"Let me tell you my mission / I’m here to inspire / to bring together the earth, wind and fire"
Illa J pulls out the funk and soul for "Strugglin’," off his freshly dropped album, Yancey Boys. Over one of Dilla’s more minimal beats, Illa J raps (and shows off his singing voice a bit) about an artist trying to make it in the biz. As he says in the chorus, "I’m ’bout to take you on a ride / of a struggling artist / It ain’t no easy slide / You gotta hustle the hardest." With a brother like J Dilla, Illa had a good model to look up to, but that doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing trying to get his message out there. With a fierce dedication to his music and lyrical skill that he continues to hone, Illa J delivers his art on Yancey Boys, saying "Let me tell you my mission / I’m here to inspire / to bring together the earth, wind and fire."
When Jay Dee passed away from complications relating to lupus in February 2006, he left behind an extraordinary legacy of production work, including hits for Common, Janet Jackson, and Busta Rhymes. One mother lode of previously untouched beats dates from his time working on the Pharcyde’s sophomore album, Labcabincalifornia (Delicious Vinyl, 1995). As Delicious Vinyl owner and founder Michael "Mike Floss" Ross explains: "From ’95 through ’98 Jay Dee was my go-to guy for hot beats and remixes. He was always making beats, always. So there was a select amount of tracks that he composed for me during that time, tracks as good as anything he’d done, only they never got used. When I finally met Illa J last year, I gave him a CD containing those unreleased beats."
In a case of pure serendipity, 21 year-old Illa J had just relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles and constructed a studio built using Jay Dee’s recording equipment. He dubbed it Yancey Boys Studios in tribute to their fraternal bond. "Dilla was 12 years older than me," Illa J says. "So back in the day in Detroit I was just a little kid, sitting on the stairs in our house, watching him make those first beats for Slum Village. I always felt my brother’s tracks and had an instinct for what I wanted to do over them." When Illa J set to work in early ’08 recording the album, the project flowed quickly as he entered the proverbial can’t miss zone. The name of the studio rightly became the title of the finished album, Yancey Boys, available online and in stores everywhere on Delicious Vinyl Records.