.

What prompted your decision to move from Detroit to Los Angeles and how has that influenced your creativity?

The first time I went to LA I was visiting my brother while he was out there and I loved the place from that point on. After Dilla passed I wanted to move out there because he’d lived out there and I wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps. I think it was the right move for me to make and it really helped me deal with Dilla’s passing. Plus, I feel so much better out there than when I’m in Detroit. When I go back to Detroit, almost as soon as I land I can feel how stressful it is there. Also, there’s a lot going on in Detroit that distracts me from doing what I need to do. But in LA I feel totally free and that’s how I think my mindset should be as an artist; I should be able to let my mind float freely and let all the creative juices go to work. Plus, in LA people get things done, whereas in Detroit a lot of people talk about doing things but don’t ever actually do them. It seems there’s more of an aggressive mind state in LA, compared to Detroit which can sometimes have something of a lazy atmosphere.

Aside from your brother, who were your musical influences growing-up?

Well, as with Dilla, my musical influences really start with my mom and dad. They had a jazz acapella group and would always rehearse in our living room. That’s really how I got my musical ear from watching and listening to my parents. The first actual artist’s music I remember listening to was James Brown. After that, I’d say my other influences would be Michael Jackson, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Zapp & Roger Troutman, Nirvana. I have very broad musical tastes, so it’s hard for me to name all of my musical influences. But as far as right now, I’m loving The White Stripes and Amy Winehouse. I listen to everything.

You’ve mentioned a lot of older artists there as influences which isn’t something that’s particularly common amongst younger artists today, particularly in hip-hop. Do you think it’s important to have an overall awareness of those musicians who’ve come before you?

Yeah, I definitely think that’s important. You should know the history of the music you’re getting into and where it came from. That can only help in what you do because it enables you to appreciate the music more.

As Dilla’s brother, do you think people will only expect a certain sound from you and do you feel pressured to conform to those expectations?

I feel comfortable putting out whatever I want to put out, with respect to what people expect from me as Dilla’s brother. I mean, my brother told me to just do me and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Whether other people like it or not, at the end of the day I have to like the music I put out otherwise there wouldn’t be any real purpose to it. It’s crucial for me to feel what I’m doing myself before I even let anyone else hear it. But when people ask me about comparisons to my brother I always tell them, there will only ever be one J Dilla, and when I come out it’ll be as myself, Illa J. If I was going to say anything about myself as an artist, it’s that I’m original. Everything that I do comes from the heart.

Are you getting a lot of support from those artists Dilla worked with himself?

It’s weird because although I do get respect for what I’m doing, the Detroit crowd still see me like ‘Ohh, it’s Dilla’s little brother’ (laughs). So in a way I’m looking at that as a challenge to come out and prove myself to them because I don’t think the Detroit crowd really get it yet (laughs). But the people I’ve already worked with definitely have respect for me as an artist first and foremost. At the end of the day, I don’t want to build my career just off of being Dilla’s brother. I want people to be able to look beyond that and see me as an artist.

If there was one album throughout history you could’ve been involved in as a producer what would it be?

It would have to be Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ album because every time I listen to it I can hear all the hard work they put into it, but at the same time you can tell they were having fun with the music as well. Like on ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’ and ‘Workin’ Day And Night’, they’re playing with glass bottles, shakers, anything they could get their hands on (laughs). That whole album has got such a good feeling to it and its energy is timeless.

If we were to sit down again in five years time, what one career goal would you want to have achieved?

Honestly, all those BET awards and everything are cool, but I want some Grammies on my shelf (laughs). I have such a strong passion for music and I want to share that with as many people as possible.

Ryan Proctor