Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Yancey Boys

by Illa J

Hip-hop has often been the home to blatant nepotism. Big rappers always have to help their boys get a record deal - whether they can sing or not. There's always a protege or a crew waiting in the wings, and their releases always get a little radio play, even if it is just the single with the Big Name featured on it.

Illa J is no Memphis Bleek. He's not a Braveheart, doesn't Disturb tha Peace, nor roll with G-Unit. He may be the little brother of J Dilla, the god of hip-hop production, but he is also an artist in his own right. I think the fact that Dilla only blessed him with beats posthumously is proof that he does not fall into the Killa Bees category. This is not so much a case of nepotism as it is the debut of a new artist, who happened to be lucky to get his hands on some unused Dilla gems, and do his own thing over them.

If I were to compare Illa J to another artist, I think it would be Phonte. Like Tay, Illa J (how do you shorten that - J? Illa?) raps, but also sings his hooks. His singing is often nicer than his rhymes, which are occassionally weak-sounding. Really, I didn't love Dilla's rhymes a lot of the time either - he was only ever a mid-level rapper.

The material here is nice. The album plays with some fairly standard themes - there are love songs, and songs about family. In the first track, Illa J makes it clear that it's time to try something new, and it's implied that he is talking about his entry into the music industry. There are some songs better left off the album - 'Swagger' has nothing to say really - but for the most part, he sounds great over some laid-back, sample-less Dilla beats, reminiscent of some of his earlier, head-nodding work.

The album contains a strong guest shot from Guilty Simpson, and a couple of very annoying skits. I know I wouldn't have bought this album were it not for the Dilla production (which actually proves the nepotism factor can be profitable), but I would definitely check out any subsequent releases from Illa J.

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