Illa J‘s Yancey Boys is not a tribute to his late older brother, J Dilla. Instead it is a collaboration with one of the most legendary producers to ever grace hip-hop. The album, released on Delicious Vinyl Records (Tone Loc, Masta Ace, Pharcyde), divulges in Dilla‘s untouched beats created in the mid-late 90’s while working with Pharcyde on Labcabincalifornia. As opposed to exploiting Jay Dee‘s work (Hi Afeni!), Yancey Boys presents Dilla‘s untouched unreleased beats in a glass case, simply complimented by Illa J‘s framework.
Opening with ‘Timeless’, a track infused with soul and Dilla‘s patented drums, Illa J sets the mindset for the entire album. It acts as an introduction to Illa J‘s persona – a self-proclaimed singer-rapper, who alternates his delivery methods throughout the entire album. Illa J pairs up with Guilty Simpson on “R U Listening,” which uses the voice of Pos (via “Much More”) effectively for the chorus. With a heavier bass to his flow, Guilty, who was working with Jay Dee at the time of his passing, virtually outshines Illa J with his delivery. Despite that, Guilty ironically compliments Illa‘s lighter-sounding flow, making this joint too ill. “Strugglin” is a self-indulgent track that exposes the difficulties of being an artist trying to make it big, but more than that, it frames Dilla‘s exemplary production abilities as this beat is so simplistic and raw, but still so powerful.
Another song that profiles the immense talent Jay Dee held is “All Good”, a jazz and soul infused beat that outlines Dilla‘s conscientiously crafted instrumentation. “Everytime”, a track about love and lost, as well as “Sounds like Love”, both bring refreshing elements to the album’s structure. The latter features Debi Nova and brings a pop R&B vibe that blends with the neo-soul jazz sound found throughout the album. “DFTF”, featuring Affion Crockett, evokes a Tribe-esque sound and showcases the most of J’s rhyming abilities, as he maintains a smooth flow beginning to end. The album closes out with “Air Signs” and it is bittersweet because it’s in memory of Jay Dee. Nonetheless, it celebrates the life of the Yancey family and insinuates the passing of the torch from sibling to sibling.
Whether it was on purpose or not, Illa J‘s presence takes the backseat on this album, and Dilla‘s legacy of work shines through. The periodic off-beat bars and the mediocre rhymes proves that Illa J is far from a polished lyricist, however, Illa understands how to compliment Dilla‘s work in such a way that it highlights every beat, break and soulfulness within the production. Whether Yancey Boys purpose is to engage the listener to the sounds of neo-soul or to highlight J Dilla‘s endless talent, this release is an effortless listen, and ultimately an album worth giving a chance.
Overall score: 75/100
“R U Listenin”