lla J is the younger brother of James Yancey aka Jay Dee aka Jay Dilla. I'm not sure what the status of this project was before Dilla's unfortunate passing. The beats on this thing are all Dilla and while musically these beats may not necessarily be Dilla's best work, it's still an entire album produced by Dilla and as such does not disappoint entirely. While the production holds up its end of the bargain, Illa J himself can be a bit inconsistent and is seemingly more focused lyrically when his singing is kept to a minimum.
On "Swagger" Illa J proclaims "Yes I'm a singer slash rapper". Illa J is a capable singer but it seemed to me that when the focus on the song is Illa J singing, the track ends up being weaker than it is when he is more focused on his rhyming. It is no coincidence to me that the strongest track on the album brings in a guest singer to hold down the hook. I'm talking of course about the previously discussed banger "Sounds Like Love". What this song does so well is focus Illa J on his lyrics that complement the groove laid down by Dilla. This is clearly Illa J in full-focus. Focused on his MC'ing. Letting the beat be the beat.
Listen to this and tell me what it sounds like
Stimulating sound bites
While I seize firmly those hips
Moving closer and closer to those lips
I hear you shout my name while the blood runs through my veins
This inherited musicality that helps soothe your pains
With a perfect composition that we've arranged
There's no competition
Damn right there's no competition! Those are ill(a) lines right there! That's what I'm talking about! In fact, the songs where Illa J is focused on his lyrics are full of fantastic quotables. Whether it's the proclamation that
My eyes are Pierce Brosnon
staring deep into your soul
my James Bond pimp demeanor is cold whoa
from "DFTF" or
I'm trying to bring the underground to the surface
I'm trying to get that Rolls Royce with the curtains
from "All Good"; focused Illa J is good Illa J.
Now contrast that with
This is for my people with Ice to Rock
Cause it's nice to Rock
This is for my people with the pricey watch
Cause it's nice to rock
So Throw your hands you're living the dream getting the green
from "We Here" or
My favorite White Stripes album is Elephant
Ok that's irrelevant
from "Strugglin" (I mean, that is a good record, but what?).
Again, there's nothing bad on here. Even when the lyrics stumble a bit, you've got Dilla filling your ears with sonic goodness. It's just that I would have liked to see a bit less focus on the singing and a bit more focus on the lyrics.
One other thing that I noticed is that Illa J comes off as a much nicer character than Dilla did. I mean nice in terms of disposition, mind you, not in terms of skill. It sort of makes you wish for a bit more of that Dilla aggression circa "Welcome To Detroit". But then again I suppose it's hard to be aggressive when you're busy singing it up for ladies.
Songs like "R U Listening" and "Sounds Like Love" show that Illa J has got what it takes to be a compelling MC. If I sound tough on dude, it's because I think he's got a whole lot of potential to further the Yancey legend. In "Alien Family" featuring Frank Nitty it is mentioned that everyone in the Yancey family makes beats. I'm curious enough to wonder what an album produced entirely by Illa J would sound like. At any rate, this here album is a very solid collection of Hip-Hop songs with excellent beats by the legendary. How much you get out of it will be determined by whether or not you are into the whole R&B/Hip-Hop collaboration thing.
So is it the best album that Dilla has produced? Probably not. But it is solid. As Illa J himself says at the end of "Sounds Like Love"
I'm sitting here trying to think of what to say in space
It's just the music
It speaks for itself
That's all I gotta say
3.583 out of 5
|1. Timeless (03:11)||3|
|2. We Here (04:09)||3|
|3. R U Listenin'? (feat. Guilty Simpson) (04:19)||5|
|4. Alien Family (by Frank Nitty) (02:17)|
|5. Strugglin' (03:23)||3|
|6. Showtime (03:45)||3|
|7. Swagger (03:33)||3|
|8. Mr. Shakes (skit) (00:44)|
|9. DFTF (feat. Affion Crockett) (04:23)||4|
|10. All Good (03:05)||4|
|11. Sounds Like Love (feat. Debi Nova) (03:25)||5|
|12. Everytime (04:32)||4|
|13. Illasoul (03:47)||3|
|14. Air Signs (03:25)||3|