Filed under: Album Reviews
Illa J – ‘Sounds Like Love’ ft. Debi Nova & ‘Showtime’
taken from Yancey Boys (Delicious Vinyl, 2008)
During the outro section of ‘Sounds Like Love’, one of the tightest grooves on Illa J’s debut LP, he soothingly states that he’s, “sitting here, trying to think of what to say in space/It’s just the music, it speaks for itself.” Whether this is a canny acknowledgment of the fact that most people who choose to give Yancey Boys a whirl won’t be doing so in order to hear what he has to say anyway or simply some smoothed-out ish that just sounds kinda cool over a dusty groove remains to be seen, but you’ve gotta feel for the man’s position. Ultimately, whatever Illa’s got to say, the use of his older brother’s musical backdrops means that Yancey Boys is always going to be about the beats.
And for the most part it is, although writing off Illa’s style completely would be a little unfair because within the context of the music on offer here he feels comfortable and reasonably accomplished, neither taking away from nor particularly adding anything to any of the songs. He mostly writes about love, it’s tidily delivered, feels relatively soulful… it’s pleasant yet almost completely uninspiring. The sung content, which features quite regularly, will inevitably grate quite quickly and become a sticking point for a lot of listeners but I don’t mind it when dipping in and out of the few truly choice cuts that the album has to offer.
But seriously, who cares? What we have on our hands here is some early Dilla material that should be treasured by anyone who hasn’t simply jumped on the post-mortem bandwagon. However much I love the material that the mighty James put out over the course of his whole career, I’ll always have a serious soft spot for the work that he did on the Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia, Madd Skillz’s From Where??? and as a part of The Ummah and these are essentially off cuts of the era characterised by deft sample choices, subtly executed chops and big crunchy snares. Granted, in places they feel underdeveloped and lack the fierce, bouncy momentum that his top choice material delivers so devastatingly, but beggars can’t be choosers. The smokey brilliance of ‘Sounds Like Love’, simmering thump of ‘Showtime’ and smack you in the face snare hits of ‘Air Signs’ are worth the price of admission alone for this particular Dilla devotee.
Expect big things and you’ll be disappointed. Take this for what it is – a bunch of Dilla’s unused/rejected beats from the infancy of his career with uninspiring rhymes laid over the top – and you may find that Yancey Boys adds up to something that exceeds the sum of its parts. I can’t front: this has been in and out of rotation for me since it dropped. The music speaks for itself, don’t ya know.