In the two years that have elapsed since underground legend J Dilla passed, dozens of rappers — among them Busta Rhymes, Jay Electronica and Q-Tip — have plundered his seemingly abyssal stock of unused beats. Yet only Dilla’s younger brother, 21-year-old Illa J, can claim them as a birthright.
Upon relocating to Los Angeles from the family’s hometown of Detroit, Illa J received the ideal housewarming present: a CD’s worth of unused beats that his big brother (then known as Jay Dee) had recorded for Delicious Vinyl between 1995 and 1998. As one might imagine, the beats themselves take center stage (”DFTF” and “All Good,” in particular). The elder Yancey brother concocts a simmering, smoky, soulful brew — a dream cross-section of his work on A Tribe Called Quest’s Beats, Rhymes and Life, The Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia, and Common’s Like Water for Chocolate.
On the mic, Illa J might still lurk in his brother’s long shadow, but with his laid-back, sing-song flow, he seems to intuitively know how to rock Dilla’s soundscapes. Occasionally, this liquescent tone veers towards languor, but more often than not, Yancey Boys proves to be an impressive debut, one that would make big brother proud.