Yancey Boys is the debut album from John "Illa J" Yancey, younger brother of late, great genius producer James Yancey (aka Jay Dee, J Dilla). With the multi-talented Illa J rhyming and singing over a treasure trove of previously untouched Jay Dee gems, the 2008 release represented both a full-circle collaboration and a whole new beginning in the story of the musically exceptional Yancey brothers. 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 (1995).
As Delicious Vinyl owner/founder Michael 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." It was a case of pure serendipity, since 21-year-old Illa J had just relocated to Los Angeles and constructed a studio built around Jay Dee's own recording equipment, dubbing it Yancey Boy Studios in tribute to their fraternal bond.
"Dilla was twelve 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. So 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 2008 on recording the album, the project flowed quickly as he entered the proverbial can't-miss zone. As Illa J says, "One of the things I learned from my brother is that you don't get that much time, so make the most of it. That's why I've decided to dedicate my life to doing what I love: music. To work with Delicious, the label that released those hits my brother made with The Pharcyde ("Runnin'" and "Drop") is really special."
Ross adds, "Illa J can write, sing, play instruments and rap. Not just a little bit of each, he's really the complete package! And anyone who loves Jay Dee's music is going to flip out when they hear what Illa J's been laying down. For over a decade these beats have been waiting in the vault for this moment. It's like Jay Dee made these tracks with an extrasensory purpose, so that Illa J could make this album. There is no question that this is exactly what they were meant for. These beats belong to Illa J, they're his birthright, and I really believe Jay Dee would be proud of what his brother is doing."